Eileen Maitland: Help women avoid sexual predators

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A 35 per cent rise in reported rapes across Scotland in a single year, coupled with the news rape is now more common than robbery, is something that none of us can ignore.

It is unknown what factors lie behind this, and while it is possible increased confidence in reporting and high-profile cases have led some people to come forward who may not have, we cannot discount the possibility an increased number of rapes have been taking place.

While it still remains the case that survivors are more likely to have been assaulted by someone they know, predatory assaults on women during nights out are also in the statistics, and this too, must be tackled. Police Scotland’s proactive approach in dealing with this shows it is not only possible but essential to step out of the mindset that holds women solely responsible for their safety, and to recognise we all have a part to play. It is not the decisions or behavior of women that results in rape – it is rapists – ordinary men, who have too often capitalised on being ordinary and the ease with which they can present themselves as friendly – to predate on vulnerable women. The reluctance on the part of others to intervene or even to acknowledge things are not right when they do notice something, allows such men to remain invisible and their behaviour to go unchallenged, placing women at risk.

Bystanders are often only too willing to go along with such masquerades [thus allowing women to be preyed on with alacrity) – as the alternative either does not occur to them, or is something they do not feel willing or equipped to deal with. If we are serious about taking steps towards ending sexual violence and preventing rape, this must change.

Giving bystanders the tools to check situations they doubt will give them the confidence to intervene where necessary, changing the existing culture of reluctance. The fact remains fighting sexual violence is everybody’s business, and we must employ as many strategies to prevent it as rapists do trying to commit it.

• Eileen Maitland is an information & resource worker at Rape Crisis Scotland