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Victim Blaming: The Way I See It

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Mainstream discourse, despite international backlash, fails to tackle the deplorable culture of victim-blaming in our society today. Neglecting the urgency of genuinely tackling violence against women, sexual violence and rape culture has left women feeling ashamed, traumatised and responsible for being subjected to brutal sexual attacks.

Campaigns focused on rape prevention are presently of exceptionally poor standard, with the current context, more often than not finding law enforcement and judicial representatives actively facilitating a culture of blaming the victims of rape rather than tackling perpetrators head-on.

Locally here in Northern Ireland we've had three years of a campaign called Be SMART. This campaign gives awfully patronising advice to women about how to not get raped. The most outrageous of all was a title release that suggested "Alcohol is the number one date rape drug: how much have you taken already?" - The total madness going on there is problematic on a million levels, actually suggesting to women that drinking alcohol is self-administering a date rape drug and they are just asking to be raped.

Prevention campaigns such as Be Smart that come courtesy of the Police Service of Northern Ireland telling women to be more careful, not to drink so much or dress less provocatively actually transfer the risk of rape to other women. I find myself asking how law enforcers can be so brainless as to actually encourage society to ignore the need to deal with perpetrators of rape. By constructing a social paradigm where, despite the painfully obvious, women are still somehow to blame has in essence absurdly imposed false reasoning that the onus of preventing rape is on the victim not the rapist.

A classic example of victim-blaming occurred as recently as New Year's Eve 2012 when a police officer from Sussex caused huge backlash after tweeting "It's always sad to see young women become victims of sexual offences, don't drink too much on New Year's Eve and regret your actions!" - Unfortunately it remains clear that for many police forces, victim-blaming is still frighteningly acceptable.

Official law enforcement bodies can be said to have encouraged a culture that makes excuses for rapists and removes the much needed robust focus upon perpetrators. Police services across the UK need to start visibly delivering a more structured message of change.

Another impact of the current framework has been a decrease in the reporting and successful prosecution rate for the crime of rape. This has made it easier for rapists to carry out the action of raping someone and let us not forget the line in a Unilad article on how the odds are in your favour - they only said what a lot of rapists are thinking.

Frustrated by what is being trotted out by the PSNI and DHSSPS, the Belfast Feminist Network recently commissioned Northern Ireland's very first grassroots anti-rape campaign ad, filmed on location in Belfast. Entitled "The Way I See It" the short ad reflects on rape and sexual assault from the perspective of a survivor. Ads like this are part of a crucial challenge against the inadequacies of the current delivery method for rape preventative campaigns that do little more than feed into the idea that rape can prevented by controlling women's behaviour.

The Way I See It - Campaign Social.

Originally taking inspiration from groups such as Rape Crisis Scotland and elsewhere (Men Can Stop Rape, Don't be that Guy) the Belfast Feminist Network decided that talking about rape from a survivor's perspective would be most effective for a Northern Ireland audience.

A spokesperson speaking about the film told me that the group "wanted to present a positive message to women that can counteract some of the damaging victim-blaming messages they encounter. It's a film aimed at both men and women to dispel some of the myths about how rape happens and to reinforce the important truth that rape is never acceptable."

The narrative in the film itself is a composite of a couple of people's experiences as it was felt better done that way rather than have one specific person feel they had to make themselves vulnerable by having the film divulge their specific story.

A statement released on the BFN's website identifies the short film's director as Matt Bonner of Campaign Social who said that "the challenge in filming this piece was to portray a side of this issue that campaign ads rarely portray accurately, that of the victim. Through filming in Belfast, I wanted this particular person's story to have the look and feel of a short film, whilst grounding it locally. It should be something that anyone living here can connect with."

More events are being planned for the coming months by the Belfast Feminist Network aimed at engaging both the public and the decision-makers involved in rape prevention. This is as much an online campaign as it is off-line and a good way to assist the call for change in the way public safety messages about rape and sexual assault are delivered is by sharing this ad video widely.

All over the world women are mobilising (slutwalk movement etc) and finding way of coming together (online and off-line) to make their voices heard by driving home the message that women are not to blame when rape occurs.

Let us hope 2013 is a year that really tackles the perpetrators of rape.

For updates on the work Belfast Feminist Network please follow them on Twitter and Facebook