TRIGGER WARNING: This post discusses rape, and links to some possibly-triggering content surrounding rape.
This morning, I received an email informing me that if I didn’t do as TFL told me, I’d get raped.
I am writing to remind you that unbooked minicabs picked up off the street are dangerous and put you at risk of sexual assault. The safest way to get a minicab home is to:
- Book it – by phone, email or in a minicab office to guarantee your trip is carried out by a licensed, insured driver and vehicle
- Check it’s yours – ask the driver to confirm your name and destination before you get in the car, and check the driver’s photo ID
- Sit in the back – and carry your mobile in case of an emergency
It looks like it’s that time of year again. The tinsel comes out, and women are blamed for getting themselves in trouble. The opening sentence of that email has the tone of a legal disclaimer, pointing out that I have been warned and that TFL will be in no way liable for any sexual assaults on me during the festive period.
In such a short missive, there is a lot to unpack.
The advice given is fairly decent personal safety advice for anyone getting in a car with a stranger. Unfortunately, to my knowledge, the email was only sent to women and focused solely on sexual assaults: what of muggings, rip-offs, your common-or-garden non-sexual assaults? This advice benefits everyone, yet it was only sent to women. As @Cillygrrl14 points out, it provides a compelling reason to do away with ticking a mandatory gender box when filling in a form.
Of course, the reason it focuses on women and sexual assault boils down to the way society views rape: that it only affects women, is perpetrated by strangers, and women are in some way wholly responsible for preventing their own rapes.
The victim blaming in minicab rapes is hardly new. A high-profile ad campaign to “reduce the number of minicab rapes” ended up as little more than an exercise in laying responsibility for the rape solely in the hands of the survivor. The posters sternly declare that you are “putting yourself in danger”, prominently featuring a picture of a distressed, crying woman and an all-caps message which sounds like a sarcastic impression of someone being raped. I won’t even link the videos. They’re triggering and horrible. The message is clear: it’s your fault for getting in that cab, you silly cow.
The focus on unlicensed minicabs is also something of a red herring. As far as I am aware, doing The Knowledge does not entail a mandatory training course about enthusiastic consent. In fact, rapes perpetrated by licenced drivers can and do happen, such as the high profile “black cab rapist” case. The major difference between licensed and unlicensed cab driver rapists is that the former are easier to catch, though that smacks of stable doors and bolting horses. It also buys into the stranger-rape narrative wholesale. A woman, on leaving a Christmas party is far more likely to be raped by the charming friend-of-a-friend who offers to ‘see her home safely’ than some predator in a roving rape-wagon. Yet we don’t talk about this; there is no national campaign to point out that the majority of rapists are known to their victims. I use the term ‘victim’ here, as this campaign has made it quite clear I’m a victim just waiting to happen unless I take full responsibility for my own actions.
Ending rape is not the responsibility of each individual woman preventing her own rape. It cannot work that way: it is everyone’s responsibility. It is the responsibility of unlicensed minicab drivers not to rape, of the authorities to adequately work on preventing rapists from being able to rape, of every single person to look out for one another. It is all of our responsibility to thoroughly dismantle a victim-blaming, individualistic culture which allows rape to happen. Somehow, I doubt TFL will send me an email to that effect. It’s easier for them to absolve responsibility altogether.
Stopping rape is never going to be easy. The beliefs are entrenched, the behaviours entrenched, the excuses entrenched. Yet preventing rape is not about not getting in a dodgy-looking cab and keeping your phone in your hand. It’s about overhauling the whole shitty system. I think that’s a fight worth fighting.