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Dublin: 12 °C Thursday 15 November, 2018
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Safety warnings issued to women suggest that flouting 'the rules' is to accept the outcome

‘Don’t use earphones or handheld devices.’

LAST WEEK, THE Metropolitan Police issued a warning to women, urging them to refrain from wearing earphones or using handheld devices while walking alone at night.

PastedImage-91270 Source: Shutterstock

The warning came in light of ten separate sexual assaults which took place in the Cricklewood area of London; most of which occurred in the vicinity of the Willseden Green Tube station between February and September.

According to the BBC, The Met urged women to ‘take care’, be alert in public, and avoid using their personal devices before reaching their destination.

I would appeal to women in the local area to take care when they are walking, especially if they are alone. Always stick to well-lit streets. If possible, let someone know when you are coming home and the route you are taking and always be alert in your surroundings, so don’t use earphones or handheld devices.

At this stage, the vast majority of us know that warnings of this nature will always be met with outrage.

It’s a note on personal safety, but it feeds into a bigger, and arguably, demoralising narrative. 

A light has been shone on the prevalence of rape culture over the last 12 months and movements have been launched to counter that culture, and yet it’s hard to imagine a society that won’t ever, in some way, question the conduct of the woman at the centre of an assault.

blame rapists Source: Shutterstock

Full disclosure; there have been times when I have worn my earphones while walking alone in the evening.

I remove one earbud, but as far as the Metropolitan Police is concerned, this would still fall short of expectation.

I know that this goes against the type of well-intended warnings issued ad nauseum by authority, but I actually do it to engender a vague sense of comfort.

Walking in the dark and hearing nothing but the sound of my shoes is unsettling.

Feeling that I can’t utilise a piece of equipment I’m rarely without, and which is generally a source of contentment and comfort, makes me feel even more vulnerable in many ways; especially when I pass men wearing noise-cancelling headphones with little to no concern for their personal safety.

So I use an earbud albeit on a low volume, I walk with purpose, I avoid badly-lit streets and someone generally knows where I am or when to expect me, but because I fall short in one capacity, does that make me any more culpable if an assault was to occur?

Whether authorities want to recognise it or not, warnings of this nature do ultimately contribute to rape culture.

Yes, of course it’s important to alert women to assaults in the area, but the language is problematic.

The subtext of the warning is that there exists an onus or that some level of blame can be apportioned if a woman disregards anything contained within the message.

It implies that women hold the power, that they have control over the situation, and to flout the rules is to relinquish that power, and accept the outcome.

An article which appeared in Cosmos: The Science of Everything cited a comment made by Daniel Andrews, Premier of Victoria, criticising a warning which had been issued to women by police following the rape and murder of a young woman in an inner-city park in Melbourne.

He said:

Go out with friends at night. Or don’t. Go about your day exactly as you intend, on your terms. Because women don’t need to change their behaviour. Men do.

And therein lies the concept which has yet to reach every section of society; it’s a form of victim-blaming we simply don’t see in relation to other crimes.

The aforementioned type of warning – often seen, but most recently issued by the Metropolitan Police – doesn’t automatically protect women; it does, however, imply a protection for rapists who have been consistently cossetted by an inherent rape culture.

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About the author:

Niamh McClelland

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