A police force has been accused of victim blaming, after it released a poster urging women to “stick together” on nights out to prevent sexual assaults.
The poster is part of a recently launched summer safety campaign, which shows two young women taking a selfie on a night out. The caption below reads: “Which one of your mates is most vulnerable on a night out?
It continues: “Many sexual assaults could be prevented. Stick together and don’t let your friend leave with a stranger or go off on their own.”
Charities and social media users have criticised the poster for placing responsibility on potential victims, rather than blaming perpetrators for attacking people.
Rubbish poster from Sussex Police. Potentially v upsetting to victims of assault and their friends. pic.twitter.com/Yyz7DlST7U— Jessica Ellery (@Jellery57) April 5, 2015
Friends who play together, stay together. On a night out don’t let your mates leave with a stranger or go off alone. pic.twitter.com/U3Hk3QCndu— Sussex Police (@sussex_police) March 31, 2015
@sussex_police Try placing responsibility for sexual assaults with *perpetrators,* not implying friends should stop perps raping!— Zillah (@godlessZillah) March 31, 2015
Katie Russell, the spokeswoman for Rape Crisis, told The Independent that while it is sensible for young people to stay together on a night out and not leave anyone behind, "it’s not unreasonable for the police to advise this".
“Those with the real power to prevent sexual assaults in significant numbers, however, are not friends and bystanders but those who have sole responsibility for these terrible crimes – that is, the perpetrators," she said.
Laura Bates from Everyday Sexism echoed her comments, and told The Independent: "This kind of messaging (while it can be well-meaning) plays into hugely problematic victim-blaming within our society, which can make victims of sexual offences feel unable to come forward for fear they will be blamed for what happened.
"Given that only a small percentage of rapes are ever reported to the police, this is a very real problem.
She added the evidence shows that women are sexually assaulted in a variety of settings, including their own homes and workplaces, and often know the perpetrator.
"Messaging like this that plays into the 'stranger in a dark alleyway' myth is unhelpful."
"Focusing on victim behaviour prevents us from placing the blame where it belongs- with the perpetrator alone."
Sussex Police has since been defending the poster against criticism on its Twitter page.
@shulakombe rape is NEVER the victim's fault! But we can reduce number of victims in many ways. Friends and bystanders can play a key role— Sussex Police (@sussex_police) April 8, 2015
Sussex Police Chief Inspector Katy Woolford said the poster was based on research into how to help vulnerable individuals.
"This is a real opportunity to make a difference. We would be failing in our response if, as with any other crime, we did not recognise that there are victims and urge them to take steps to minimise risks and help safeguard others from becoming victims.
"This is the first time we have taken such an approach to raise awareness, with the first phase urging friends to stay together and look after each other, so that no one is left alone or goes off with a stranger.
"It is vital to be aware of vulnerability so that steps can be taken to guard against it. Friends and bystanders can play a key role in this, learning to recognise where their intervention may prevent a crime taking place."Reuse content