Lately I’ve been hearing increasing commentary about Slutwalk and the problem of the victim-blaming it addresses not being an “everyone” issue, that it’s an issue only for women. Or only for women, transgender and two-spirited people, which I take to mean only those who might look like women. The issue is certainly not one for cis-men (those born with male physiology who have a male gender identity), go the comments.
But this is an everyone issue. Certainly no-one is as affected as the victim being blamed, stigmatized, branded and demoralized. How this affects other potential victims of the same crime is in the care they’ve been told they must now take to not provoke an assault on themselves, making them secondary victims. For the sake of this discussion, one could say that cis-men are, by-and-large, tertiary victims, but make no mistake about it: we are all being victimized by these pervasive attitudes. If we’re going to draw a line excluding some victims from taking part, why not disallow the secondary victims as well? After all, what they go through is nothing compared to what the actual victim of the crime goes through… No, this isn’t an issue where we should draw lines, pretending it doesn’t profoundly affect everyone.
When Constable Sanguinetti of the Toronto Police Service said women could avoid sexual assault by not dressing like sluts, not only did he blame any survivor for her (or his) sexual assault, but he placed every other woman (and, potentially, every other man) on alert for the sexual assault she might somehow provoke. He also blamed every mother and father who might ever say, “You look lovely, Dear” before sending a daughter out to dance at her prom only to become a victim of date rape. This can and does lead to many victims not coming forward because of shame, including the male victim who is subject to the same blame, stigma, and branding. That male victim, by the way, is not necessarily two-spirited, homosexual or transgender. Sanguinetti also told every cis-man he was a potential rapist, and placed him in a position of having to prove to every potential victim (and society at large) he is not guilty of a crime he has not (yet) committed and in all likelihood won’t. The result of this is a hyper-vigilant society infantilizing men and misplacing the responsibility for sexual assaults on victims rather than focusing on the aberrant behaviour of a relatively small segment of the population. Let’s try to remember: it isn’t that men are rapists, it’s that rapists are predators who overwhelmingly often (more than 98% of the time) happen to have male bodies.
Blaming the victim of a sexual assault is abhorrent, as in the case of Queen’s Justice Robert Dewar who told a rape victim she had contributed to her assault by wearing a tube top, no bra and makeup, as well as having been engaged earlier in what could be described as flirtatious behaviour (Dewar went further by telling the rapist that – while he was serving his no-jail-time sentence – he was to write his victim a letter of apology). This prompted a huge outcry from Manitobans, many of whom wanted Dewar’s resignation or firing. The absurdity of blaming a victim is so obvious to most of us, shouldn’t it be obvious to those in a position of protecting the public? Allow me to use the logic expressed by the two upholders of the law mentioned in this post: Your Honour, he was wearing boxer shorts. Of course I punched him. In the context of sexual assault, there’s no such thing as a slut; nobody can ask to be assaulted, regardless of attire, flirtatious behaviour, where they are, or the company they keep.
It bears mention that nobody has actually addressed what Sanguinetti was saying about himself. To preface his statement, he acknowledged he wasn’t supposed to say what he was about to say and then he said it anyway. He clearly believed what he was saying more than any antithetical education he’d received, and felt it was worth saying despite being specifically told not to. Certainly this may speak to the education Toronto police candidates receive, but it also speaks to the character of that particular officer. Was he rationalizing his own predatory nature, and preemptively (or post-) blaming his own victim? Was he defending the actions of another actual person in his life? Or is he really just another perpetrator of victim-blaming who cannot wrap his head around the idea that someone cannot ask to be assaulted? Whichever it was, he needs help, and probably shouldn’t be in a position of authority over the vulnerable. Exhaustive methods should be in place to be certain those in a position of defending the public are not those who can easily identify with and explain away the actions of offenders. It seems to me that is what Slutwalk is really about, and why we all need to take part in demonstrations such as these regardless of physiology or sexual identity.
For more on my reaction to the comments made by Sanguinetti, take a look at Does Dressing Like A Slut Increase Victim Potential? If you’re interested in finding out more about Slutwalk Winnipeg, check out their Facebook page.