Monday, 23 February 2009

asking for it

Towards the end of last year, there was a spate of sex attacks in Bristol. No-one was caught. The local police issued advice on being safe. My daughter came home from school with a leaflet entitled R U Asking 4 It? She was really quite worried about this business. It was not good; fear is not a good thing to feel. And we were both really quite annoyed by the title of that leaflet.

It's a phrase we've all heard before, of course; it is probably used unthinkingly. I remember talking with one of the ABs on board Pride of Bilbao. We were standing in the crew mess at the time. One of the Spanish female crew walked by; she was off-duty, and dressed in her civvies, quite stylishly, as lots of my Spanish colleagues tended to do, and looking good. The AB looked disgustedly at her; his face was quite transformed. "She's asking for it, dressed like that," he said.

And some time later, when I reported an assault upon me, I was told that I'd been asking for it, so that my own (imagined) behaviour became the focus of criticism rather than the (very real) assault, which was ignored.

Perhaps this attitude comes from a world view in which women are predatory creatures, using their wiles to get the better of men and then to ...well, presumably use them or something. I've worked with men who think like that. None considered for a moment that their personal vileness or insanitary habits might make them anything less than irresistible to women. I was reminded of Seth, in Cold Comfort Farm:

You women are all alike! Fussin' over your fal-de-lals to bedaze a man's eyes, aye?
And what you really want is 'is blood, 'is pride, and the 'eart out of 'is body.
And then when you've got 'im, bound up in yer fal-de-lals, and yer softness and he
can't move - 'cause of the longin' that cries in 'is blood, what do ya do then, aye?
Ya eats 'im, same as a hen spider eats a cock spider. But I don't let no women eat me -
I eats them instead. You don't understand what I'm sayin' do ya? - littl' innocent.
I see that Peter Sutcliffe, the Yorkshire Ripper, has been declared 'fit to be considered for release from Broadmoor'. It is proposed that he should go on little outings to re-familiarise him with the routines of everyday life, like buying bus tickets and shopping. He is, according to 'a source close to Sutcliffe', a model patient, and is liked by the staff. This figures, I suppose. At the time that he was committing his series of murders, the police charged with hunting him seemed to feel some kinship with him too; as a West Yorkshire detective, Jim Hobson, said at a press conference in 1979,

He has made it clear that he hates prostitutes. Many people do. We, as a police force, will continue to arrest prostitutes. But the Ripper is now killing innocent girls. That indicates your mental state and that you are in urgent need gof medical attention. You have made your point. Give yourself up before another innocent woman dies.
...which appears to indicate that somehow it's OK to hate prostitutes, and to attack them. And which further indicates that the police characterised the women whom Sutcliffe had attacked as being mainly prostitutes. Which they weren't. They were just in the wrong place at the wrong time. They were therefore, evidently, asking for it.

I was distantly aware of the Sutcliffe case at the time; what I know of it, I learned from Joan Smith's excellent Misogynies. Two of my friends, living in that part of Yorkshire at the time, were more immediately affected; one remembers the fear and the never going anywhere at night without her mother; the other remembers the murder which took place next to her bus stop. It is safe to say that they do not share the Broadmoor staff's liking for Mr Sutcliffe, and view the prospect of his release with dismay.

Anyway, the Bristol Feminist Network organised a Reclaim The Night demonstration last Friday. It was timed to coincide with the opening of a new Rape Crisis Centre in the city. Here's one of the intentions behind the event, which the BFN puts rather more eloquently than I can:

Educate on safety and respect to prevent sexual violence We need to bust myths and misunderstandings about sexual assault which create a tendency to blame victims, exclude male victims and excuse behaviour such as verbal abuse and domestic violence. This is a human rights issue and needs to be understood in the wider context of abuses of the right to safety, freedom and equality. We need proper rape prevention education made available in schools and communities in our city to encourage more respectful behaviour and attitudes. we all came together on College Green...

...and lit candles...

...and then the samba band struck up and led the several hundred demonstators through the city.

It was very cheerful making. Heck, for one night at least, we reclaimed that night!, by the way, is my friend Annie's take on the night, which gives a more detailed account of the march


  1. Button pressed by this misogynistic attitude...well and truly...

    'Are you asking for it'?? You know, apart from a few fossilised High Court judges, you'd think you just wouldn't hear it anymore...and yet... Extraordinary.

    Simply you means if you, as a woman, are raped, it IS your fault. The man has no responsibility. It displays a contempt for women (where does it come from? Judeo-Christian tradition. The Garden of Eden).

    It is such a repellant attitude, it makes me speechless.

    The Ripper policeman's quote (speaking as one who arrived in Leeds Uni just after the last woman was killed) was chilling too.
    'Murder a prostitute? Oh hey, well fair enough. They are, after all, asking for it.'

    Someone said to me once that in response to the periodic panics that attend some maniac out there raping or bumping off women, society shouldn't dish out insulting leaflets, tell women to go around in pairs, or even tell them to stay home.

    It should tell men to get off the streets. How about that for an answer?! Practically no-one would get raped or murdered ever!

