It’s Christmas, so watch out for rapists
A Xmas-hooked ad campaign designed to raise awareness about illegal cabs is exploiting women’s fear of rape.
The Mayor of London’s office, Transport for London and the Metropolitan Police have joined forces to clamp down on illegal cabs. And they are targeting women in particular, focusing on the risk of sexual assault in taxis.
According to the new Safer Travel At Night initiative, by getting into a cab that hasn’t been booked through a licensed operator you risk more than just a haggle over the cab fare. Chances are you’ll be molested or even raped by the driver.
But just how common are such violent assaults by taxi drivers?
A press release announcing the new campaign revealed that there were 62 reported incidents of ‘cab-related sexual offences’ between April and October this year. In other words, there are, on average, eight reports (not convictions) of ‘cab-related sexual offences’ a month in the whole of London.
Of course, sexual assault is unacceptable. But taking into account the fact that the Greater London area covered by the Metropolitan Police has a population of around 7.5million, and that every night of the week there are millions of Londoners and tourists out dining, drinking, partying and taking cabs, 62 reports is a surprisingly low figure.
And on closer scrutiny, it appears that the figures do not just apply to assaults in illegal cabs. A spokesperson for the Met’s Safer Transport Command (who did not want to be named) told me that the figures do not differentiate between types of taxis; there was no breakdown of figures for ‘cab-related sexual offences’ in relation to black cabs, licensed or unlicensed minicabs.
As far as what a ‘cab-related sexual offence’ might involve, it does not even necessarily refer to assaults committed by a driver or assaults committed inside a cab. The Met spokesperson told me it could refer to any kind of sexual assault experienced by a woman who has used a cab on the occasion that the assault took place. The assault could have happened inside or outside of the car and could have been perpetrated by anyone accompanying or attacking the victim.
In other words, the chances of being sexually assaulted by an illegal cab driver are thankfully very slim. Sure, the risk is there, but only in the same way that a woman who ventures outside – to work, party or travel for instance – runs a greater risk of being assaulted than one who never leaves her home.
And that is the message that Safer Travel At Night sends to women: women who go out to have a good time are putting their lives and dignity on the line and so they need to be protected by the caring authorities.
This campaign is driven by a paternalistic impulse. It perpetuates a view of women as uniquely vulnerable, feeble creatures who are always better safe than sorry and who need special protection lest they put themselves at risk.
When you break down the figures, the obsession with the risk of sexual assaults in unbooked cabs appears nonsensical, but it does make for more titillating TV adverts. The one created for this campaign, tag-lined Know What You’re Getting Into, unsubtly hints that behind the steering wheel of every cab hailed on the street is a potential rapist. Filmed with shaky, hand-held cameras the advert suggests that a girl who gets into a cab ends up getting raped by a stranger posing as a driver.
Posters warning of the alleged cab rape threat have also been plastered around the streets, pubs and clubs of London. Online ads have been created and leaflets are being distributed to members of the public in ‘hotspot areas’. In the coming weeks, everywhere you turn in London, there will be a reminder that the office Christmas party or a night on the town with your mates could end in a nightmarish sex attack.
Since its launch in 2003, the Safer Travel At Night initiative has targeted diverse groups of women who might be at risk of having too much fun – from professional women going out for Christmas dos to newly arrived students in London. The campaign deploys the politics of fear in the most impertinent way, exploiting women’s fear of sexual assault. The end result will likely be that women feel more unsafe, nervous and suspicious when they go out.
Instead of exploiting women in their relentless campaign to take the fun out partying, the authorities would do better to focus on how to provide safe and efficient public transport 24-7, as befits a twenty-first-century, cosmopolitan city like London.
Nathalie Rothschild is commissioning editor of spiked.
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