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CMCatherine Marcus is a writer.

How
astonishing to see Heather Keating, the head of Hastings Police, taken to task by Laurie Penny for writing, “It’s
always sad to see young women become victims of sexual offences,” on her
Twitter feed, followed by a gender-neutral suggestion not to drink too much on
New Year’s Eve, lest anyone regret their actions.

Perhaps
it’s Keating’s experience as a senior police officer that allows her to speak
with degree of confidence and experience about sexual assault, and the factors
which can encourage and exacerbate attacks on young women. One can only imagine
how painful it must be to attend such assaults at the frontline of policing,
but she will know exactly what that’s like, having done it before, again and
again, as a woman, with a particular sensitivity to the violation which has
taken place.

I
bet she wishes she could prevent such assaults, wave a magic wand, make the
world a perfect place where “no” means “no”, and everyone waits to be granted
permission to progress to the next stage of a sexual relationship. But, as a
police officer, she’ll be aware of the fact that sometimes things just don’t
work like that. Sometimes a refusal goes ignored, sometimes things go too far,
maybe he’s not such a nice guy and then you find yourself cold and alone,
violated, your illusions about a world that is safe and kind shattered like broken
glass on the floor.


Penny’s
assertion that Heather Keating’s tweet could be (tenuously) linked to rape
apologists like Todd Akin and George Galloway was followed by a direct accusation
of “structural” sexism (as opposed to the sweaty-palmed, wage-suppressing,
opportunity-denying regular kind?). Penny suggests that by showing care and
cautioning against the dangers of getting blind drunk on a night out, Keating’s
is the voice that tells us that we will only be safe “if only we stay home and
keep our legs closed and our eyes lowered”. Well, if that’s the case, I don’t
think anyone’s paying a blind bit of notice, judging from what goes on along
any high street, on any night, across the UK.

The
fact that we live in a country where rape laws are strictly enforced, where
women are encouraged to bring their assailants to justice and where we are safe
to walk down any high street in any town, at any time of night, wearing pretty
much anything we like, is a testament to Britain’s fairness, freedom and
civility. The responsibility for rape falls with the assailant, and this is the
law of the land that Heather Keating has sworn to uphold and protect.

It
took one girl in India, travelling from the cinema with her male companion, now
cold, dead, her body ripped apart in ways that make us shudder to contemplate,
to prove that we live in a society which has escaped those terrifying levels of
sexual violence. And, as such, the words of Heather Keating — who upholds and
defends that freedom every day; whose job it is to protect and help those
unfortunate enough to fall victim to rape, sexual assault and violence; who
knows the evil man can do because she’s stared it in the eye too many times to
count — carry weight and should not be equated with apology for rape, sexism or
paternalism.

So
you know what, Laurie? When Heather Keating gets to tell women to take care, I
pay attention, because she means it.

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