A police force has become embroiled in an argument over whether its attempts to educate students on crime suggest victims of sexual assault are responsible for what happens to them.
Hundreds of people signed a Change.org petition that said police posters advising new students how not to avoid being a victim of crime were "victim blaming" on the issue of assault as most of the posters depicted women and emphasise "the victim over the perpetrator".
Essex Police insisted its posters were warning about broader safety and crime issues and were "gender neutral".
— Lyndsay Kirkham (@Lyndsay_Kirkham) September 29, 2015
"We're incredibly disappointed to see the images which accompany Essex Police's new 'safety campaign' as they reinforce victim blaming myths," the petition says.
The advice on the campaign's website is gender-neutral. It is ostensibly about personal property. However, 3 of the 4 the images which accompany the campaign are directed at women and reference sexual violence.
"They replicate the images of numerous police campaigns which focus on the victim rather than the perpetrator."
At the time of writing, 361 people had signed the petition.
The petition continues: "Conflating advice to prevent acquisitive crime (like locking up your laptop) is entirely different to telling women what they can and can not do in public spaces.
"We don't blame the victim of a mugging for being in public spaces, yet we blame rape victims for being in public, wearing short skirts, drinking beer, and walking home from work."
A police spokeswoman said: "During freshers’ week thousands of young people come to Essex to study, many leaving home for the first time and experiencing the freedom and fun of student life in a new, unfamiliar setting.
"That’s why we’ve given advice on personal safety and property security. Our student safety messages are gender-neutral and compatible with those put out by other charities and organisations such as the Suzy Lamplugh Trust and the National Union of Students."
She added there were five images in the campaign, not four as the petition stated.
In April, Sussex Police were criticised for a series of anti-rape posters that were also accused of victim blaming.
The posters said: "Which one of your mates is most vulnerable on a night out? The one you leave behind."