This blog is mainly about the governance and future of policing and crime services. (Police & Crime Commissioners feature quite a lot.) But there are also posts about the wider justice system. And because I am town councillor and political activist, local & national issues are covered a little, as well.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

From nail varnish to victim blaming to... what?

A few days ago there was news of the invention of a nail varnish that changes colour on contact with certain 'date rape' drugs. It was billed as a technology to assist women in avoiding the consumption of so spiked drinks.

This proved to be controversial. For example this article poses the question: Why is it easier to invent anti-rape nail polish than find a way to stop rapists?

I posted a comment (along with 600+ others) which I republish here:

The short answer is that one is a relatively simple chemical reaction to detect the illegal spiking of drinks. The other is a feature of society that has been going on for thousands of years that has multiple and complex causes and consequences.

I would contend that the former is infinitely more simple that the latter and hence it will be always easier to invent.

This is not to say that that far more creative, political and economic energy should not be put into tackling rape: of course it should. And of course a nail polish is not the answer except in so far as it might help just one woman somewhere clock that her drink is dangerous (and perhaps many more women too).

And of course, no victims should be blamed. But to suggest that all precautionary measures taken to reduce one's chances of becoming a victim (of any crime including rape) are equivalent to victim blaming is, in my opinion, dangerously simplistic.

Would the author or other commenters condemn Narendra Modi for committing to having more toilets in rural areas and the schools of India as being party to victim blaming by seeking to ensure that fewer women and girls are vulnerable to attack? Of course it is not the whole solution! But it might help...?

Clearly there is debate to be had about what constitutes putting oneself at risk and everyone should be safe enough to drink, wear and go whatever they choose. And evidently also, far more needs to be done to hold rapists to account.

But I think criticising an earnest attempt to add a technological defence against some means of attack with nothing other than well worn platitudes seems to me to be tad unfair. Where is the ingenuity or invention in that?

So, can we have debate about what societal, policy and legal changes need to be implemented to reduce the incidence of rape? My manifesto would include making sex and relationship education in schools compulsory and as important as maths or English. And I would start this early in Primary schools.

I am sure there is more. What would the author of this article put in her manifesto? What would you add?

UPDATE 270814 | 1727: Here are the replies to my comment on the Guardian site

jonwilde > JonSHarvey


Joe1178 > JonSHarvey

I would agree that such precautionary measures are in a sense to be welcomed. As you say, temporary defenses have their place while more entrenched cultural attitudes are addressed.

But there is a danger of a mindset further developing which, while perhaps not blaming victims exactly, accepts the inevitability of routine sexual assault as a fact of life and thus places responsibility on women.

I couldn't agree more that education is hugely important.

In fact, I'm not really disagreeing with much of your comment, just saying that we have to be careful not to give the wrong message.

OrkoStrikes > JonSHarvey

Couldn't agree more.

toveheights > JonSHarvey

"But to suggest that all precautionary measures taken to reduce one's chances of becoming a victim (of any crime including rape) are equivalent to victim blaming is, in my opinion, dangerously simplistic."

You are completely incorrect in this assertion. The psychological impact on a woman who has to consider while preparing for an evening out that she might be raped, instantly changes her perception of a pleasant evening out so that it becomes an act of risk taking. That she has to put on nail polish 'as a precaution' immediately puts her in the position of regarding herself as a potential victim- why would she do it if she didn't think it was likely that she would be attacked? Later while sharing a drink she has to consider if her drink has been contaminated, so she puts her finger in her drink to test it. At this point she has to divorce herself from the normal ambiance of socializing to consider whether someone is about to rape her.To expect young women to do this is to lock them in the tightest bonds psychologically and restrict their freedom to an unacceptable extent.

More young men are stabbed/attacked than any other group. I therefore propose that all men aged between 16 and 24 between the hours of 6pm and 3am should be required to wear a huge blow up suit of at least 30 cm depth that will inhibit the affects of a knife attack. They can wear this deflated, most of the time but should inflate it at the moment they think they will be attacked.

JonSHarvey > toveheights

I take your point about the psychological impact of taking preventative action to reduce ones chances of being subjected to crime: it does alter one's enjoyment of just 'being'.

