RCMP tips on sexual assault a sign of systemic problem, say Toronto advocates
A statement by Nunavut RCMP offered women tips on how to avoid being sexual assaulted, this week.
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Be aware of your surroundings, wear a backpack to keep your hands free to defend yourself at all times, and don't talk on the phone. These are some of the tips given in a news release by Nunavut RCMP Insp. Dean Warr on Tuesday, which Toronto advocates say reinforces victim blaming. The RCMP has since apologized for singling out women in it's initial statement regarding the arrest of 21-year-old man charged with sexual assault.
"This is a huge problem that persists and it's part of the deep-seated roots of blaming women for sexual assault," said Wendy Komiotis, executive director of METRAC, a Toronto-based non-profit that combats violence against women and children.
"Here you've got a situation where someone is going about their business, they've been sexually assaulted, and then they're being told they need to work harder to protect themselves," she said.
Saying that the first line of defence against sexual violence is expecting women to protect themselves is incredibly problematic for Komiotis.
"We need to start talking about how we shift the attitudes of people who feel that it's open season to violate women's bodies," she added.
The language used in Tuesday's news release suggests that the RCMP is saying it is up to the public to keep themselves safe, said Deepa Mattoo, legal director at Toronto's Barbra Schlifer Clinic.
"Unfortunately, a statement like this is another manifestation of patriarchy," she said.
A second news release on Thursday from the RCMP said they were made aware that the language used in the earlier release "may have offended some individuals."
The statement went on to say, "the suggested safety tips listed are useful for anyone, at any time."
"Absolutely no offence was intended, and we wholeheartedly apologize," it added.
Mattoo said this apology doesn't quite cover it.
"You could be using very gender neutral language but still implying the same thing, which definitely doesn't change what you're trying to say," she said, adding there needs to be a shift in how sexual assault is talked about.
"We need to repeat, again and again: if anyone is to be blamed for a sexual assault it is the rapist or assaulter."