Prevention is an important and large part of protecting citizens from sex crimes. It tackles the problem from the root, stopping the crime from happening in the first place. However, in some places, work being done to prevent sex crime shows just how many outdated and conservative stereotypes regarding genders
still exist. Not only does this lead to ineffective ways of stopping sex crimes as investigations will be biased, but also the myths that women are weaker and to blame allows sex crimes against women to be justified.
It is clear that authorities are placing the wrong emphasis on sex crime prevention responsibilities. Although everyone has a responsibility to contribute to preventing sex crimes, the responsibility is heavily placed on the potential victim’s shoulders. Police campaigns that ask people to ‘Avoid Being a rape victim’1 and ‘Don’t be a victim, drink sensibly’2, with their posters featuring females as victims, illustrate just how much authorities are saying that prevention sits on victims’ (in the majority of cases women’s) shoulders’. This just further embeds the dated and incorrect mindset that it’s up to the victims to do more to avoid being harassed instead of where it should be – in stopping predators harassing the victims. And furthermore, victim blaming still prevails. While we may think (or hope) that the term ‘victim blaming’ is no longer needed, there are still people blaming the victims. Societal, media, and court reactions to rape and sexual harassment still imply that it is the victim’s fault that they were attacked. In several court cases in the US, clothing of alleged victims of rape and sexual harassment cases were introduced by defendants as evidence that the victims implied consent to sexual harassment.3 Courts have held that clothing may signify a person’s implied consent to be sexually assaulted or her implied welcome
of sexual harassment. 4 It is simply outrageous that a piece of clothing should be said to evidence perceived consent. This is prejudiced, sexist, unfair, incorrect and simply wrong. Courts approving such methods of “perceiving” clothing to imply consent allows the defence to focus on what the defendant thought they saw or felt (a wrongful, subjective approach), rather than whether the victim actually consented through valid and express communication (the correct, objective approach).
And closer to home, a police commissioner suggested that Sarah Everard – a young woman abducted and murdered by a police man – should have been more ‘streetwise’ about powers of arrest and should not have ‘submitted’ to arrest by her killer. Whilst he resigned and his comments were roundly condemned, it demonstrates just how heavy the burden of responsibility to prevent an attack is being put on the victim.
If the focus of prevention puts all the responsibility on the victim, it is clear to see where sex crime prevention strategies are going wrong. The responsibility to do something should be on everyone, not just the victim. If you reinforce the idea of stereotypes of victims, suggesting that if you have a certain lifestyle, wear certain clothes or are a certain type of person that you could be a victim, and that you won’t be a victim if you don’t. This is so wrong. Clothes do not make you a target, lifestyle does not
make you a target, personality does not make you a target – the predator makes you a target. Anyone can be victim of sexual assault and that it why everyone should be responsible in preventing sex crimes.
So it is time to reform sex crime prevention strategies. We do not want to repeat the same failures that happened in the police investigation of the Yorkshire Ripper in the 1980s. The flawed methods used and mistakes made due to an old fashioned gender stereotypical mindset, led to the delay in apprehension of the Yorkshire Ripper who raped and killed many women prior to and during the investigation. 5 We need changes. People should not just be taught ‘Don’t walk alone in dark alleys’ and ‘Don’t get into strangers’ cars’, we should also be taught to respect others. We should be taught to ‘Look out for each other on the train’ and ‘Help others when they need help, don’t just be a bystander’. We should be taught to be considerate at others’ feelings when we look at others, not just women being taught to prevent being looked at. We should not blame victims for other’s fault and only ask them to do more, we should instead condemn sex offenders for their crimes and train each other to help others in need. A good example is to
train bar tenders to be more aware of drinks being spiked – a real story which saved a girl from being drugged. 6 Other measures could be those who have more resources learn to take care of those with less means to protect themselves. For example, governments or local councils can put more CCTVs in dark alleys. Even less significant acts such as bars or restaurants providing drink covers can also be useful. Everyone should be responsible in preventing rape and sexual harassment.
What can you do to help change the wrongful, conservative mindset so that our friends and families, and even our kids, can be better prevented from sex crimes?
1 ‘Avoid Being a rape victim’ campaign by Warwickshire police
2 ‘Don’t be a victim, drink sensibly’ campaign by South Wales police
3 Montana v. Smith, 576 P.2d 1110 (Mont. 1978), Ford v. State, 376 S.E.2d 418, 419 (Ga. Ct. App. 1988)(attempted
4 Theresa L. Lennon, Sharron J. Lennon & Kim K. Johnson, ‘Is Clothing Probative of Attitude or Intent –
Implications for Rape and Sexual Harassment Cases’, 11 Law & Ineq. 391 (1993)