But this is something that all of us live with to a greater or lesser extent dependent in part upon gender, but also many other factors. True, I do not go out contemplating I might be raped but I do worry about being subjected to road rage (it has happened to me) or being randomly assaulted in the street by a drunk person (also happened to me). These thoughts are the back of my mind, so I take action that I think reduces my chance of such events happening again. Clearly they are not the same as rape but I would contend that they are comparable.

Your suggestion that young men should wear inflatable suits though creative, is an interesting but unreal comparison, I feel.

And frankly I do not have any idea as to how big a problem date rape drugs are. How many cases have there been of where such chemicals have been used? I do not know. Do you?

My impression (and I am happy to be corrected) is that 'fear' of such drugs is far greater than the actual incidence. The way I see it, is that nail varnish (not necessarily applied in advance - but kept 'just in case') could tackle some of this fear and have the opposite effect that you contend.

In other words could the nail varnish make women feel less like potential victims rather than more - in the way that rape alarms do (I assume)? Perhaps some research is needed.

One test will be as to whether this product is bought or not.

Another possibility is that the existence of such a product might make the would-be date-rape-drug-rapists less inclined to use the drugs on the basis that they might be found out. Fear of detection (and the perception of the likelihood of such detection) is a big factor in deciding whether to commit a crime or not.

But I do not know.

But let's keep the dialogue going on what ALL the solutions might be. What would be in your manifesto?

toveheights > JonSHarvey

The 'inflatable suits was deliberately 'absurdist'. It mirrored my view that it is absurd to expect young women to wear the nail polish described- because it would be as inhibiting psychologically as such a suit would be physically.

Women are encouraged always to be aware of the possibility of rape- I suspect you became aware of physical attack after each occurred and consequently moderated your life- as we all would.

As far as 'a manifesto is concerned' it is never lost on me which gender [statistically] is more likely to rape, kill and harm. I don't have any particular incite regarding why men behave as they do in such numbers. Do you?

Not_a_shirker > Joe1178

But there is a danger of a mindset

It's a LOT less dangerous than the mindset that nobody should ever, ever, ever, EVER, ever take precautions, because it's always the rapists fault.

Which, to quote the wonderful post above, is dangerously simplistic.

JonSHarvey > toveheights

I do not think that anyone, including the people who have invented the nail polish, are 'expecting' women to wear it. I guess, if they have done their business planning and market research well enough, that they are hoping women will wish to wear / have it in sufficient numbers to make it a viable business. Time will tell.

I certainly do not 'expect' any women to wear it. Nor do I hope women will. I am glad that such a product exists so that women can choose to do so, and now have this possibility available to them. I presume you are in favour of women having a wider choice of options to be and feel safe - what ever those options are?

I agree, women/girls are warned of the possibility of rape / unwanted sex from a very young age in whole variety of ways from the media, literature, movies, parental messages etc etc. Again I assume you are in favour of women being aware of this risk. Although I would hope we would agree that warnings that inflate risk to unrealistic, disproportionate and disabling levels of fear are not to be encouraged.

And as a boy, I was made well aware of the risk of violence and harm coming to me from an early age as well. Much of my 'preventative' behaviour is based on theory not experience, thankfully. The incidents I mentioned of course raised my awareness but they are not the exclusive cause of my preventative behaviour as you might be suggesting.

My 'incite' (an interesting typo....) into why 'men' behave in such numbers is as limited as my insight into why people do a whole range of things that I cannot easily relate to such as shooting beautiful wild animals or following a football team for your entire life. (Neither of which I do, not have any desire to.)

But I don't think insight, as such, is what is required. I would contend that diligent social research, bold & creative policy initiatives, examining the female and male influences (or absence thereof) on small children (especially boys) when they are growing up from 0 - 10, understanding the impact of popular culture on what is seen as 'acceptable' etc etc are all places I would go.

Where would you go?

Or do you think it is only for men - due to their 'particular' insight - to be the only gender to come forward with the solutions?

Not_a_shirker > toveheights

Nobody "expects" young women to wear this nail polish.

Joe1178 > Not_a_shirker


Which is why I said that such precautionary measures are to be welcomed.

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