If you walk down K Rd in Auckland, towards Ponsonby Rd, you will see a mural depicting a man running away from two women police officers and the caption ‘do something extraordinary, become a cop’. The mural is part of a stencil art advertising campaign by M&C Saatchi, and it was painted by the street artist Otis Frizzell.
You may think it’s a little strange for the police to use street art to recruit new employees considering part of the job description is to arrest street artists. Apparently that’s the point. They are trying to appeal to ‘culturally aware and savvy young people’.
There’s also another sub-text here that isn’t mentioned by the Herald. Both the K Rd mural and the mural in Left Bank in Wellington show women cops. The message is very clear: if you are a woman then becoming a police officer is a way you can be strong and empowered. You can chase bad guys. You can protect children.
In the last decade the New Zealand police has been exposed as an institution that upholds rape culture. Cops have raped women in New Zealand. Other cops have protected their cop rapist mates. The police have a reputation for being a sexist institution and it’s not surprising they’re trying to address it with a fancy PR campaign.
But a fancy PR campaign doesn’t actually change an entrenched culture of sexism. Having women cops doesn’t equate to having feminist cops. It doesn’t mean those women cops aren’t upholding rape culture too.
A few weeks before the cop recruitment murals went up around the country, a few of my friends (for the purpose of anonymity we’ll call them Ms. Kaos, Ms. Calamity and Ms. Cannonball) were hanging out in an alleyway off K Rd drinking cider.
It wasn’t long before some cops showed up. In fact five whole units showed up to deal with three young women drinking quietly in a liquor ban area which makes you think those better work stories you get by joining the police force probably aren’t all that interesting.
One of the cops approached my friends. As chance would have it, she was one of the very same woman cops immortalised in Mr. Frizzell’s artwork. From Ms. Kaos’s account of events I gather the conversation went something like this:
Cop: What are you doing hanging out in this alleyway?
Kaos: What do you mean? Why shouldn’t I hang out in this alleyway?
Cop: Are you stupid? Do you know what could happen to you here?
Kaos: Tell me what you mean? What is it that could happen to me here?
Cop: You could be raped.
Now anyone who pays any attention to how sexual violence happens in our culture would be able to tell this cop that statistically Kaos is not very likely to be raped in the street with two of her friends around. She’s far more likely to be raped at home by her partner.
Which is beside the point, because I’m not about to say to a woman, ‘what are you doing being in a relationship with a man? Are you stupid? Don’t you know he might rape you?’ any more than I would say the same to a woman who is standing alone in a dark alleyway. Anyone with any feminist analysis of sexual violence understands that rape is always the rapist’s fault, not the survivor’s. Telling young women how to not get raped will not protect them from being raped. It just reinforces rape culture, it reinforces a culture where perpetrators of rape aren’t held accountable, because we think the person they raped is irresponsible for getting herself into a situation where she could be raped.
This reminds me of Michael Sanguinetti, the Canadian cop who famously told a group of students that women can avoid rape by not dressing like sluts, and unwittingly gave birth to Slutwalk.
It would be disingenuous of me to say that police officers should know better than to spout rape myths, because I don’t think that the police is an institution that can be reformed. I don’t think that feminists can work within the police to achieve feminist goals. I think giving any group of people the kind of power that cops have is bound to end with that power being abused. I’m an anarchist; I want to abolish the cops along with the state whose laws they uphold.
A hip new advertising campaign isn’t going to change that.