No Laughing Matter

Merseyside Police had a PR nightmare on their hands last Sunday, thanks to a spectacular error of judgement from the ‘brains’ behind their Twitter account. You must have seen the story by now: Sunderland were roundly beaten by Everton, leading to some ‘hilarious’ social media banter after the game.

One genius (whose Twitter account now seems to have been deleted after the furore he unwittingly caused) decided to tweet Merseyside Police to jokingly report a rape at Goodison Park that afternoon, obviously alluding to Sunderland’s ordeal at the hands of the rampant Toffees. This in itself you could see as being typical of what you might hear down the pub from your average lairy football fan. Ill-advised, yes, misguided, almost certainly, but it is what it is, and he evidently didn’t consider it may cause offence to a lot of people. Ordinarily, nobody other than his own followers would have even seen it.

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That was of course until whoever had been left in charge of @MerseyPolice decided in their infinite wisdom to respond to the Tweet. They gave half a thought to their actual job by dismissively asking the joker to “just confirm there was no actual rape for me?”, in case they might have to do some proper police work, then went on to say “Sunderland certainly got caught with their pants down though”.

Evidently, the Tweeter thought it would be preferable to engage in some light-hearted sexual assault banter instead of ignoring it entirely, which is what every responsible organisation obviously should do. The unfortunate Tweeter (who has since apparently left their job ‘by mutual consent’) could probably have done with some more training as to what is acceptable to joke about – you would imagine rape would be up there as one to avoid. Common sense alone should tell you that.

What elevates this Tweet above banter into the realms of insensitive stupidity, is that a huge proportion of sexual assaults go unreported to police, through fear that the victim won’t be believed or taken seriously. Seeing the official account of a police force openly joking about rape only serves to reinforce these fears, even if it was the foolish actions of one person. The image of the organisation suffers, and they have already had to issue grovelling apologies to reassure people that they work hard to support victims of such crimes. But has the damage been done? Is this just indicative of a wider problem?

Next time you want to make a ‘joke’ online, maybe give it a second thought before you can’t take it back.

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