Sexual Assault: Victim-Blaming

On January 24, 2011, Officer Michael Sanguinetti of the Toronto Police Service was on a routine visit to Osgoode Hall to advise students on personal safety on campus. To an audience of 10 students, Sanguinetti said, "I've been told I'm not supposed to say this-however, women should avoid dressing like sluts in order not to be victimized." In other words, although this is not the Toronto Police Service's official position, this is how the police still see rape. Sexual assault is not caused by the attacker, but instead by the victim and her choice of clothing. This is called victim-blaming.

Needless to say, Sanguinetti's statement sparked outrage and created the "slutwalk" movement, which started last month in Toronto and has now spread throughout North America and around the world. Slutwalks have been planned in Arizona, California, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Michigan, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Texas, Utah, Washington and Wisconsin, not to mention the Netherlands, the UK, Argentina, New Zealand, Australia and Sweden.

The following is the official statement from Slutwalk Toronto's Facebook page:

As the city’s major protective service, the Toronto Police have perpetuated the myth and stereotype of ‘the slut’, and in doing so have failed us. With sexual assault already a significantly under-reported crime, survivors have now been given even less of a reason to go to the Police, for fear that they could be blamed. Being assaulted isn’t about what you wear; it’s not even about sex; but using a pejorative term to rationalize inexcusable behaviour creates an environment in which it’s okay to blame the victim.

Historically, the term ‘slut’ has carried a predominantly negative connotation. Aimed at those who are sexually promiscuous, be it for work or pleasure, it has primarily been women who have suffered under the burden of this label. And whether dished out as a serious indictment of one’s character or merely as a flippant insult, the intent behind the word is always to wound, so we’re taking it back. “Slut” is being re-appropriated.

We are tired of being oppressed by slut-shaming; of being judged by our sexuality and feeling unsafe as a result. Being in charge of our sexual lives should not mean that we are opening ourselves to an expectation of violence, regardless if we participate in sex for pleasure or work. No one should equate enjoying sex with attracting sexual assault.

We are a movement demanding that our voices be heard. We are here to call foul on our Police Force and demand change. We want Toronto Police Services to take serious steps to regain our trust. We want to feel that we will be respected and protected should we ever need them, but more importantly be certain that those charged with our safety have a true understanding of what it is to be a survivor of sexual assault — slut or otherwise.

Although the Toronto Police Service's attitude towards rape may still be widespread, there's another Canadian police force and an entire community that have shifted the blame where it belongs--to the offender. Check out my next post to learn how not to be that guy.

Related posts:
Putting the Blame Where it Belongs
A Reason to Honk
Stephen Leacock's Last Laugh
The CBC Investigates Sexism in Publishing
Guerrilla Girls, Humour and Hope
Publishing: What If...?
Publishing: What's "Good" and "Important"  (Stats on the # of books authored by women that are reviewed)
CBC: The Elephant in the Room  (Terry Fallis's book beats Carol Shields in CanadaReads)
Reads from Men


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