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Home > Culture and Society

Suffolk Police: Pants

15 July 2006

The happy rule amongst anyone who advertises themselves via the media, directly or indirectly, as a company or an individual, is that no publicity is bad publicity. Short of accusations of kiddy-fiddlage or playing croquet while Rome burns, few tabloid splashes are so drastically bad as to do any long-term damage to a personal or professional body. However, there are some organisations that really ought not to be playing with this sort of molten media fire. Society should reasonably expect them to be, like, *above* it. When a police force seemingly takes this tack, the wrongness klaxon sounds loud.

This week BBC Online reported on the deliciously awful new binge drinking campaign run by Suffolk Police. Like most similar things officially produced and aimed at women or teenagers - in this case, teenage women - the pamphlet seems to have been conceived in hopelessly earnest good faith without a whiff of an inkling of its own rambunctious inappropriateness. It is a veritable Brent of a booklet, judging from the juicy extracts:

'For those of you intent on getting ratted this weekend, think. If you fall over or pass out, remember your skirt or dress may ride up. You could show off more than you intended - for all our sakes, please make sure you're wearing nice pants.'

There's more stuff about the effects of alcohol - it makes you look like 'a wrinkled prune', apparently. Then there's an especially clever joke about the band Wastelife performing the 'Minger To Fit' tour. Aside from the fact that this makes no sense and makes no sense, it makes no cocking *sense*. But aside from that, it's so pathetically typically archetypal of official literature trying to be helpful and *cool* and really reach its audience, and not only failing but actually making matters worse. It shows up the Suffolk constabulary as entirely out of touch, and worryingly inclined to place responsibility for drunken assault - the rise of which has precipitated production of the 'Safe!' mag - on those who are assaulted. 'There have been a number of attacks on women who have been drinking and there is a serious safety message to get across,' a police spokeswoman was wheeled out to explain. 'We've written this is a gossipy, tongue-in-cheek style in the hope that young women will pick it up and read it and take notice.' No, you haven't, and no, they won't - or they will read it and take the wrong kind of notice. They will see straight through the reconstituted Bernard Manning-standard 'jokiness' and get rather angry, if anything. Then they'll go out and drink till they sick up like babies and spreadeagle
themselves over cars and roll around on the pavement, and then sick up again. (Whenever anyone describes anything as 'tongue-in-cheek', by the way, it's international code for 'run away, someone is trying to take you for an idiot'.)

For a start, young women do not respond well to thinly-veiled insults any more than any other young or old people of either gender. Snide digs at one's lifestyle are not delicate psychological tools, and if you incur them you're far more likely to amp up your rotten deeds out of sheer bloody-mindedness. (Scientists have recently discovered that sheer bloody-mindedness makes you live longer. Stimulates the lymphatic system, see.) The pants stuff is just quite creepy, really, and leads us to our main beef - whether or not it'll be discernable to everyone, in the context of the whole sorry publication, there is a strong scent of victim-blaming here. It's not explicit, and the police are talking only about assault and not specifically sexual assault, but this is about *shaming* women, and thereby darkly suggesting what becomes of them in their self-imposed arseholed state is on their own head. Elsewhere there's mention of how booze makes your eyes bloodshot, and that no bloke would want to gaze into such peepers. See, get that bit too sloshed and no self-respecting rapist would even bother. Take note.

It's hardly worth stating that while increased binge drinking among young women is a serious issue which needs addressing, it doesn't mean that *any* method of addressing it must be better than nothing. Once you lose the trust and respect of your target audience, you're buggered, whoever you are. The police can't afford to throw away any morsels of neutrality they have, frankly. 'Safe!' will doubtless go the way of the short-lived 'Women please be careful on the tube in your nice shoes' TfL nonsense and be hounded out of existence, but then the Suffolk cops are back eyeing square one from afar. Their real motivation in producing 'Safe!' remains murky. If they are really hellbent on getting into the news by any means necessary, they should just bite the bullet - quite literally! - and pump some poor passing sod full of holes. You just can't buy that kind of publicity.

Comment on this article: letters@thefridaything.co.uk

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