SVPRO Statement on ‘Safety’ Tips

To our UBC Community,

“Stay Safe”

It’s that time of year again. When we come back to campus to unsolicited advice for our own safety. Most of which boils down to: Don’t get hurt. Which is odd because the better advice would be: don’t hurt anyone.

Who are “safety tips” for?

Unsurprisingly, safety tips are most frequently directed at women and femmes, who are disproportionately harmed. The idea that we can prevent harm from happening to us based on how we act, is rooted in victim blaming. A person is never to blame for someone else’s choices to cause harm.

What kind of tips are we talking about?

  • Walk with your keys between your knuckles
  • Text a friend when you arrive home safely
  • There’s safety in numbers
  • Don’t go out after dark
  • Don’t dress too “provocatively”
  • Don’t drink too much
  • Keep an eye on your drinks
  • Be aware of your surroundings
  • Don’t have headphones in

What’s wrong with this advice?

These individual safety actions actually aren’t inherently bad or wrong, but the conflation with why and how sexual violence occurs is concerning. Safety tips are focused on what individuals can do to try and avoid harm, but erase the choices made by the person causing harm.

People who cause this type of harm are responsible for their own actions. With erasure, an unintended consequence is that we make excuses for people who cause harm, and blame those targeted. Additionally, deterring harm from one person does not address the reasons people choose to cause harm and thus potentially displaces harm onto others.

Let’s take a closer look at what some of these safety tips are really telling us.

Don’t Do’s:

  • Don’t drink what you want
  • Don’t wear what you want
  • Don’t let your guard down
  • Don’t listen to music/podcasts, etc. when you want to

Don’t Be’s:

  • Don’t be flirtatious
  • In fact, don’t even be friendly
  • (But also, smile more)
  • Don’t be alone
  • Don’t be unsupervised

Don’t Go’s:

  • Don’t go out when it’s dark
  • Don’t go home with anyone
  • Don’t go to “those” neighbourhoods
  • Don’t go to those bars
  • Don’t go to the bathroom when you’ve already ordered a beverage
  • Don’t go in a car with strangers (Uber, taxi, Lyft)
  • (But also don’t go walking alone)

“This highlights the impossible double-bind [women and femmes] face in engaging in ‘safety’ routines: if we use them, we restrict our worlds and possibilities. Yet, if we don’t engage in these routines, we are positioned as being to blame for what happens to us.” — Bianca Fileborn for “The Conversation” in 2018

Individual and Societal Repercussions

These often contradictory limitations are being put on the lives of the people who are most often targeted for harm. Meaning the space we are allowed to exist “safely” in, is small. This redirection of responsibility reinforces gendered hierarchies wherein cisgender men have the most privileges and fewest restrictions. Limiting the lives of people of all other genders disallows our presence as change-makers in society and has people with less power pointing fingers at each other, instead of at the people who hold a disproportionate amount of power and those causing harm. The status quo goes unchallenged.


The limitations placed on the lives of women and femmes is not equal for all. It is further complicated by other intersections of identity-based oppression. Of all those whose lives are limited by these narratives, white, financially secure, cisgender women are more protected by their privileges than their counterparts who are BIPOC, trans, nonbinary, and have limited financial resources. If we are going to push back on these safety tips, we also have to acknowledge the impact of white supremacy and cissexism. If we do not, we reinforce marginalization and deny social progress.

So is there anything positive about safety tips?

Yes. And for an important reason! A sense of safety is incredibly valuable to our health and well-being. If cautious actions support this feeling for you, there is nothing wrong with that. We also recognize that some safety tips amount to ‘looking out for each other’. And this, we believe, is always a good thing! This helps us build communities of collective care and that in turn, does increase safety. When we care about each other, we are less likely to cause each other this harm. And people choosing to commit this kind of harm have fewer and fewer reasons to believe their choices are in any way acceptable.

“While ‘safety’ routines limit women’s lives, they are also paradoxical… They simultaneously contract and expand our possibilities for being.” — Bianca Fileborn for “The Conversation” in 2018

What can we do to be safe?

Be an active participant in social change. Increasing equity is the most significant thing we can do to prevent violence. For now, no matter how many ‘precautions’ we take based on safety tips, ultimately we are not in control of other people’s choices and actions – this can feel overwhelming and disempowering. We get to grieve that loss of agency. Given this loss, It’s totally reasonable to want to work toward our own safety.

It is ok to take steps that make you feel safer and more empowered. AND, it is important to separate that from the idea that it will prevent someone else from taking harmful action against you. You deserve to exist safely wherever you are, no matter what.

If that sense of safety is violated, we are here for you. It is not your fault. We believe you.

Take care of yourselves. Take care of each other.

In Solidarity,

Alicia, Althea, Ariana, Dawn, Habi, Lauren, Ogake, Sasha