Reflection is a beautiful thing. Reconsidering your position on a subject or debate before publishing your thoughts can often help avoid the embarrassment of saying something stupid, assumptive, or not well thought through. Unfortunately channels of communication such as Twitter and Facebook and the speedy way in which you can say something, or respond to things you see being reported or said means that it’s rare that someone really considers what they’re writing before hitting the ‘Tweet’ button. Not only that, but the 140 character limit means that often people are not able to use as many words as they’d like to say what it is they’re trying to say, causing their message to be difficult to interpret by those reading it.
This is what happened when Chief Inspector Heather Keating tweeted on December 30th 2012 to say
Its always sad to see young women become victims of sexual offences, don’t drink too much on New Years eve and regret your actions!
It sounded like CI Keating was suggesting women who got drunk were to blame if they got raped, and many were angered at what Keating had said, myself included. I replied to Keating’s tweet from my personal Twitter account to say
Stop victim blaming. Try ‘don’t rape people on New Years Eve’, after all, that’s the cause of rape. Not what the victim does.
It got Retweeted 29 times, and a simple search of Keating’s (now defunct) Twitter handle @CIKeating showed that a lot of other people were sending similar (and much angrier) tweets, pointing out that they thought it was wrong to blame rape on women getting drunk, it was bad to see such an attitude displayed by a police officer, and similar messages of disgust.
I had overreacted though, and I soon realised that the Tweet from CI Keating was, at worse, ambiguous in its wording and, actually, I couldn’t be 100% sure that she was saying what so many angry Twitter users thought she was saying. She hadn’t said ‘Women, don’t drink too much on New Years Eve and regret your actions’ and I wondered if I had over reacted. Twitter conversations with a few people I know within Skeptical circles added to this doubt, then CI Keating Tweeted a clarification prompted by all of the angry responses she had received. She tweeted, in four Tweets
Reading through [the] responses to my tweet & [the] original tweet itself I’m sorry. For the record I do NOT believe that victims of any assault are responsible – their attackers are. We’ve been promoting a ‘drink responsibly’ message to all, over the last few weeks as alcohol can increase vulnerability but are aware that my wording came across in the wrong way. Please be assured that assault on both female & male victims is dealt with very seriously by my team.
The original Tweet from Keating was worded badly and did read as though she was suggesting victims of rape were sometimes to blame for their assault because they had drunk too much. This is a victim blaming mentality that is too often present within modern society – too many times have I heard people I know well say something like ‘if they wear clothes like that then what do they expect?‘ as though it’s normal to think rape is an expected consequence of wearing a short skirt or clingy top. It’s mind boggling, and it’s quite a common attitude.
Of course, those of us who were angered and outraged by Keating’s Tweet and reacted without clarifying what she meant were at fault - but I also think it was short sighted of CI Keating to not write something that was better worded. Considering she works with victims of such crimes she cannot be unaware that many women are reluctant to officially report their assaults because of the attitudes society often has of them, and that it’s a very touchy subject that generates much anger.
Many people have suggested that although alcohol does leave often leave us vulnerable there is still an element of victim blaming is CI Keating’s tweet because she has linked women becoming victims of sexual assault with a ‘drink responsibly’ campaign. A quick search of the Sussex Police website shows that the ‘be responsible’ message is promoted throughout all areas of potential crime, and that their only message about drinking says
Do not drink too much alcohol – you could become a target for thieves.
Although this does feel somewhat like victim blaming there is a certain amount of responsibility that all of us should take to keep ourselves safe, and I don’t think the messages being promoted by this force are overly victim blaming in nature. I guess the lesson we can all learn from this is that Twitter is crap for communicating properly, and that sometimes we’re all a bit hasty in responding to things without having the full picture.