Know Your Responsibilities
The old 2006 UK NHS Know Your Limits Campaign to raise awareness of the risks of drinking (alcohol) is popping up in emails and social media news-feeds again thanks to a petition started by change.org to get one particular campaign poster removed in all its formats. The offending poster is the one that states that one in three reported rapes happen when the victim is drunk. The objection to this poster is that it implies that rape is therefore the fault of the victim and not consistent with more recent NHS advice that “a sexual assault is always the fault of the perpetrator”. Among those supporting the campaign is the NUS (National Union of Students) who state that the “only way to stop rapes is to stop rapists”.
I remember the original NHS campaign: it was designed to shock and the rape poster was just one of many shocking adverts and images at the time. I agree with both change.org and the NUS that a victim should not be blamed for being a victim. But isn’t there another message in the NHS Know Your Limits campaign, which is about being aware of our individual and personal responsibility to ourselves? If the facts are that one in three reported rapes occurred when the victim was drunk isn’t it the responsibility of the authorities to make that information available? Don’t we then have the freedom of choice as to whether or not to take that information on board and decide whether we want to take it in to account when we make our decisions about our drinking habits?
We live in a culture that has moved from taking personal responsibility to blaming others for all our woes. We have a government that perpetuates the message of fear on the one hand while they make it look as if they are protecting us, such as recent legislation that automatically sets up filters on home internet to protect the vulnerable from exposure to harmful websites, or allows the government to monitor all emails, texts, phone calls, to enable the authorities to prevent terrorism. But the underlying message in the NHS Know Your Limits was to take responsibility for ensuring your own safety.
The wider campaign of which this change.org petition is a part sates that the only way to stop rapes is to stop rapists. And that is true, but until the authorities have successfully eradicated the issues that lead to rape – power struggles, inequality, difference and more – from our society we all, individually and collectively, have a responsibility to look after ourselves.
Rape is a heinous crime, unimaginable in its violence and invasion. Emotive in all its guises. Which can make it difficult to consider the message objectively. There are less emotive crimes where we take responsibility to protect ourselves from those crimes – we lock windows and doors when we go out, the car door when we park it, we conceal purses and wallets to reduce the risk of being targeted by pickpockets, or get a lift or taxi rather than walk through known dangerous areas (for protection against mugging), make sure the car we are driving has brakes that work, use the right ropes and harnesses when rock climbing or bungee jumping. Sometimes our precautions are not enough, or we are just unlucky enough to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, and we become a victim of a crime or an accident.
I often support the campaigns of change.org but not this one. Not all my social work colleagues will agree with me. In fact, I know many who will be supporting the campaign. It’s because I believe the issues are way more complicated and far reaching than the change.org campaign.