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04th Oct 2021

Stop teaching women how to avoid male violence, teach men not to be violent

Katy Brennan

People are outraged following the tone-deaf advice from the Met Police last week telling women to “wave down a bus” if they distrust an officer.

*Content warning – This article contains references to rape and sexual assault*

The events of the past few weeks have reignited an all-too-familiar conversation about male violence and the safety of women and girls.

For years, we have been told to avoid walking alone at night, be sure not to wear anything too revealing, tell a friend where you are at all times, don’t wear headphones, etc.

Most women learn these safety tips from an early age and almost every time a female is murdered in the streets, the advice is reiterated.

Advice like this highlights the deep-rooted misogyny within our society. It perpetuates the notion that male violence is an issue for women to deal with – not the male perpetrators. And we accept it, tailoring our actions accordingly.

But why is the focus on telling women how to prevent harassment, rape, and murder and not on finding ways to stop those who commit the acts? When will it become clear that victims should not have to assume responsibility for preventing their own attack?

Last week, the Metropolitan Police issued advice following the sentencing of Wayne Couzens for the brutal murder of Sarah Everard. 

Sarah was kidnapped by the off-duty police officer on 3 March 2021, as she was walking home from a friend’s house, and later raped and strangled to death.

According to the Metropolitan police, if a person fears a male police officer might not be who they say they are, and feels in “real and imminent danger” they should shout out to a passer-by, run into a house, knock on a door, call 999 or wave a bus down.

Their advice is tone-deaf, utterly ridiculous, and a clear example of victim-blaming.

If you’ve ever tried to flag down a bus when you aren’t at a bus stop, you’ll know the chances are slim to none. Furthermore, what bus driver is going to stop for someone who they perceive to be a criminal being arrested for a crime?

Unsurprisingly, people have taken to social media to voice their disbelief at the advice.

The Metropolitan Police is vowing to make the streets safer for women and girls, stating that it is investigating if Wayne Couzens committed more crimes before the murder of Sarah Everard. It has said it will no longer deploy plain clothes officers on their own (Wayne Couzans was off-duty and wearing his own clothes when the kidnapping took place).

We can breathe a sigh of relief that this rapist and murderer is off the streets, sentenced to life imprisonment, and will never harm a woman again. But how long will it be before the next headline breaks? How long before another woman is viciously attacked in the street?  Let’s re-frame the conversation to focus on male violence and not on women’s safety.