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Activist Communiqué

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Krystalline Kraus is an intrepid journalist and veteran reporter for rabble.ca since its 2001 beginnings. She needs neither a red cape nor safety goggles to fly into her latest political assignment. She often live-tweets from events -- almost exclusively First Nations and environmental issues. You can follow her on Twitter @krystalline_k.

Activist Communique: Best advice ever to avoid rape? 'Don't dress like a slut'

| February 17, 2011
Activist Communique: Best advice ever to avoid rape? 'Don't dress like a slut'

Is "don't dress like a slut" the best advice that Toronto police officers from 31 Division can give women?

Hell, with "community allies" like these, who needs enemies?

And by "community allies", I mean the Toronto police giving advice on how women can keep safe from sexual assault.

On January 24, 2011, a campus safety information session was held at York University, Osgoode Hall with York security and two male officers from Toronto police 31 Division. Constable Michael Sanguinetti suggested that one way for women to protect themselves from sexual assault was to not to dress like a slut.

According to Ronda Bessner, an Osgoode assistant dean of the Juris Doctor Program, who attended the session: "One of the safety tips was for women not to dress like 'sluts.' Constable Sanguinetti said something like, 'I've been told I shouldn't say this,' and then he uttered the words."

Bressner, on behalf of students and staff who attended the campus safety session, has approached the Toronto Police Service seeking an apology. 

In response, Toronto police spokesperson Constable Wendy Drummond said, "[This is] definitely something that we take very seriously. This matter [...] has been brought to the attention of our professional standards unit and is something we will be looking into."

UPDATED: Toronto police report that Constable Michael Sanguinetti - who made the comment - will be disciplined for his comments, though the type and severity of the discipline was not disclosed. He will also apologize for his comments, though to whom he would apologize through a letter. I'm note sure why it took so long to get an apology since the comment was made back on January 24.

There are many different issues at play here but I will focus on the dynamic of a male police officer dispensing advice on what to do if a woman is raped and referring to that woman as a 'slut'.

This type of behaviour could easily dissuade a vicitim of sexual assault from coming forward to report the incedent to the police; isn't it hard enough to speak up without wondering what the police officer is thinking as he/she records the specifics of the crime (thinking you're a "slut")? Rapes are statistically  under-reported to the authorities.

According to facts found on the Toronto Police Sex Crimes Unit webpage (please note how old these statistics are; I wonder why this page has not been updated?): "Sexual assault is a vastly under-reported crime. According to Statistics Canada, only 6% of all sexual assaults are reported to police.

In one study, women gave the following reasons for not reporting incidents of sexual assault:

-- belief that the police could do nothing about it (50% of women gave this reason);

--concern about the attitude of both police and the courts toward sexual assault (44%);

--fear of another assault by the offender (33%);

-- fear and shame (64%)."

Another important point to note here is that it seems by the conduct of the officer who spoke the words that there was some mechanism in his brain that very briefly stopped him from referring to female victims of sexual assault as  "sluts", but he went ahead and spoke his mind anyway as if he thought he would not reprimanded for such language or conduct.

It is such mysoginistic comments that are front-loaded with the all-familiar 'but' that women face every day. In fact, and as painful as this might be, I wish such mysoginists would just forgo the 'but' like it's some harm-prevention mechanism and just be honest about what they feel so we can honestly begin to confront the problem.  

I would like to direct people to a wonderful series: Don't Rape, Part I -- Society teaches 'Don't get raped' rather than 'Don't rape'  

[Disclaimer: Some scenes in this story may be triggering for people who have experienced sexual assault.]

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