UW-Madison police have revised a crime prevention tip sheet sent out earlier this week after readers were alarmed by language they said blamed victims for crimes such as sexual assault.
The monthly newsletter, originally titled “Shedding the Victim Persona: Staying Safe on Campus,” was published online and emailed to university staff, faculty and students on Tuesday.
In it, Officer William Brown offers a number of commonly cited safety tips, such as walking with friends, traveling along well-lit paths and drinking responsibly.
But a section titled “being a hard target” alarmed a number of readers.
In its original form, since changed but still accessible through cached Web pages, the section began, “A victim looks like a victim! If you move from one destination to another, and the only thing you recall about the trip is the last text message you received, then there’s a problem.”
“If you present yourself as easy prey, then expect to attract some wolves,” it continues. “If you make yourself a hard target, one who is aware of their surroundings, you take away two elements of a crime: desirability and opportunity.”
Two phrases in particular, “A victim looks like a victim” and “If you present yourself as easy prey, then expect to attract some wolves,” struck many readers as blaming women who are victims of sexual assault.
Jia Tolentino, a writer for the website Jezebel, remarked, “Oh, dear police department, we know, we know. We know we look like victims. We know we present as easy ... prey. How lovely to be reminded by the police department.”
After the wave of criticism on blogs and social media, UW police revised the section, removing those two sentences and changing the post’s title to, “Tools You Can Use: Staying Safe on Campus.”
The department also added an explanation to the top of the post, saying it was meant to provide safety information about crimes in general and did not intend to specifically address sexual assault.
“We have a responsibility as a police department to put out general safety information,” UW police spokesman Marc Lovicott said. “It’s not a failsafe, it’s not a guarantee, but we like to arm our community with as much information as we can.”
The phrase “a victim looks like a victim,” Lovicott said, referred to people walking around looking at their cellphones, making them less aware of their surroundings and potentially vulnerable to robberies or other crimes. It was “absolutely not” a reference to victims of sexual assault, he said.
“ ‘Looking like a victim’ is probably not the best phrasing,” Lovicott said. “We realize that, and that’s why we took that out.”
But Lachrista Greco, a publications associate in the Gender and Women’s Studies Librarian’s Office, said that given the high-profile attention universities and police departments have given to sexual assault on campus lately, it was “extremely clear” to her that the article was attempting to offer tips to avoid sexual assault.
“Their intent doesn’t matter,” Greco said. “This has impacted, now, a lot of people.”
Greco said the community deserves an apology for the post, and that the department should be better trained in issues of victim blaming.