In Scotland, a powerful new public awareness campaign is demanding that men reflect on their own behaviour when it comes to male violence against women.
Earlier this year, Stylist launched #AFearlessFuture: our initiative calling on the Home Office to launch a public awareness campaign about male violence against women, aimed squarely at adult men. Now, Police Scotland has released a powerful film that speaks directly to men about sexual violence – and it’s exactly the sort of thing Stylist is demanding from the Home Office in England and Wales.
Gazing into the camera, young men ask a series of overlapping questions: “Ever stared at a woman on a bus, or said to your mate, ‘I’d do that’?
“Ever slid into a girl’s DMs, then went ahead and just showed her it?
“You ever bought a lassie dinner and felt that meant she owed you something?
“You ever got her three shots in a row, hoping you’d get a shot of her? Then what… bundled her, wasted, into a taxi and took her back to yours?
“Ever guilt-tripped her, or pressured her, or pushed her into it – then left feeling like a lad?”
The film, which will run on online platforms including social media, concludes by emphasising the pervasiveness of sexual harassment and assault, and the ways in which ordinary men often fail to consider their culpability.
“Most men don’t look in the mirror and see a problem,” reads the script. “But it’s staring us right in the face.
“Sexual violence starts long before you think it does. Don’t be that guy.” A link follows, directing viewers to a website filled with information about how men can help challenge male violence against women.
It’s still rare to see initiatives around male violence against women that speak directly to men – in part because of the assumption that men will complain that they’re being unfairly criticised because of a dangerous minority. A recent campaign by the charity Women’s Aid subverted this defensiveness to deliver a positive message, reminding male viewers that “not all men commit violence against women and girls, but all men must be part of the solution”.
Police Scotland’s film takes a different tack. Rather than reassuring individual men that they’re not part of the problem, it asks them to consider the possibility that they may, in fact, have harmed women without fully realising it.
Launching the campaign, Malcolm Graham, deputy chief constable for Police Scotland, said: “It’s time that we men reflected on our own behaviours and attitudes – and those of our friends, family and colleagues – towards women in order to prevent rape, sexual assault and harassment.
“Women are not responsible for the sexual offences committed against them and should be able to go about their daily lives without worrying about being sexually harassed, assaulted or raped.
“It’s up to men to step up, to not be ‘that guy’ and to stop sexual offending before it starts.”
The film’s focus on the more mundane aspects of male sexual harassment and violence against women is welcome. Cases such as the murders of Sabina Nessa, Sarah Everard, Bibaa Henry and Nicole Smallman make headlines because they are – thankfully – extremely unusual. But supposedly ‘low-level’ forms of harassment and assault – the cat-calls, the dick pics, the drunken manipulation and casual coercion – are overwhelmingly common. Earlier this year, a survey by VictimFocus of 22,000 women in the UK found that 99.7% had been repeatedly subjected to violence including assaults, harassment and rape. “I thought it was just a part of life,” said one survey respondent.
By shining the spotlight on ‘ordinary’ forms of intimidation and violence, Police Scotland’s ‘That Guy’ campaign rejects the monster myth: the idea that perpetrators of male violence against women are freakish rarities.
“It’s very easy to think of perpetrators of violence against women as this separate group of men who are somehow deviant,” Dr Stephen Burrell tells Stylist. An assistant sociology professor at Durham University, Burrell specialises in how to engage men and boys in preventing male violence against women. “But given how prevalent violence against women is, we know that a lot of [perpetrators are] men who we think of as perfectly ordinary – especially when it comes to things like sexual harassment, which are incredibly pervasive.”
Stylist called on the government to launch a similar public awareness campaign in England and Wales because we are sick and tired of conversations that focus on how women can keep themselves safe from male violence, rather than on how men should change their behaviour. We know that the criminal justice system alone cannot be relied upon to eradicate male violence against women – particularly in England and Wales, where just 1.4% of rape cases result in a charge or summons and three in four domestic abuse offences reported to police are closed without charge. We want the government to invest in challenging the culture of misogyny that allows gender-based violence to thrive.
The Home Office is currently developing a public awareness campaign around violence against women, but has yet to confirm when it will launch. It might want to look at the ‘That Guy’ campaign, and take notes.
For information and support for anyone affected by rape or sexual abuse issues, call the Rape Crisis National Helpline on 0808 802 9999
Images: Police Scotland
Moya is a freelance journalist and writer from London, and a former editor at Stylist.