(originally published 2011 Feb 22 on Facebook)
Recently, a Toronto cop addressing a group of law students said that women could avoid being targeted for sexual assault by not “dressing like sluts.” His words met with some heated reaction, and as of this writing the Toronto Police Service has had no official response to what the officer has said; they say, however, they’ll be looking into it.
This underscores a major issue in law-enforcement and the relationship of police with the public. Keep in mind, this was an officer chosen to speak to the public, not a random conversation overheard at a private function, taken out of context, and blown out of proportion. The officer in question made a serious judgment of some rape victims: they’re sluts who somehow provoked an attack and therefor aren’t deserving of the same protection as “nice” or “wholesome” victims of violence. Never mind the fact there is no uniform “slut dress code” or even such a thing as a slut – the word “slut” is used to shame a woman, to keep her down and exercise a form of social control – but even if we pretend he was, in fact, speaking about a style of dress without the associated values-based judgment, he was still wrong. Sexual assault isn’t about clothing, it’s about the intent of the person committing the attack.
After acknowledging he wasn’t supposed to say what he said, Constable Michael Sanguinetti still said it, betraying his own ignorance of (among other things) criminal motivation as well as the ignorance of those in the position of protecting the public. He wasn’t speaking from a knowledge of the crime not reported in statistics, and he wasn’t necessarily representative of the attitudes of police who deal specifically with sexual assault. He was, however, representative of the fact the average police officer is not necessarily in a position to counsel the public on how to avoid crime.
While it’s easy to say this is an exceptional circumstance, that law enforcement are in a position to give the best advice, consider this: on a regular and consistent basis, police advise against violent physical resistance to crime. It’s better, they say, to plan and organize the events of your day so that you don’t end up in a confrontation that might require you to defend yourself. Yes, absolutely right, but if awareness alone saved lives there would not be so many law-enforcement officers dying at the hands of the criminal element; police are, after all, painfully aware there are people out there who would seek to do them harm.
The motivated criminal will circumvent awareness, overpower defences and carry out nefariously motivated acts regardless of the steps taken to prevent them from doing so. Thus, the criminal intent on doing harm to another’s sanctity of person will attempt to do so regardless of the attire his chosen target has selected.
Sex isn’t what the assault is about, it’s the weapon used.
It is the stuff of pop-songs and romantic-comedies and marketing campaigns to say we were so overcome by attraction we could not control our actions, but the idea that desire and attraction are at the root of sexual assault is a fallacious and dangerous mythology to spread. Imagine being alone with your object of desire and being so overcome with passion you are willing to use physical force, intimidation, guilt, shame, violence… So amorous you will disregard things like age, mental health, physical consequences, marital status… So completely enamoured you are willing to abuse authority or trust, employ illicit drugs and alcohol or threaten to do the same or worse to someone else if the object of your affection tells. Doesn’t sound like an expression of sexual desire anymore, does it? Sexual assault is nothing if not violent, whether in purpose, manner, or effect.
Sexual attraction doesn’t explain why straight men attack other men whose sexual orientation may not be known to the attacker. It doesn’t explain sexual assault of a geriatric patient or a child in care, and it doesn’t explain why so few rapists can even remember what the victim was wearing at the time of the assault. So called “corrective rape” isn’t about changing a woman’s sexual orientation as much as it is about controlling her sexuality. Sexual assault is also a weapon of war, and has been for centuries. A battlefield isn’t the type of setting that leads to sexual attraction to the enemy, but it does lend itself to the mindset the enemy must be completely dominated, and his dignity stripped.
Sexual assault is violence, not sex, and we are all secondary victims. It’s a particularly sinister form of terrorism where, as in this case, many secondary victims perpetuate a culture of sexual assault by blaming victims, infantilizing men and restricting freedoms on those we seek to protect.
Addendum: No sooner had I posted this than I was able to actually find the apology from the officer in question. Please take a look at: http://www.thestar.com/news/article/940665–officer-apologizes-for-sluts-comment