“I’ve been told I’m not supposed to say this,” said Constable Michael Sanguinetti during a sexual assault seminar at York University on January 24, 2011. “However, women should avoid dressing like sluts in order not to be victimized.”
Said out of concern for the safety of young women, the officer has since apologized for the statement, but that doesn’t make the problem behind it go away. Victim blaming appears to be alive and well.
“We live in a culture that excuses male sexual violence as natural and inevitable, and puts the responsibility on women to be gatekeepers,” says Stacey May Fowles, a writer who frequently speaks out on feminist issues in such publications as The Walrus and Shameless. “This idea that ‘men can’t help it’ is not only damaging to women, it’s damaging to us all. Until we stop putting the responsibility of consent and safety all on women, until we stop shaming and blaming them, we’ll never achieve equality or healthy, empowered, pleasurable, and safe sexual relationships.”
But what did Sanguinetti mean by what he said? What is a “slut,” exactly?
“The easiest answer is there is no such thing as a slut,” says Fowles. “It’s just a made-up idea; a lie created by people interested in keeping women afraid of sex and pleasure – a woman who has sex because she wants to, because she enjoys it, is often slapped with labels of disdain because female sexual agency terrifies the status quo.”
If you’ve been sexually assaulted, it’s not your fault. It’s not your fault if you were wearing a vinyl miniskirt. It’s not your fault if you were wearing a burka. It’s not your fault if you were drinking or flirting or dancing or if “sex was in the air,” as Manitoba judge Robert Dewar recently and disturbingly put it (the Canadian Judicial Council is currently reviewing those comments). Rape happens to women of every colour, shape, size, age and ability, no matter what they say, how they act or what they wear.
“I think most women are, on some level, terrified of being sexually assaulted,” says Halifax-based journalist Katie Toth. “Blaming victims of sexual assault for their experience can give us a momentary sense of security. By saying that the victim could have done something–something which we, presumably, ‘would’ do–to stop the assault, we allow ourselves to maintain the illusion that assault cannot happen to us.”
Fowles says that engaging men in conversations about consent and their responsibilities is the first step towards countering sexual violence.
“It feels like the conversation has only been with women and about women, and the focus needs to shift to engage the entire community. If we’re only having a dialogue about a woman’s skirt length, what route she took home, how many drinks she had, or whether or not she put herself in danger, we’re not getting at the root of the problem.”
Toronto Police have made their position clear on the matter, distancing themselves from the officer’s statement and stressing their own values.
“We have made it quite publicly known that what was said is not reflective of our services, policies, procedures or the way in which we conduct business at all,” says Toronto Police Constable Wendy Drummond, spokesperson for the force. “We’ve worked very hard up to this point, working with victims and trying to better the service that we’re able to provide for victims of sexual assault and the comment made goes against everything that we’ve worked towards.”
Sonya JF Barnett and her friends were outraged and disheartened by the “slut” comment enough to create an event called the SlutWalk to take a stand against victim blaming. Men and women alike are invited to participate the peaceful protest that will take place at 1:30 p.m. on April 3 in Queen’s Park. Satellite SlutWalks are also being organized in London, Ottawa and potentially other Canadian cities. Visit http://www.slutwalktoronto.com for more information.
SlutWalkers are invited to wear whatever they’d like.
Sexy Typewriter blogs about her dating failures – online and otherwise – at Sexytypewriter.com.