Feminism Mhairi Hunter Ungagged Writing

Call it Out!

Drink Spiking, rape culture and other harmful normalisation of misogyny…

by Mhairi Hunter

On October 22, MP Kirsty Blackman published a letter of complaint she had sent to the Evening Express newspaper about an opinion column they had published on drink spiking.

The article was appalling and suggested that “We must not understate the seriousness of drink spiking and the results of it, but surely it is the responsibility of the individual to keep themselves safe.”

Following receipt of Kirsty’s letter, the Evening Express correctly printed an apology and acknowledged that they should not have published the column.

But the scale of their error is something I still find shocking.

The column was published following the launch of a campaign by young women across the UK to demand stronger action on drink spiking.

Their campaign entails boycotting nightclubs on designated nights until clubs introduce bystander training for staff, provide an identifiable welfare officer, implement zero tolerance of spiking and clear reporting policies, and provide anti-spike devices, such as drinks stoppers.

In addition, the campaign is supporting a petition to make it a legal requirement for clubs to search guests on entry.

There has been a lot of chat on social media, picked up by mainstream outlets, about needle spiking, with suggestions that women have been directly injected in nightclubs. Many have pointed out that injecting someone surreptitiously would be extremely difficult – but that doesn’t mean that there aren’t idiots trying to do it.

And questions about whether needle spiking is really happening shouldn’t detract from the fact that drink spiking is undoubtedly a very real problem and a specific and serious criminal offence in Scotland, officially known as the offence of administering a substance for sexual purposes.

The idea that the onus should be on women to protect themselves against someone surreptitiously drugging them to make it easier to rape them is repugnant.

It is particularly objectionable following the trial of Sarah Everard’s murderer, and cack-handed suggestions in its aftermath about how she might have been able to better protect herself.

Women are vigilant every day of their lives but that does not prevent them from being targeted and assaulted and even, with appalling frequency, murdered. It is beyond time that the focus shifted away from the behaviour of victims and onto the behaviour of perpetrators and the rape culture that helps to create and sustain gender-based violence.

That’s why I was happy to see a new campaign – Don’t Be That Guy – from Police Scotland calling out male sexual entitlement. The campaign was launched with a great video, scripted by Alan Bissett and a dedicated website That Guy (that-guy.co.uk)

Crucially, the campaign recognises that gender-based violence starts with male sexual entitlement and challenges men to take a hard look at their attitudes and behaviour, at home, at work and when socialising. It explicitly calls on men to stop ignoring a culture that objectifies, demeans, and ultimately brutalises women.

This is long overdue in my view, and I hope it is the start of a sustained and national conversation about finding better ways to be a man.

The reaction from some men has been a bit defensive and I completely understand why. As individuals, they may justifiably feel that they are not responsible for the behaviour of other men. They may feel helpless in the face of behaviour they find completely abhorrent.

But they’re not helpless. As individuals, of course men can’t single-handedly tackle rape culture. But collectively, they can do a lot more to challenge it. Collectively, men have the power to deliver fundamental cultural change and doing so will benefit them as well as benefiting women.

No-one just wakes up one morning and decides to rape someone. That behaviour starts with smaller scale abuse which is harmful to women but is often minimised by the perpetrator’s friends, colleagues and family.

That’s what people do in our society. It’s what they’ve learned to do. A certain level of misogyny is normalised and tolerated. People don’t want to be accused of being too po-faced or politically correct, or risk falling out with a friend by challenging them. Why, then, are we surprised that behaviour which is never called out can escalate to the point of criminality?

Calling out the behaviour of friends, family members or colleagues, never mind our own behaviour, is a difficult thing to do, I do understand that. But not doing so risks giving abusers the impression that their behaviour is accepted. And the more men become willing to call it out, the easier it will become.

The reward can be a country where women are less afraid to simply walk down the street because of men, where children are less likely to witness and be damaged by gender-based violence, and where fewer men end up in prison, ruining their own lives as well as harming others. Isn’t that worth striving for?

by Mhairi Hunter

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