"Play It Safe" : Safety Pamphlets
On October 30, 1968, The Lantern reported that 3 women living in university area apartments were attacked and that one of the women was raped by an alleged “negro man.” It is important to acknowledge that the racist stereotype of the Black male rapists could have also played a part in the following immediate responses. The attacks prompted Columbus and campus police to give advice on avoiding molesters and a list of phone numbers to call in case of attack. Columbus Police Department distributed a pamphlet they had made called Fingertip Facts for Women Alone which detailed various methods of prevention and home safety as well as self-defense tactics such as “kicking, biting, scratching, and screaming.” Fingertip Facts was the oldest pamphlet I found in the archives that explicitly targeted women’s safety. Some potential defense objects suggested by the pamphlet that women could use are hatpins, hairspray, a can opener, a metal nail filer, high-heeled shoes, and a squirt gun filled with ink.
While some advice in Fingertip Facts may have been helpful, the underlying assumption was that women are at fault for being attacked due to their behavior, such as wearing clothes that may “invite peeping toms,” or inviting obscene calls by having their names listed in the phone book. Moreover, racially marginalized women may be wary about calling the police due to fear of being re-victimized.
Fingertip Facts for Women Alone was one of the first safety pamphlets in circulation at OSU. Many more self-defense pamphlets will follow. The Ohio State University, external Media Companies, and Activist groups like Women Against Rape all have used the pamphlet medium to disseminate safety strategies and certain racialized, gendered, and classed assumptions about safety.
Another early pamphlet on self-defense I found in OSU’s archives was a 1974 “What every woman should know about self-protection” Scriptographic Booklet produced by Channing L Bete Company Inc. It is unclear how widely circulated this pamphlet was at OSU. Since Channing L Bete Company Inc was a well-established media company at the time and provided various pamphlets nationally, the pamphlet was most likely distributed across various college campuses like OSU. The 1974 booklet defined “self-protection” as “knowing how to AVOID being the victim of an attack or robbery . . . and knowing WHAT TO DO if you are a victim.” The booklet details various self-protection strategies for women, including home security, driving safety, and techniques to fight off an attacker. While some advice they give does seem helpful, the pamphlet, unfortunately, leans into some victim-blaming rhetoric. On page 6, the booklet describes the “Likely Target” as someone who is alone, has a dangling purse, walks in a dark area, and dresses and acts seductively. Accompanying this description is a cartoon woman who is depicted differently from the other women in the booklet. The “likely target” woman has large breasts and is dressed in a short dress and heels holding her purse loosely. The cartoon of the “likely victim” is the only depiction of a woman with emphasized breasts in the entire pamphlet. This description of a “likely target” implicitly blames women for being attacked rather than the attackers. In the conclusion, the booklet states that the best way for women to protect themselves is to be suspicious, discreet, and report to the police.
This 1974 booklet did not advocate for women to carry any defense weapons due to the possibility they could be used against them. While Judo and other self-defense training were deemed useful by the booklet, they are “no substitute for common sense, alertness and caution.” The booklet also only depicts a white woman as a victim and, like Fingertip Facts, assumes that all women can and want to call the police.
The 1977 Women Against Rape handbook “Fighting Back: a self defense handbook” takes a similar approach by teaching strategies to stay safe in one’s own home, while hitchhiking, or on the street. While Fighting Back does recommend certain clothing for women, the handbook attempts to sidestep the victim-blaming framing of “What every woman should know about self-protection” by explaining how wearing clothing or shoes that restrict your ability to run may prevent escaping instead of focusing on if the clothing was seductive or not. Another big difference between the earlier pamphlets and WAR’s is that Fighting Back does not advocate involving the police at any point. Instead, WAR focuses on incorporating neighbors and friends into safety plans.
