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Referencing rape in a tweet about mistletoe isn’t simply clumsy – it trivialises a pervasive issue

The police’s misguided festive tweet reveals how little understanding they actually have when it comes to conducting conversations around consent, says Marisa Bate

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By Marisa Bate on

The Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) came under fire this weekend for a festive tweet that was at best clumsy and at worst revealed woeful misunderstanding.

On Saturday, the force tweeted: “If you bump into that special someone under the mistletoe tonight, remember that without consent it is rape #SeasonsGreetings.”

Now, of course, it should go without saying consent is critical, educating others about consent is crucial and we should all take unwanted advances at Christmas parties very, very seriously. But it seems remarkable, as it did to many on Twitter, that the PSNI could conflate a kiss under mistletoe with a heinous act of rape. Such was the outcry, the force has since deleted the tweet and claimed it was “taken out of context”.

While it’s clear that the PSNI had no malicious motivation, and was trying to raise the important issue of consent at a time of year when booze and festive spirits are often used as green cards for men to behave in unwarranted ways, something went horribly wrong. Not only is this wildly insulting to survivors of rape and anyone who campaigns on the importance of consent, but it also reveals how little understanding the police themselves have. (In our post-Weinstein age, I wonder whether the panic and fear of a potential new world order run by women is causing a little frenzy. In The Telegraph's reporting on this story, they even go so far as to explain precisely what rape is).

To start using rape in a tweet about mistletoe (and with a festive hashtag) only serves to trivialise an issue that 1 in 5 women aged 16-59 have experienced or will experience. It trivialises an issue that, thanks to the #MeToo movement, has toppled some of society’s most powerful men. It trivialises an experience that changes women’s (and men's) lives irrevocably. Furthermore, a flippant tweet that warns that kisses under mistletoe without consent are as serious as the life-changing experience of rape shows a gross misunderstanding of how to conduct conversations around consent, and reveals how institutions that are meant to help women deal precisely with such a crime, like the police, are failing victims.

To start using rape in a tweet about mistletoe (and with a festive hashtag) only serves to trivialise an issue that 1 in 5 women aged 16-59 have experienced or will experience

A quick google will reveal that all around the world police and the criminal justice system are still letting down victims of rape. A report in Newsweek from October revealed how police officers in New York told a victim she would “look like a slut on trial”. A report from 2014 found that 26 per cent of cases reported to the police were not treated as crimes. And, in 2017, five years after the Delhi gang-rape that left student Jyoti Singh student dead, Quartz asks: “Why is it still almost impossible for Indian rape survivors to get justice?” From being disbelieved by police officers to even being raped by officers, the police are often just the first hurdle for survivors. Their case then has to face not being referred to the Crown Prosecution Service or its international equivalent, and even if it is, the survivor has to deal with giving testimony, reliving a traumatic event where, more often than not, they know their attacker. Only 10 per cent of rapes are committed by “strangers”.

So, women have historically been failed by the police and the justice system, and the flippant, thoughtless tweet smacks of an institution that has not learnt its lesson and is still not adequately educated in how to discuss issues around sexual violence and consent. We should celebrate a police force that puts consent at the centre of its conversations around Christmas safety, but only if that same force can discuss rape in the manner it should be.

Conversations around consent typically swirl around university campuses or are subjects of late-night Hollyoaks episodes. It’s frightening to think how clueless a police force remains.

@marisajbate

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Sexual assault
Sexual abuse
Christmas

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