There was disbelief and disgust last week when, after Wayne Couzens was convicted of the kidnap, rape and murder, as a serving officer, of Sarah Everard, London's Metropolitan Police suggested that potential victims could protect themselves from a lone plain-clothes police officer by "shouting out to a passerby, running into a house, knocking on a door, waving a bus down or, if you are in the position to do so, calling 999".
Amid the reaction to such victim-blaming, a smart and succinct graphic posted on social media by the Sexual Violence Centre in Cork has hit the nail on the head. "How to avoid sexual assault! A quick and easy guide", the centre's post is headed. Don't put drugs in people's drinks, it says. When you see a woman walking by herself, leave her alone. When you come across someone who is drunk or asleep, the best thing you can do is not rape them. And so on.
100,000 likes on Instagram. For us to get 100, sure we're over the moon. I'm blown away by the response
The graphic, designed in house by Ellie Mahony, is directed at perpetrators of sexual violence rather than its victims, and has got a massive reaction: “100,000 likes on Instagram. For us to get 100, sure we’re over the moon. I’m blown away by the response,” says Mary Crilly, the centre’s director.
“One woman, I think she’s an actress in Portugal with 1.3 million followers, asked can I translate this into Portuguese. Then other people followed, which I love. It wasn’t us doing it. Individuals decided to do that: it was the public, translating it into Chinese or Russian or Greek.”
Statistics tell us, says Crilly, that “one in five women in Ireland will be raped. Men are more likely to get beaten up on the streets than raped, though male rape is very prevalent. It’s about victim-blaming, about being tired of women being told to watch what you’re doing and watch how you walk. Women from an early age are being taught to be afraid. I know that’s not what people want to do when they say to a young girl, ‘Be careful when you go out.’ But in reality they are being taught to be afraid.”
Instead we should “look at the person who’s doing the damage, who’s doing the assault, doing the rape.” She adds: “The majority of men are not doing this. Only a minority are, but they’re so consistent, so deliberate about it. And they do it because they feel entitled, because they want power and control.”
Most people who contact the Sexual Violence Centre have been raped by somebody they know. 'It's not the guy in the bar who looks really weird who's going to put something in your drink. It's going to be the guy sitting beside you who you trust'
Most people who contact the centre have been raped by somebody they know. “It’s not the guy in the bar who looks really weird who’s going to put something in your drink. It’s going to be the guy sitting beside you who you trust.”
It takes men to call out other men. “Most guys who brag about it to their friends, they won’t say, ‘I raped somebody last night,’ but they say, ‘I had her last night, and she can’t even remember it,’” and they could do anything. So the good guys out there, ask them to stand up and be counted, and say to their friends, ‘This isn’t on, this isn’t appropriate.’”
Cork Rape Crisis Centre, set up in 1983, changed its name to Sexual Violence Centre about 15 years ago, to encourage people to seek support even if they didn't identify with the word rape. "People said to me, 'I didn't know my brother could come in,' or, 'I was raped by my friend, and that's not really rape because he wasn't violent.'"
Sexual Violence Centre Cork's free helpline is at 1800-496496; its text service is at 087-1533393; or you can contact it here. Help and support are also available from rapecrisishelp.ie (1800-778888), connectcounselling.ie (RoI 1800-477477; NI and GB 0800-47747777) and samaritans.org (116-123)