Everyday Victim Blaming

challenging institutional disbelief around domestic & sexual violence and abuse

On Sexism And Victim Blaming Inherent In Personal Safety Training

This post was first published here - thanks to author for permission to cross post.

I can't tell you where I work. Well, I could, but then I'd have to kill you. Lets just say that I'm a superhero with a daytime alter ego. Yes, let's go with that.

Anyhow, even superheroes have day jobs and have mandatory training to do.

This week it was personal safety training.

Apart from the fact that I am likely to ignore all of it should an incident arise, I had some issues with the content.

For instance, if you break down on the motorway you should wait on the embankment. Yup, I remember this from my driving theory test.

But, wait! What is this? Unless you are a woman alone and it starts to rain? Then, apparently, you should sit in the passenger seat so it looks like you are waiting for a man to come back.

I shit you not.

Oh, and make sure you have change for the phone as you might be lulled into a false sense of security by your mobile which might not have a signal.

Yeah, really.

And this doozy. Make sure you turn your handbag round so that it is facing inwards. That way it will be harder to steal from.

I really wish I was making this up.

If you are in a dangerous situation a mobile phone should not lead to a false sense of security because you should be phoning the police, not the office in this situation. The signal or lack of it would not be an issue as the emergency services are on a military satellite. Which is why you would see 'emergency calls only' when you have no signal.

I am very concerned that there is advice on women alone in the first place as statistically they are in no more danger than men. I am doubly concerned that the advice to sit in the passenger seat if it is raining rather than the embankment is there. This is an incredibly dangerous thing to do, especially in the rain where visibility would be poorer. They may get wet sitting on an embankment but they won't get ploughed into by a lorry or car. The better advice may be to make sure you carry a raincoat.

The advice on handbags smacks of victim blaming. This would identify someone as a potential victim and increase the likelihood of an attack.

However, none of this comes close to the victim blaming language that meant I took nearly as long doing the feedback as I did the training.

Deep breath. Here we go.

'We can inadvertently provoke aggression by the way in which we communicate with others.'

'Where you are faced with violence it is possible that you have not recognised the signs early enough or taken appropriate measures soon enough.'

'Don't retaliate either by word or deed, someone with a short fuse can easily be pushed too far.'

'Try to stay calm if provoked. Panic can show and be seen as a sign of weakness.'

'Defend yourself as a last resort.'

Totally unacceptable.

Bad enough that I have to work twice as hard for half the recognition, (just ask Wonder Woman, we often moan about this while out shopping for tights) but to be painted as something delicate that needs protection from rain but if I'm attacked then it was something I did?

No. Just no.

Looking forward to the response to my feedback.

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2 thoughts on “On Sexism And Victim Blaming Inherent In Personal Safety Training

  • Jane Fae says:


    I really hope you don’t mind my chipping in here, because while i agree 100% with the meat of the post, i’m not sure i get the last bit…though that may be because there is something contextual that i’m missing.

    Also, perhaps, it highlights how advice that is perfectly sensible when delivered in a gender neutral context can become a complete albatross when transposed to “advice for women”.

    The stuff about carrying change, getting back in your car…that’s just typical and annoying. My job means i have to be out and about travelling a lot and i am both used to the aggro that causes – particularly returning late from London on near empty trains – and i am very used to the sort of “helpful” advice people see fit to give me about how to stay safe.

    Some of it i’d categorise as “bleeding obvious”…some is downright stupid…falls into the category of either “get home earlier”, in which case i couldn’t really do my job or…”get a safer job”. Sorry. No. I like my work.

    That said, there are certain personal caveats i carry into my work – because i am not infrequently exposed to people who are dangerous, potentially violent and…therefore i must manage situations to ensure they don’t turn nasty.

    I have dealt with people on a short fuse…in one instance, a drunk guy who started the conversation with a “who the fuck are you?” comment and would always see my role as reducing the possibility of drawing out the violence already there.

    I am aware, more generally, that when dealing with people who are already in violent mode, you must walk a tightrope. I don’t blame myself when situations go pear-shaped: but i do see my handling of them as part of the equation.

    A bit like going and sitting in your car. As you yourself put it: that is likely to be more dangerous than the other alternative, which is sitting on the bank and getting wet. And if you know one way of handling things is more dangerous, then maybe you should choose an alternative.

    Which leaves me in a bit of a quandary. Most of the last few comments that you are reporting on here are stuff that i would dish out to anyone, male or female, when heading into difficult territory. Its not gendered advice. Or rather: it shouldn’t be.

    If its being dished out to women but in some way that it is differently handed out to men, then that’s not good, particularly if the message being subtly implied is that women need this advice more than guys. When actually, i’d suggest that its often guys who would benefit far more from having explained to them exactly how NOT to escalate a situation.

    I think i’dadd it to the training i do under the general heading of “How not to be a dick” – and as i write, am remembering a recent episode in a railway ticket office involving a guy just bullying the counter staff with no thought for consequence or feelings of those involved.

    I digress. I have a sneaking suspicion that best advice in some situations involves conforming to cultural stereotypes of feminity, and the issue is not that we are asked to do so, but that guys aren’t.


  • goddessdeeva says:

    Hi Jane! *waves*

    I would love to be able to put the last part of this post into a proper context for you but the secret squirrel nature of my job means I can’t.

    What I can say is that we deal with the public and that nowhere in the training or guidance did it say a thing about the fact that some people are just gonna blow no matter what you do.

    Neither did it say anywhere about how or where to get support if an incident happens.

    It was all about how if anything happens it is a failing on your part.

    And that made me really angry.

    That and the fact that none of this was aimed at the men.

    As an update,my feedback has been passed to the content owner for comment.

    Will let you know what they say!