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What we can learn from SAPS' online victim-blaming

Michelle Avenant's picture

Earlier this week, the South African Police Service (SAPS) tweeted a series of #StopRape “hints”, essentially instructing people on how not to get raped.

This was after tweeting that:







This is obvious victim-blaming, and unacceptable (for reasons Louise Ferreira explains better than I will).

It is certainly not uncommon for police services to turn to victim-blaming in their media campaigns, as we can see from the posters below (both of which were circulated by British police services over the last decade). These are two of many examples.

But Twitter is different to printed-out posters. Adopting the familiar utopian approach that social networks make our lives oh-so-much better because they give “everybody” a voice, we could talk about how many people on Twitter responded angrily to SAPS’ original tweet, telling them that victim-blaming is not okay. We could celebrate the fact that SAPS withdrew the tweet within but a couple of hours:

We could also reflect on what SAPS’ handling (read: lack thereof) of their slip-up on Twitter reveals about how much they really care about their “accidental” victim-blaming.

After an online outcry most social media managers are trained to recognise as “embarrassing”, SAPS hastily conceded that their initial tweet had been “the wrong choice of words". Yet their equally victim-blaming "don’t-get-raped" tips are still up on Twitter, and probably haven’t been given a second glance since they were first tweeted, considering @SAPoliceService has not responded to any of the many enraged replies to these tweets. 

This lack of response is curious for a twitter account that tweets every two minutes during working hours (I’m not exaggerating). Although somebody is clearly employed to spend all day on Twitter on behalf of SAPS, this person apparently has no time to consider the reception or implications of the “hints” they are imparting.

Whilst angry citizens on Twitter prompted SAPS to remove and apologise for one of their tweets, a closer analysis of SAPS' twitter account tells us that this apology had very little consideration or real understanding behind it. Twitter gives us each a protesting voice to communicate directly with large bodies we disagree with, but to address SAPS’ problems with victim-blaming, we are going to need much, much more than angry tweets.