Victim-blaming; you’re surely familiar with the term by now. If not, then may I ask what rock you’ve been hiding under these last couple of years? Reflecting on recent history in public affairs, it may be fair to say that we’ve come a long way in a relatively short period of time. In terms of our societal attitude towards instances of sexual assault, towards those affected, and a general appreciation for a new culture of speaking out, it wouldn’t be amiss to comment that our current environment is more conducive to providing justice for abuse and sexual assault victims than ever before.
As the more high profile examples of injustice, sexism, and abuse are finally given their deserving platform, they are building upon decades of work by activists which call for the guilt in crimes of a sexual nature to be assigned to its rightful place: the character of the offender, rather than the body of the victim. Indeed, the publicity maelstrom sparked by the initial Harvey Weinstein accusations (and, more recently, his conviction) has ushered in a new era of social awareness and public understanding (the #MeToo era, to be exact) which promises a brighter future ahead of us.
However, victim blaming persists, even in this new, refined, socially “woke” epoch we now find ourselves in. As Weinstein and other abusers are finally meeting their comeuppance, with their abuses being brought into the spotlight, victim blaming has been forced to adapt to a life in the shadows, finding more implicit ways in which it can manifest. While this is not an unimaginable outcome, it is still a less-than-ideal reality, especially when one comes face to face with it in the women’s bathroom of the Student Union. The stalls there have been bedecked with posters warning of the dangers surrounding drink spiking – or, rather, the responsibility surrounding it, sporting the advice: “Drink spiking can happen anywhere. Please always look after your drink”, and “Think about your drink”.
While these posters are inevitably well-intended, the word choice is deplorable. Drink-spiking (adding alcohol or drugs to someone’s drink without their knowledge) is not an occurrence which, outwith your reasonable control, could be prevented or ameliorated with some handy tips and tricks. Having your drink spiked on a night out is an invasive and abusive act – hardly on par with keeping track of your keys or mobile phone, which one does have to just “think” about.
The tone of victim blaming in these posters is overwhelming. In much the same vein as women being told not to wear short skirts or not to smile too invitingly, and in the same way that domestic abuse rates are cited (“4.2% of men and 7.9% of women suffered domestic abuse in England and Wales in 2018”, according to the Office of National Statistics), a passive voice is inserted and the onus of the abuse is placed on the recipient.
Could we envision a campaign wherein the act itself is condemned, not the experience? Where posters read, “Don’t spike”, rather than, “Don’t get spiked”? Where we direct our efforts at the root of the problem, rather than the effect, and stop advising victims on how not to be victimised? Let’s dispel the notion that those affected by abuse are also responsible for it. Abuse, assault, and drink spiking does not “happen” anywhere, it is perpetrated anywhere, and those responsible for it are sheltered by faulty language, as exemplified by these posters.
As I said before, the posters didn’t come as a huge surprise to me; they served instead as a major disappointment, and a catalyst for this article. Despite all our progress thus far, the #MeToo era remains only partially realised. Because, unfortunately, even if abusers are being called out, tried, and convicted, when the language we use remains entrenched in protecting them, we still have a long way to go.
The Student Union has been contacted in regards to this issue, but has yet to respond.