The OSU Police Department (OSUPD) had published a “Crime Prevention Overview” with an announcement from Chief of University Police Ron Michalec and several brochures detailing specific topics. The topics are: Student Safety & Escort Service, Vehicle Safety, Streetwise and Safe, Sexual Assault Prevention, Emergency Phones, Online Safety and Security, Operation ID, and Bicycle Safety. The Sexual Assault Prevention pamphlet begins by stating “Don’t just worry about sexual assault, think about it.” The opening paragraph leans heavily into the “stranger-danger” narrative of rape; however, the pamphlet also defines and cautions against acquaintance assault and date rape. The pamphlet suggests how to fight back against an attacker and also describes the process of reporting (or not reporting) an assault. The pamphlet also has the OSUPD Survivor’s Rights Guarantee printed on the back, detailing the OSUPD’s obligations to survivors.
The Sexual Assault Prevention pamphlet warns that “rapists ‘shop’ for potential victims” and that “anyone walking alone with a timid appearance and preoccupied mind may be a target for rapists.” While the pamphlet emphasizes safety as an individual responsibility, its idea of a "likely target" does differ slightly from the 1974 “What every woman should know about self-protection.” As stated in the 1974 pamphlet the “likely target” was depicted as a promiscuous woman whereas the OSUPD's Sexual Assault Prevention pamphlet asserts that “offenders choose their victims based upon vulnerability, not on the basis of behavior, manner of dress, reputation etc.” So the Sexual Assault Prevention pamphlet attempts to expand who is/could be a victim of sexual asssault.
The Ohio State University has also produced multiple general safety pamphlets that are not exclusively about sexual violence. Ohio Staters Inc. and The OSU Police Department distributed a pamphlet in 1990 titled “Play It Safe” that highlighted the location of various emergency telephones around campus and general safety tips to OSU students. Play It Safe had various sections detailing how to protect not only yourself but also your property. It also included a section on how to deal with phone harassers. An undated pamphlet produced by the OSU Department of Public Safety titled “PROTECT YOURSELF…” detailed similar general safety tips. In PROTECT YOURSELF…, the OSU Public Safety department stated that “Although public safety is our job, it is the ultimate responsibility of everyone at the University.” The OSU Public Safety Department at the time consisted of the Police Division, University Security and Fire Prevention Services, and Student Safety Service. The OSU Department of Public Safety also produced a 2004 pamphlet titled “Living Safely on Campus.” Living Safely on Campus acted as a general introduction to safety on campus emphasizing strategies to prevent crime, services available through the university, how to report to OSU Police or Columbus Police, and a section warning about “tech threats,” which addresses the increase of computer-related crime on campus. In Living Safely's “what else should I know?” section, it mentions that alcohol and drugs can impair thinking and that students should plan how they are getting home from parties and with whom ahead of time since “becoming involved in violence or a sexual assault increase dramatically after consuming alcohol or other drugs.”
Interestingly, pamphlets produced directly from OSU that I had found had consistently used gender-neutral language. The gender-neutral language could be because most of the pamphlets addressed general safety, which could be seen as a universal student concern rather than explicitly a woman’s concern. Perhaps using gender-neutral language such as “you” or “student” made the syntax of the pamphlets clearer. While the Sexual Assault Prevention pamphlet has a woman on the cover, the language throughout both the survivor/victim and the perpetrator is gender-neutral. Regardless of why, the gender-neutral language ultimately calls for all students to be more engaged with their own safety and the safety of the university.
Additionally, the pamphlets produced directly by OSU show us how the university has continuously seen technology (phones, computers) as potential safety risks to warn students about since they provided strategies to deal with obscene callers or computer-related crimes.
OSU and Anti-rape Activist groups like WAR weren’t the only groups tackling rape and self-defense. In 1987, Ohio’s Governor’s Office of Criminal Justice Services published a pamphlet titled 1987 “PREVENT RAPE Operation Crime Alert,” which detailed strategies they believed would prevent rape since it is the “most violent, frightening and serious of all crimes against women.” While this pamphlet did say it is ok to fight back, it emphasized that “No one can tell you what specific tactics to use. Every situation is different, and you as an individual must deal with the rapists as an individual and choose the best alternative.” Unlike the 1968 Fingertip Facts for Women Alone pamphlet, PREVENT RAPE deemphasizes the necessity of self-defense objects. It asserted that a woman should NEVER foster dependence on an object which may or may not be available when you need it.