Friday, March 05, 2010

Safety Warning Without Victim Blaming

So often when it comes to warning people about the danger created by the sexually violent the focus is on the victim. This can be so extreme that the victim may be characterized as the cause of that danger and therefore not an innocent victim. Rape victims can also be described as volunteers.

For this reason I was interested in reading a CNN story about safety warnings for those who take spring break vacations. It begins with:


The Texas Department of Public Safety took the unprecedented step Thursday of telling college students not to visit Mexican border cities during spring break because they are just too dangerous.

Several universities issued similar warnings last year, but this was the first time the Texas law enforcement agency had issued the specific advisory against travel, said spokeswoman Tela Mange. In the past, she said, Texas authorities had just urged students to be careful.
I applaud this new advisory since "be careful" usually positions the danger as largely within the visiting students' control. This framing can unintentionally minimize the danger and make those who are as careful as possible feel safer than they really are.

The article includes advice to avoid isolated areas late at night or early in the morning, but this safety advice as prevention is clearly inadequate with the descriptions of public shootouts in shopping centers during daylight hours in 3 different Mexican cities.

The primary focus is as it should be -- on the behavior which puts innocent people at risk. This behavior and the scope of the harm are described such that those considering going to the border towns listed will have the information needed to make informed decisions.

Just as important as issuing a no-travel advisory is directly addressing parents who may be paying for spring break trips so they can make their own risk assessments. Some teenagers and young adults have not developed good risk assessment skills.

A young man who is going on his first spring break in 1 of these cities against official recommendations because all his college friends are going there is responsible for any violence he commits but he is not responsible if he becomes the victim of a criminal. He certainly isn't "volunteering" to be murdered or carjacked.

People planning spring break vacations can choose to avoid more dangerous locations, but we need to remember that many citizens of these areas of Mexico don't have this same choice. We also need to remember that a variety of courageous people, including a women's rights activist, willingly increase their personal risk as they work to challenge this violence.

Sometimes US policy unintentionally contributes to the danger in other countries which US citizens are then warned about. A LA Times story from 2005, highlights how deportation of gang members has contributed to the expansion of violent gangs.
But a deportation policy aimed in part at breaking up a Los Angeles street gang has backfired and helped spread it across Central America and back into other parts of the United States. Newly organized cells in El Salvador have returned to establish strongholds in metropolitan Washington, D.C., and other U.S. cities. Prisons in El Salvador have become nerve centers, authorities say, where deported leaders from Los Angeles communicate with gang cliques across the United States.

A gang that once numbered a few thousand and was involved in street violence and turf battles has morphed into an international network with as many as 50,000 members, the most hard-core engaging in extortion, immigrant smuggling and racketeering. In the last year, the federal government has brought racketeering cases against MS-13 members in Long Island, N.Y., and southern Maryland.
How different governments, police agencies, other officials and the general population respond to crime can have a major impact on violence. If we keep the focus on understanding those who commit crimes and seek effective ways to prevent, modify or control their criminal behavior then we can develop responses which reduce the danger we need to warn people about.

Victim blaming at any level short circuits this process.

Because much of this violence is linked to drug cartels, individuals who use drugs in the US which come from Mexico help fund this violence. If some of these people are college students then they need to be made aware of this connection.

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posted by Marcella Chester @ 8:53 AM   0 comments links to this post

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