Campaigns calling on women to run in groups and to stay in busy areas were cited as examples of “victim blaming”, as Brighton and Hove City Council voted to sign up to the Victim Focus Charter Pledge.
Labour councillor Emma Daniel said that she was presenting the case for the pledge on behalf of people affected by the trauma of violence and sexual abuse.
Tory councillor Robert Nemeth accused Labour of cynically latching on to the cause and, by implication, damning council staff when there was no evidence of such a problem among staff.
Green councillor Leo Littman said that despite its warm words, Labour was cutting funding set aside to help the victims of sexual violence and domestic abuse.
Councillor Daniel said: “There is a culture of victim blaming more widely in our society and that does permeate our thinking, often unconsciously.
“By undertaking the actions as part of this pledge we will work to remove that unconscious and sometimes conscious structural barrier.
“People who have experienced rape seeing articles or campaigns to say they should go running in a group, stay in busy areas and take their headphones off underlines to them their feelings that what happened to them was their fault.
She told the meeting of the full council at Brighton Town Hall on Thursday (31 January) that she learnt about the pledge in December from representatives of the domestic violence charity Rise which could not bring the case to the council itself.
The pledge requires the council to sign up to 10 commitments, including not to engage in victim blaming, to call it out when it occurs and to provide staff with training.
Councillor Daniel told the story of a victim of childhood sexual abuse and, reading her words, said: “We blame ourselves so easily when we are the victims of sexual violence, partly because the blame is so readily laid at our feet, by society, by family members, by friends, by professionals, by the police, by social workers, who accuse children of putting themselves in harm’s way, by defence barristers who aggressively question victims. The list is endless.
“But it wasn’t my fault. And the blame and guilt are not mine to carry.”
Councillor Daniel told councillors that victims of sexual violence struggled to manage anxiety and that signing the charter would help the council to understand how its policies and practice affected victims.
She said: “We have really fantastic staff and partners in both the statutory and voluntary sector and I am sure they will welcome this pledge as an indication of our openness to continuous improvement in our outcomes for people who have had suffered violence and sexual trauma.”
Councillor Daniel added: “It would do us an injustice and the people that depend on us to use our voice as elected members not to signal a determination to be the best that we can be and that is what signing up to this charter is about – continuous improvement.”
Conservative councillor Robert Nemeth criticised the administration for taking months to sign up to the pledge, adding that his Tory colleagues supported victims and opposed victim blaming.
But he said that it was an attack on staff, adding that the Conservative opposition did not believe that council staff had been engaged in victim blaming.
He said: “What is the nature of the problem that the administration has with staff which this charter is aimed at? It is a terrible accusation to make without foundation.
“Not once have I witnessed a single incident of victim blaming among council staff. How prolific is the problem among staff? How many incidents have been reported?”
Green councillor Leo Littman said that he supported the pledge but criticised the Labour administration for cutting £50,000 from the budget to help victims of sexual violence and domestic abuse.
Councillors agreed to sign the pledge.