This posting is in response to the police officer who, on January 24th, 2011, addressed a group of students and staff at Osgoode Law School during a campus safety information session. Not only did Police Services fail to address the issue appropriately (never mind failing massively in correctly managing the complete bullshit coming from the officer in question), Excalibur, the York University community newspaper reported February 16th, 2001, that:
On Jan. 24, a campus safety information session was held at Osgoode Hall, where members from York security and two male officers from Toronto police 31 Division handed out safety tips to community
Ronda Bessner, who attended the session, remembered being surprised by what the officer suggested to women.
“One of the safety tips was for women not to dress like ‘sluts.’ He said something like, ‘I’ve been told I shouldn’t say this,’ and then he uttered the words,” said Bessner, Osgoode assistant dean of the Juris Doctor Program. “I was shocked and appalled. I made contact with the police […] and we’ve asked for a written apology and an explanation.”
YFS vice-president Darkshika Selvasivam, who did not attend the session, also expressed shock upon hearing the comments.
“I’m appalled by the comment that the police officer has made saying that women should avoid dressing like sluts, and I think it goes to show the inherent misogyny and lack of education,” said Selvasivam, York Federation of Students (YFS) executive.
“I think the officer should be very seriously reprimanded for the comment.”
After the session, Bessner spoke with students and student organizations and noted they, too, expressed concerns about the comment. Bessner proceeded to call 31 Division to demand an apology and explanation.
“Initially it was a call, and the officer said he would get back to me right away. A couple of days had lapsed, so I sent a letter,” she said.
Toronto police spokesperson Constable Wendy Drummond confirmed the incident has been brought to the attention of senior officials and is currently under investigation.
“[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,” she said.
However, she could not confirm whether Toronto police intend to issue an official apology.
“We are of the position that if these comments were made, it is definitely something that we will [act on],” she added.
Bessner said she has yet to receive an official apology from the officer. She has also spoken to York security and noted that they were also upset by the comments.
So no forethought, no thought (obviously), blatant misogyny, represented directly to the community they were intending to protect, and still no apology — until the above piece was run. Ri-Dick. U. Louse.
This is offensive on so many levels, first and foremost because, as we are told, the police are given “sensitivity training” regarding these types of “don’t fuck off the public” type issues – and yet it was still seen as an appropriate comment to not only make, but to not have to apologize for until public outcry made it pretty fucking obvious it was unacceptable. But are we as citizens to believe that if this type of commentary is being made outside the confines of a network (that derives its strength from a code where lives and careers depend on the trust of individuals to back one another up) it is not likely derivative of a school of thought within that network?
Secondly, and I think what is most upsetting to me, is that approaching people on campus relates not only directly to how safe they can feel in a place of learning, but also indicates to young people that they should adhere to some kind of moralistic dress code, rather than feel as though they can be protected by the police, no matter what they choose to wear. Now, I do understand that there are a significant number of mature students and faculty to whom it’s debatable that my point applies, but hear me out: there are members of staff, faculty, and students that may be at a point in their lives where they are dealing with a multi-gendered living and learning environment for the first time. This may well mean that they perhaps take for granted the securities that in another environment, would be assured. Many people go off to school for the first time and have their first drinks, first drugs, first sexual experiences; so there is bound to be varying degrees in levels of experimentation, just as there are varying degrees of levels of “acceptable dress”. By making a statement like “Don’t dress like a slut in order to avoid sexual assault”, the police undermine, in a way that has for too long been undermined, the realities of an assault or rape victim’s suffering, and further victimize them while insinuating validation for the attack, not to mention ratifying the attacker’s intent to harm by virtue of applying the “asking for it” defense.
Thirdly, who defines what is morally appropriate to wear? What is it, exactly, that indicates someone is dressed as a so-called “slut”? Let’s be a little realistic here and suggest that maybe, just maybe fashion styles have been leaning toward non-hoop-skirt for the past bazillion years anyway. Am I “dressed like a slut” in the above picture? Doesn’t matter what anyone thinks. A Dress Is Not A Yes. PERIOD.
How many women (and I am stressing women for the moment, because that is what the article/incident in question relates to, but I don’t think for a second that sexual violence is limited to gender or sexual orientation) find themselves in a position of invalidating their own emotions and psychological well-being post-trauma simply as a means to justify its occurrence? I myself have never been in the position where, post-harassment/grabbing/et cetera, I didn’t feel as though it was a duty to myself to call attention to the attacker’s behavior. And what happened? Basically nothing. More than 3 times. So you can imagine how, perhaps, someone with less inclination to draw attention to their situation might fear not only that nothing more will come of it than a slap on the wrist for the attacker and possible recriminations toward them, additional shame, or just plain fear. And now, (reiterated once again, thanks to the police’s A-1 public relations) as though they must have done something to deserve it.
Too many women are browbeaten by society into accepting the flawed notion that a “sexy” style of clothing, attitude or demeanor not only invites but negates inappropriate contact – and this is the same society that glorifies sexuality in its marketing of literally any brand or product. The moralistic approach of suggesting that women protect themselves by covering up only serves to illustrate how society feels it is appropriate to protect a virgin, not a whore; and when values like that are being embraced and encouraged by those that protect us, how are we truly to feel safe? Whether or not someone dresses in a provocative fashion makes them no more or less deserving of an assault than dressing like a hip hop artist should give someone a Grammy. Yes, it seems like (and is) a ridiculous comparison, but what is more ridiculous? Some dumb analogy on a blog, or the fact that these notions of equality, of protection, and of human rights which people have fought (and died) for are being uprooted and recovered with the erosions of our freedoms, to protect the same controversial and corrupt dealings we’re so quick to point out in other societies.
Hypocrisy, but what else is new.
Dress how you want, but more importantly don’t be afraid to report abuse/sexual misconduct as part of a societal misconception embedded to continue to make people ashamed of their sexualities, and to defend predatory behaviors. Below is a clip of Sunday’s SLUTWALK in Toronto, which incited the majority of this rant.
For an expansion on my (most recent) personal experience with sexual assault, Click Here to read about what happened when I was wearing longsleeved, appropriate-for-a-wedding-style dress. So fuck you, those who think it’s about how you dress, or what you say, or any other way you think we’re “Asking For It.”
Raymond Kwan, Senior Editor Excalibur Publications