Campus Police Offer Super Helpful Tip Sheet Telling Students Not To Look Like Victims

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safe vs unsafe switchHave you ever been the victim of a crime? The University of Wisconsin-Madison campus police want you to know that maybe you could have been prevented yourself from winding up in that situation if you hadn’t had a ‘victim persona’. Funny, I always say that the police could prevent me from getting angry with them if they just didn’t take on an ‘asshole persona’.

The UW police‘s crime prevention tip sheet, originally titled “Shedding the Victim Persona: Staying Safe on Campus” has since been edited, but a cached version is still available for viewing. The title has been amended to “Tools You Can Use”, because apparently someone in the police PR department realized that accusing people of acting too victim-y might not be the best idea ever. Even though this list is meant to offer general crime prevention advice, I can’t help but read sexual-assault victim-blaming between the lines of things like this:

Be a hard target – a victim looks like a victim! […] if you present yourself as easy prey, then expect to attract some wolves.

If the police department just wanted to tell people to have their head up and be aware of their surroundings, maybe they should just say that, instead of telling students that they should expect to be attacked if they don’t have the right attitude. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with offering a tip sheet to students to advise them on basic safety tips, but I think if you’re going to do that, you’d better damn well make sure you don’t stumble across the line from “helpful safety information provider” to  “victim-blaming douche-canoe” when you do.

There are more than 40,000 students who attend college at UW-Madison, somewhere around half of which are women. By the time they graduate, a number of those women are going to become the victims of rape or sexual assault.There’s already a horrifying culture of shame around reporting sex crimes, and now these women have been told by the police who are supposed to protect them that maybe they are partly to blame for their own assault. It’s hard enough to come forward already without feeling like the mindset the police are going to approach your case with is, “Well, what could you have done to avoid this?”

The revised version of the site, besides its re-titling, has been edited to remove some of the more troubling passages: no more ‘victim persona’, no more ‘looks like a victim’, no more wolves sniffing after prey. The police have also appended an apology – a real one, which I appreciate, and not a crappy “sorry if you were offended”:

We realized some wording should have been phrased better and in a more sensitive nature. For that, we apologize. […] It is NEVER a victim’s fault if they find themselves targeted in any crime. Ever. The tips below are great tools for our students, faculty, and staff to have in their “safety tool belt.” They are not failsafe or guaranteed — but merely tools to use to help with personal safety.

I’m glad someone there has their head on right, but I’m still concerned that the original version of the site made it as far as publication without being caught. A number of my former students from my teaching days attend UW-Madison, and while I hope most of all that they never have reason to need the services of campus police, I also hope that if they ever do have to make that call, that they will encounter only officers who want to do their best by these young women, and not any whose first instinct is to victim-blame.

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