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Words: Marianne Tambini she/her


‘GET HOME NOW’, says a poster on the back of the door in the women’s toilets. On the mirror, another one says ‘THAT’S TOO MUCH MAKEUP’. Me and my friend had been out at the pub, having a laugh, but now we’re faced with threats. On looking closer, the posters say ‘if your partner’s controlling where you go [or how much makeup you wear], it’s domestic abuse’. They’re a series of posters by government agency Safer Scotland aiming to combat domestic abuse. The point, ostensibly, is to raise awareness that coercive control is domestic abuse. The actual aim of adverts such as these, as far as I can tell, is to alleviate guilt and launder woke reputations for businesses which often do little to help people affected by abuse and harassment. The effect of these posters contributes to a culture of fear in which public spaces are already disproportionally unsafe and uncomfortable for certain people.

I’ve noticed a similar trend in the posters up around campus for UofG’s Together Against

Racism campaign, which aims to raise awareness of racist microagressions. Their website features a content warning, but their posters, on walls around university buildings, loudly announce racist slogans. A person wearing a hijab has their face pixelated out and covered with the words ‘Where are you really from?’. A person wearing a kippa’s face is replaced with the words ‘No wonder you are so stingy’, and someone with straight black hair covered with the slogan ‘You spread disease’. There’s no content warning here, so people are confronted at the library and gym with offensive words, reminders of racial stereotypes, and maybe even of ways in which they have previously been abused.

The counterargument is that these adverts are aimed at people who say racist things, to provide examples of unacceptable behaviour. But I think they have far more of an impact on people who could be targets of racist abuse. In the case of Safer Scotland’s coercive control awareness ads, it is clear that they are targeted at women (who are more likely to be victims of domestic abuse). After leaving the bathroom in the pub, I asked my friends whether there were any similar posters in the men’s toilets. There aren’t. Surely campaigns against harassment should aim to reach those who are harassing women and BAME people. They don’t.

Safer Scotland and UofG could say that these campaigns denormalise abusive behaviour, reveal how wrong it is, and encourage those affected to come forward. In this case, it makes sense for ads to be targeted at people who are being mistreated. Even so, this definitely isn’t the best way to encourage reporting of sexual and racial harassment, as its immediate effect is to induce fear.

At UofG sport facilities, posters advertising the Ask for Angela system have been introduced in response to complaints about sexual harassment at the gym. By this system, individuals who have been made to feel uncomfortable at the gym can alert a staff member by asking to speak to someone called Angela. This is a campaign, first introduced by the (notoriously sexist) Metropolitan Police, which has become widespread. In principle, it’s a practical way for people to seek help in public places. If you ask for Angela, the staff member alerted is supposed to take you to a place of safety and then follow guidelines to work out next steps. However, Metro ran an investigative article in 2021 testing Ask for Angela, and found that in the vast majority of places where the posters appear, staff have not in fact received training on how to help individuals in distress.

So if it’s not really about improving conditions for people who can be vulnerable in public spaces, what is actually the point of these poster campaigns? The answer is publicised on the UofG, UofG Sport and Safer Scotland websites. They use platitudes like ‘Sport at UofG is open and available to all, regardless of age, ability, gender or sexuality’ (Glasgow Guardian on UofG sport). They say ‘no-one in Scotland should have to suffer or live in fear’ (Safer Scotland). According to UofG’s website ‘Professor Sir Anton Muscatelli, our Principal, reiterated his public support to become an anti-racist institution, which embraces its civic responsibility and builds an inclusive and diverse community’.

The posters exist to give an institution or business the appearance of being inclusive. This could be a good thing, if people who experience harassment are able to take this at face value, and as a genuine expression of support. However, given the way in which these campaigns are targeted, and the failure of these institutions to make public spaces actually safe, the ads fall flat, and, to be honest, frustrate me whenever I see them.

It really impacts a night out, or a day at the library, being confronted with the reality that you’re at risk, and that it’s your responsibility to prevent yourself from being attacked, abused, or harassed. The extreme popularity of true crime content, consumed mainly by young women, also fuels this culture of fear of being in public. My sister, who loves true crime documentaries but hates horror films, finds some sense of safety in the idea that violent crime is a solvable, controllable problem. It still baffles me that people enjoy hearing murders described in detail, but perhaps the only recourse that vulnerable people have is in the comforting idea that our attackers might be caught and punished, or that by obsessing over such perpetrators, we can gain some control over the ways we are treated in public.

The reality is that women and BAME people are more at risk of harassment and attack at the pub, club, and on campus. I don’t want to be told that I’m unsafe in these places, I want someone to do something about the structures and people that are making me unsafe. Campaigns such as these by the university and the government amount to little more than headshaking, allowing those in positions of institutional authority to continue guilt-free, whilst encouraging the rest of us to feel anxious and scared whenever we leave our homes.




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