Tuesday, 25 October 2016

Challenging #RapeCulture: The Lincolnshire #AskForAngela Poster Campaign Making A Real Difference

Hello Everyone!

So it's been a while since I blogged about Lincolnshire but I just had to talk about an amazing poster that I've been seeing on social media platform discussions about how to help prevent sexual assault and rapes from occurring in the first place. The poster was created by the Lincolnshire Rape Crisis team, which includes the wonderful Hayley Child, Substance Misuse and Sexual Violence and Strategy Coordinator for Lincolnshire County Council and gives advice to pub, bar and nightclub goers about what to do if they are stuck with a bad date that they may have met through online dating sites or through mutual friends/family. The poster forms part of the #NoMore campaign, which "aims to promote a culture change in relation to sexual violence and abuse,  promote services in Lincolnshire and empower victims to make a decision on whether to report incidents" ("Code word campaign help people escape bad dates by alerting bar staff discreetly", The Independent, October 20th 2016).

I reprint the poster below :

Essentially the poster tells you to notify a member of bar staff if you are feeling uncomfortable and the "date" is starting to get emotionally aggressive or threatens your physical safety and then that member of staff will help you by either calling a taxi/cab for you or to help you out discreetly; for example if you suspect your drink might be spiked, the staff member can dispose of the drink and pour you another one or if the date wants to go for a walk with you on your own and you don't want that because you don't know what might happen, the staff member can make that clear to the person concerned and then prevent them from reacting aggressively whilst they call for the taxi. All practical, easily implementable advice which requires only basic diversity training in pubs, bars and nightclubs to get off the ground with minimal cost to the owners. Great!

Now most of the time such poster campaigns only garner very limited interest, usually from local bar and nightclub goers who wouldn't give a second thought to the poster after merely glancing at its content. However, thanks to a wonderful student tweeter from Lincoln/Scunthorpe called Isobel O' Brien (IZ), who took a mobile selfie of the poster on October 18th because she believed it "shouldn't just be seen in Lincolnshire bars and nightclubs", the Twittersphere got to see the #AskForAngela poster. Suffice to say it went viral. As of 25/10/2016, IZ's tweet has been liked 35,000 times and retweeted 27,000 times. The Australian newspaper, The Age Australia picked up on the #AskForAngela poster and several Australian radio stations have asked for interviews with Lincolnshire Rape Crisis. It would be fantastic to see regional variations of the poster being distributed across the UK, Australia, New Zealand and even in countries such as Norway or Sweden, albeit with regional variations being applied when necessary.

I'm proud to know my home county council and Marc Jones, my local Police and Crime Commissioner have taken such a firm stand against sexual assault and rape and want to prevent as many from happening in the first place. We don't have enough councils and PCCs taking the matter of prevention seriously enough.

Of course after IZ tweeted an image of the #AskForAngela poster, the Twitter trolls came at her with the predictable putdowns. Marcus J, for example said that "women should learn just to say "no thanks" on a bad date", not realising that some people may be frightened of speaking out openly against a bad date person  for fear of being followed out of the bar/club and then being sexually assaulted or raped out in the streets or even at home.  Marcus retorted that he'd expect people to "have a minimum amount of self-awareness and self-confidence to handle the situation like an adult" so as to not "make themselves" a victim (October 18th 2016). Yet what Marcus doesn't understand is that actually by using the #AskForAngela codeword, people would be acting with self-confidence by making sure they protect themselves. So I was glad to see a guy actually speaking up for IZ and the poster campaign by pointing out the need to protect women from the possibility of being sexually assaulted/raped by a bad date. As IZ has pointed out, it is a "safety net" (Oct 19th 2016) and what is actually wrong with having one in place? Naturally Mr Marcus said that the "Feminist Circlejerk" has been closing in on him since he made the comments but I don't think you have to be a feminist to support such a vital campaign. That being said, there is nothing wrong with being a proud intersectional feminist and I certainly am one and shall forever be one.

Then we have another predictable putdown by Daniel Clarke who criticised the poster for being too geared towards women because of its layout and its use of language. Firstly he mentioned the whole "the poster is making women hate men because of the patriarchy broad smear" wah wah argument. Why do guys feel the need to denigrate poster campaigns like this just because it might have been created by Lincolnshire Rape Crisis (who they instantly perceive as being a women's only organisation)?  Daniel then says that the poster asks a person to "ask for a woman...because females are more likely to approach other females if they feel threatened/in danger." (October 24th 2016). OK so what happens if the bad date happens to be a woman? Do you think lesbian/bi/pansexual/queer/gender-neutral women would want to use the code word Angela if one uses Daniel's logic? Or perhaps we all want to ensure we are safe and don't care what code word we need to use in order to guarantee our safety? Hmmm...
Finally Daniel goes back to the idea of women being portrayed as "helpless" that is just so ludicrous that he should go and join Marcus on that extremely naughty step! Women are not helpless because they use their judgement to keep themselves safe. The "damsels in distress" narrative that some blokes have been brought up on needs to be thrown out the window.

So let's address the "elephant in the room" that Daniel and Marcus and others brought up. Is the poster designed just for women? The amazing point that was made by IZ several times on her Twitter Feed was that the poster was found in a GENDER NEUTRAL bathroom and was intended to be seen by men as well as women. It is important to remember that gay, bisexual and heterosexual men can find themselves on a bad date where they may feel they could be taken advantage of physically. You think just because men are "meant" to "look strong enough" and can "sound tough and firm" by saying No to their bad date that they would be immune from being sexually assaulted or date raped? What a "Stone Age" to take! I'd have thought that guys would want to protect their bros from being in this situation and if guys who criticise the poster based on its layout, colour scheme or use of language really care about protecting their fellow bros from being sexually assaulted or raped, they should either get on board with the poster's message and stop critiquing the "femininity" of it or create their own posters that could be displayed in men's bathrooms to help them keep safe on a night out? I'm assuming that Daniel and Marcus do care about heterosexual and gay/bi/transmen or gender/fluid/queer/non-binary individuals enough to want to protect them from being sexually assaulted or raped by an aggressive bad date in the first place?

So yes, I applaud Lincolnshire Rape Crisis, Lincolnshire County Council and  Marc Jones for creating the #AskForAngela posters. I'm glad that the #NoMore campaign will be "relaunched in February 2017 to tie in with the National Sex Violence and Abuse Awareness Week". (Hayley Child, The Independent). It'll be amazing to see how many regional and international variations of the poster appear on social media inspired by the posters. I stand in solidarity with IZ over her tweeting of the poster and her take down of the patriarchal Twitter Trolls who trot out the same lines to try and delegitimise the poster without coming up with any ideas as to how to contribute to sexual assault and bad date rape prevention for Men as well as women, trans, non-binary or queer individuals, hetero as well as lesbian, gay, bi, pansexual people. We need to continue fighting against the #RapeCulture that exists in the world to help all concerned. It's not just a Feminist issue that can be swept under the carpet at will. After what's happened with Trump's sexual assault comments we have to be practical and enact systems that will help prevent sexual assaults and rapes from occurring in the first place. Code word posters are a small but vital practical part of the process and yet again, Lincolnshire leads the way. I couldn't be more proud.