Going out drinking? Wear nice undies

English police department promotes safety, foxy lingerie.

Published July 13, 2006 12:00PM (EDT)

Proving that the road to hell is paved with good intentions, the well-meaning police department in the English county of Suffolk is trying to discourage women from binge drinking by appealing to their vanity. The department recently distributed a free magazine titled Safe! in which the officers adopted "an editorial style which they hoped would appeal to women in their late teens," according to the BBC. Here's a snippet:

"For those of you intent on getting ratted this weekend, think. If you fall over or pass out, remember your skirt or dress may ride up. You could show off more than you intended -- for all our sakes, please make sure you're wearing nice pants." (That's pants as in underwear.)

The public service announcement also warns women that too much drinking will leave them looking like "wrinkly old prunes," and features a spoof promotion for a British band's upcoming "Minger to Fit" tour ("minger" being an unattractive person, and "fit" being a synonym for hot).

A police spokesperson justified the campaign this way: "There have been a number of attacks on women who have been drinking and there is a serious safety message to get across. We've written this in a gossipy, tongue-in-cheek style in the hope that young women will pick it up and read it and take notice."

It's a noble aim, and with women's safety at stake, some might argue that the ends justify the means. But just because young women are popularly portrayed as frivolous and vain doesn't mean they'll all respond favorably to a mocking campaign like this one. There's something off about a local police force requesting that local women wear cute underclothes so the public will get a nicer view when a woman falls over. Sure, it's a joke, but should law enforcement really be making that joke? Plus, using vanity to warn women about attackers is bizarrely circuitous. "Make sure you don't become so drunk that you're unattractive -- after all, we don't want you getting attacked!" the campaign seems to say. Wouldn't warning women about potential attackers be more efficient, not to mention respectful of women's judgment?

And it sure would be nice if the police ran a public information campaign discouraging potential attackers rather than just discouraging women from putting themselves in vulnerable positions. The Suffolk campaign goes in the other direction -- and distributing public service announcements that deride women probably isn't the best way to encourage respectful treatment of women in the Suffolk community.

There's got to be a way -- even a "gossipy, tongue-in-cheek" way -- to get young women's attention without disrespecting them in the process.

By Page Rockwell

Page Rockwell is Salon's editorial project manager.

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