    (Glad the RTN thing was a success. I gather there was a fuss about attendance by folk like us at the London one? Inspired by some Bindel-esque thinking I believe)

  2. Just to add another thought ;-)...looking at the photos there, looks like you had some (shock horror) men along! I think the radfems in the London event stopped male involvement also?

  3. There had been plans for a women-only section of the march, Jo. I asked one of the organisers about the question of trans inclusion, as it seemed only polite. The opinions of the Facebook group were canvasssed, and the consensus was that they would be welcomed. As it turned out, it was everyone all together anyway.

  4. Here, after 4 or 5 years and numerous rapes on two college campuses, they only just figured out (gasp) that perhaps they are the work of someone travelling the less than 100 miles between the two campuses...

    Blaming the victim is not only far too common in this world but far too accepted as well!


  5. I can't help thinking that perhaps Sutcliffe would be a model patient. They probably don't have women around where he is.

    There was a case in Italy where the judge decided that the woman couldn't have been raped because her jeans were so tight the rapist couldn't have got into them on his own....

    I don't think that the title or the leaflet is quite right somehow.

    Are we heading towards women keeping themselves covered from head to foot in case some man is driven wild by the sight of an ankle?

  6. I think this ‘news’ on the Yorkshire Ripper has been grossly distorted. (The Sun reported this story first- so there’s your first clue) He was in fact only being considered to be moved to a secure prison- to suggest that he would be treated like other prisoners and prepared for release is pure tabloid driven speculation. (Yes I know his solicitors are working for his release- that’s their job, but he hasn’t got a hope in hell)

    His medication is reportedly working in reducing the schizophrenic episodes, so they were going to move him into security prison and out of the hospital unit.
    The home Secretary, Jacqui Smith, has already said she could not see is quoted as saying she ‘could not see under what circumstances Sutcliffe could be freed. I also think it’s extremely unlikely.

    I was very alarmed by your inclusion of the Leaflet’ R U asking 4 it?
    Extremely poor taste, I agree. I suspect they are trying to speak ‘street language’ to reach people. But it’s not directed at women and their appearance is it? More towards drinkers. Anyway, of course No one asks for a crime, so yes I agree the leaflet is pretty awful.
    Why not write to them and complain?

    Looked like a great demo btw!

  7. correct my earlier post, Jo, there was indeed a women-only section at the head of the march. Just hadn't really noticed, because the marchers were predominantly female.

    ...makes you wonder if they were really trying to solve the crimes, doesn't it, Alan? -yes, it seems almost a default position to blame the victim. I can vouch that it was an incredibly unsettling experience when it happened to me; it felt as though the world had been turned upside down...

    Here's another judge, Anji, who had the victim put in jail

    Good points, Charlie; had this story featured only in the Sun, then I should have given it the respect it deserves. But as it featured in the Telegraph, I have to suspect that someone somewhere is pushing an agenda, and left to their own devices there is always the risk that they could make the unthinkable thinkable.

    As to the leaflet, it is indeed mainly irrelevant to a twelve year old schoolchild; but it was given to her, and she did indeed react angrily to the title. Without any prompting from me. Yes, I'll write to the Avon and Somerset Constabulary, I think. First though, we'll have to come up with a better title for them. People are more receptive to criticism if you give them a get-out clause, I suspect.

  8. NO woman is ever 'asking for it'!!!
    No woman ever deserves to feel unsafe or to take the blame for an attack.

    I had that happen to me when I was 14 years old, and have had to really work to get beyond my own fears and hurts around it. The guy said the same thing, I was asking for it. I was f*cking 14 years old.
    I have long since forgiven though, and he is a friend of mine now.

    That whole 'no means yes' thing is dangerous nonsense too. No means no. Unless I give you express permission. Regardless.

    One of my very dear friends is a prostitute, and I have never met a woman with more love to give, or more dignity. I adore her!! I have learned a lot from her, let me tell you.. She is a Goddess, as far as I can tell.

    The role of prostitute always used to be held Sacred. They are the women, who like God, refuse nobody in time of need. I don't say that lightly, that's why they were Sacred in Roman and Greek times. They still should be. They are women. All women are Sacred, as are all men.

    I think the trouble starts with over-protective fathers, mine did. Not to blame them, or women. It just is.
    I was so scared of my father when I was a kid, and I think that led subconsiously, to my not being able to say no loudly and clearly enough, to the male other in a position of power in that moment. I never felt like I had the right to say no. That men had that authority over me.

    Many lessons learned since then..

  9. Thank you, Chandira. What you've said made a connection for me. I must think further on it.

  10. Dru - myspace won't let me link to your blog. They say it's a naughty page! Did you see that they have charged a man with the attacks in Clifton and Cotham? He's in court tomorrow. Charged with four attacks and on bail for another three. Let's hope it's him and they get of the streets for a while. He won't get long though ... he needs re-educating. (where I'm from he'd be redecorated while they were at it!)


  11. The cheeky monkeys! I've just inserted a hyperlink to your blog, so obviously you are squeaky clean. *wanders off into the outer darkness, muttering glumly*

    Yes, I saw that. Jolly good. I shall watch the case with interest.