30/10/2013 10:44 GMT | Updated 23/01/2014 18:58 GMT

Taxi Firms Must Stop Exploiting Female Students' Fears of Sexual Assault

It's a familiar decision following a night out: book yourself a cab or walk back home? But for those that opt for the latter, do they deserve to be raped or sexually assaulted? Unfortunately, that's exactly what one taxi firm in Sheffield's recent advertisement has implied: .

Featuring a lone female leaving a local nightclub, the 3 and a half minute promotional video courtesy of Sheffield's Mercury Taxi depicts two alternative scenarios. The first scenario depicts the female walking down a deserted unlit street soon followed by a hooded man who inches closer to grab her and the second ending features her arriving safely at her accommodation, whilst the taxi driver waits patiently to ensure she's inside before departing.

While I welcome Mercury Taxi's efforts to encourage student safety following a night out, it's undisputable that the video is little more than a marketing ploy to utilise the seemingly ever-looming threat of rape as a tool to provoke fear and anxiety into the female student population in order to generate profits.

University of Sheffield student and feminist activist Jenny Rose concurs: 'This advert is woefully bad taste. Using an implicit threat of violence as a way to sell your company to young female students leaves a very bad taste in my mouth and puts me off using their services'.

Sheffield Rape Crisis echoes Hobbs' sentiments, labelling the company's exploitation of women's fear of rape and sexual assault as 'irresponsible': 'Myths and stereotypes of rape culture can propagate the idea that women are most in danger from strangers, when in fact most rapes and sexual abuse are much more likely to be perpetrated by someone known to the woman or girl'.

More worryingly, the underlying victim-blaming message is merely indicative of the rampant rape culture so deeply entrenched on university campuses nationally which dictates that female students are somewhat responsible for their own rape. From Durham University's refusal to boycott Robin Thicke's Blurred Lines despite the lyrics' blatant promotion of rape and even more recently, Tequila UK's recent video which depicts male students 'joking' about raping female freshers to promote their club night in Leeds, all are somewhat complicit in creating a culture which glorifies and justifies rape. Mercury Taxi's video of a lone female walking in a deserted street when she could so easily travel safely home in a licensed taxi serves to reinforce the widespread notion that female students are 'asking for it'.

University of Sheffield's Women's Councillor Rosie Nicholson notes: 'Mercury Taxi's video only serves to perpetuate the myth that victims of assault are responsible for the actions of their attacker, which, as well as being traumatising for the victim, also discourages people from contacting the police in the event of a crime for fear of being told that it was their fault. A survey undertaken by Mumsnet showed that more than 80% of rapes go unreported. Women are often taught to avoid dangerous situations, but what society needs is to stop teaching us how to act, what to wear and what to drink to avoid becoming vulnerable to attack, but rather to challenge the view that attackers cannot help their actions'.

Moreover, the suggestion that women are not at risk when travelling home alone in a taxi is somewhat unfounded. Especially so when just this April, female students on the national 'Spotted: Sexism on Campus' Facebook page documented their experiences of sexual harassment at the hands of taxi drivers. Among them, a University of Sheffield student relieving her experience of a taxi driver attempting to coerce her into engaging in casual sex in exchange for not paying the taxi fare: 'I know you need to save money so how about this: you help me out and the taxi is free of charge'.

Mercury Taxi's business development manager Peter Holmes, however, has defended the video, claiming that its inspiration stemmed from his parental duty to protect his daughter: "As a father myself, I know how important it is to parents who send their children off to university for the first time to have some peace of mind about their safety. Part of a student's experience is spreading their wings and enjoying the nightlife that (their respective cities) have to offer, but we wanted to do something that would show students visually how easy it is to protect themselves'.

While I welcome Mercury Taxi's past efforts to enhance student safety, most notably in providing Chip and PIN machines and ensuring that all its drivers are CRB-checked, I firmly believe that the video's exploitation of female student's fear of sexual assault to advertise their services is inexcusable. As Sheffield Rape Crisis states: 'Women should be free to choose what they want to do and when they want to do it without feeling threatened and scared by adverts such as these'.

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