Police warn men about bus stop banter
SCOTS police have advised the nation's red-blooded males against chatting up - or even glancing at - lone women on the streets late at night.
In an attempt to reduce fear of attack amongst women, police say men who speak to lone females or give them admiring looks can appear threatening.
While the advice has been widely welcomed by women's groups, the Scottish Women's Rural Institutes warned it was a step too far and might lead to a "sad, suspicious and unfriendly" society.
The comments are contained in a Strathclyde Police leaflet entitled 'Staying Safe'. The section entitled 'How men can help women' states: "Men can sometimes frighten women without meaning to. A woman may be nervous when she is out on her own - especially after dark or in a lonely or enclosed place, or on buses or trains."
It adds: "Resist chatting to a woman who is waiting, for example, at an isolated bus stop. She won't know that you mean her no harm. Remember that a woman may also feel threatened by what you think are admiring looks."
The leaflet reiterates previous advice that men who find themselves walking in the same direction as a woman should cross the street to reassure her that she is not being followed.
It comes as the number of reported rapes in Scotland rose from 596 in 1997-98 to 975 in 2005-06 according to the latest figures, published last month.
Professor Michele Burman of the Scottish Centre for Crime and Justice Research at Glasgow University felt the advice given in the leaflet was a positive step forward.
"In the past, safety information that has been distributed by criminal justice agencies to women laid emphasis on the fact that women were somehow responsible for their own safety," she said. "Women were advised not to walk on their own, to avoid certain places after dark and to avoid dressing in particular ways.
"It is refreshing to see there is a move away from that kind of advice that sees women as culpable for their own victimisation."
But Burman, who is also co-director of the university's International Centre for Gender and Women's Studies, added that research showed that women are far more likely to be attacked by their partner than by men they do not know.
YWCA Scotland, which runs a range of community facilities for young women, is also supportive of the guidelines.
Kirsten Verth, the organisation's chairwoman, said: "Women feel vulnerable in certain circumstances and we welcome anything that helps to raise awareness in men of how females who are on their own at night feel."
But Alison Bayley, chairwoman of the Scottish Women's Rural Institutes, which has around 30,000 members across the country, was saddened by aspects of the advice.
"I'm afraid that I am certainly guilty of speaking to strangers in a friendly manner at bus stops and have always been happy to do so," she said. "It would be a very sad day if people felt unable to talk to one another and stood looking at their feet for fear of catching someone's eye and causing offence."
Bayley, who stresses she endorses the rest of the advice given in the leaflet, added: "If it is late at night and a woman is at a bus stop on her own it could well be helpful and reassuring for her to have somebody talking in a friendly manner.
"I don't want this to become a country where people are afraid to talk to each other and are taught to be automatically suspicious of others."
Both men and women are advised to keep themselves safe by avoiding taking short cuts through dark alleys or waste ground, always facing traffic so vehicles cannot pull up behind them, to never hitchhike or take lifts from strangers, and to cover up expensive jewellery.
People who feel they are being followed are advised to cross to the other side of the road and to go into a shop, pub or police station and ask for help.
The leaflet urges people not to use a phone box to call for help if they are being followed to prevent their pursuer from being able to corner them.
A spokesman for Strathclyde Police:
"This is self-explanatory safety advice and no one will be commenting further."
Living in fear?
Niki Kandirikirira, executive director, Engender
Men can do a lot to change society so women do not have to live in fear of them whether at night, in the day, in closed or open spaces.
They should ask themselves, and discuss with other men, why on earth women need to feel nervous and fearful of men at bus stops and on trains.
As well as this, advice should be given to men on how to challenge other men when they are being sexist.
George McAulay, chairman, UK Men's Movement
There is absolutely nothing wrong with having a bit of friendly banter at the bus stop.
There are many couples who first got talking while waiting for the bus home on a Friday or Saturday night.
Strathclyde Police need to remember they are an equality-friendly organisation.
Their attitude towards men shown in this leaflet is nothing short of offensive and discriminatory.
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