Thursday 16 October 2014

Victim Blame (again)

Its that time of year again. Nights drawing in, a new academic year, and we're bombarded with messages telling us to have bike lights, hi-viz, helmets, etc. All the stuff we get every Autumn, ignoring the reality that every safety measure we as cyclists can employ won't add up to a hill of beans next to the carnage wrought by motorists - and many of us will be asking ourselves how much victim blame amounts to an acceptable word of caution, and how much is too much?

Again, this coincides with the emotive subject of victim blame in rape being in the news, this time from Judy Finnegan. I gather she's a daytime television presenter married to Alan Partridge.

We'd all agree that suggesting not getting so drunk you're vulnerable to assault (of any kind) is good advice. And minding your drink so no one slips you anything you don't want is a wise precaution. We might go so far as to recommend not wearing something or acting in such a way as to send a message you really don't want to send while at a location in which you may be exposing yourself to risk. But I also hope we'd all agree that none of this is in any way a valid excuse for a rapist - while its fair to advise taking care in a hostile world, we don't any longer absolve the criminal from responsibility for his or her actions based upon the behaviour of a victim.

Ms. Finnegan rather made a mess of things in her brief foray into the area. She's not the first and she won't be the last  to try to say something uncontroversial (rape is always wrong, punishment must reflect the specific crime) and make a pigs ear of it due to brevity/language/no brain buffer between the idea and vocal chords. I get why people are offended by what she said, and from the rapidity and tone of her apology so does she.

So lets compare that with how journalists and 'celebrities' regularly cover cycling. Here in the telegraph for example:
From what I observe, a fatal combination of poor riding skills, a complete disregard for the Highway Code, and the temptation of turning a gentle ride to work across Battersea Bridge into the final stage of the Tour de France, are just as equally to blame for the number of accidents on Britain’s roads as careless drivers.
Of course, we know this isn't true - cyclists are not to blame in 93% of their deaths or serious injuries on the road. That means if we changed our behaviour and got nothing wrong, ever, we'd see very little change in cyclist injury in the UK. The above statement from the Telegraph is an example of horrifically wrong victim blame - and this is a paper with a strong pedigree of vile cyclist hate. 

Lets turn to the good old Daily Mail. Well, lets give a link where one of the articles therein is dissected. I wouldn't wipe my arse on that piece of shit 'paper', I'd feel dirtier afterwards. Noreasoned thought there - the article contains collective blame, stereotyping, 'some of my best friends are...', etc. Prejudice based wank without a any sense or integrity to it.

Maybe local journalists, with a penchant for communities being better places by being quieter, less polluted, cleaner, fitter places might be less obviously frothing at the mouth anti-bike loonies? Oh. Maybe not. In fact we see the victim-blaming mantra writ large, trollumnism with the entire focus being on cyclists. 

How about the 'quality' peridicals? No? 

Stereotyping, and blaming cyclists for others harming them, is so common as to be unremarkable. No one challenges it. You can start a conversation with 'bloody cyclists'.  It has perfused every part of our culture and society. It infects our legal system (I refer you to the Cycling Lawyer blog for all too many examples of people killing cyclists and getting away with it because the cyclist who was right in front of the driver 'came out of nowhere' or 'the sun was in my eyes', or even 'because its a dangerous road').

As a society we try to have it both ways, and we fail - either victim blame is bad, or victim blame is good. We can't sub-divide based on whether the victims are doing something that we don't do - if they're acting within the law (or even outside of the law) and get hurt or killed due to the actions of others, which is the case with the vast majority of cyclist injuries, then this remorseless victim blaming has to end. And we'll only get there if we make all of the crass, lazy, downright offensive stereotyping of cyclists that we see in our media a thing of the past.

By all means, advise cyclists to have lights. Spend about 2% of your effort or bile relating to cyclist safety on this, about the proportion of deaths and serious injuries this causes. Anything more? You're victim blaming scum.


  1. Cambs Cambs police seem to be working on a PR campaign of cyclists not locking their bikes be the reason they are stolen. They tweeted today's they ere counting unlocked bicycles in the city centre. A rather unlikely 50 they claim. @CambridgeCops: Disappointing to see so many unlocked bicycles left in Cambridge city centre tonight (nearly 50!). Please lock your bike or risk losing it.

    1. Again, its good advice to say 'lock up your bike' like its good advice to say 'lock your doors when you go out' or 'don't leave valuables visible in your car'. When thats more or less the entire effort, its just victim blame :(