Open Letter to Ms. Simons and Editors of the Edmonton Journal

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As the organizers of this year’s Edmonton Slut Walk, we were initially delighted to hear that you would be covering the emergence of posters which mock a well-established and successful anti-rape campaign. Upon reading your article, those feelings quickly changed to horror, that an ally would use their large platform to spread misinformation about rape and false rape allegations.

Though your piece did appear in the “opinion” column, that isn’t license to spread an opinion that makes the world safer for rapists, and harder for victims. Inevitably, that is what you do when you focus on the behavior of the victim, versus the intent of the rapist.

In a piece by the CBC, who showed demonstrably more responsibility in reporting on the posters, acting Insp. Sean Armstrong from the serious crimes branch of Edmonton Police Service said that false allegations are “extremely rare”. Armstrong goes on to say “I was [a] sexual assault detective for 4½ years and in that time I only dealt with one, and I dealt with numerous files. Many, many, many files,”. Additionally, police fear the posters will deter victims from speaking out. “We want to encourage people to come forward and report these horrendous crimes,” Armstrong said.

“Let’s be clear.” You, Ms. Simons, write, “Any man who’d have intercourse with someone passed out cold or too drunk to stand or speak is both a criminal and a loser”. Well, Ms. Simons, he is also a rapist, and we believe in calling a lemon a lemon. The number of women from all walks of life who have been raped, and have spoken to the organizers of Slut Walk individually is a high enough number to make one’s skin crawl, and those are only the people willing to speak about their trauma. We don’t dance around this issue anymore.

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False rape accusations are terrible, and they are destructive to people’s lives. It would be ignorant to pretend otherwise, and you do highlight some of the problems that occur in these cases including sexual agency. Yet, what your letter and the entire mocking ‘don’t be that girl’ campaign miss, is that one of the largest obstacles to justice and healing for sexual assault victims is excessive disbelief. This skepticism of sexual assault survivors regularly manifests, with victims lambasted both online and in their communities. In the real world, rape very often happens without witnesses, or physical evidence of non-consent. Many rapes go unpunished. Statistics that float around on the internet claiming that 41% of rape charges are false are based on bad data that was unable to be verified by any secondary sources. Quite likely the reason you made no citation about the statistics on the prevalence of false rape, is because they are difficult to pin down. Researchers are often counting different things. In Canada the data illustrates between 2-5%. Instances of false reports of auto theft are higher.

You write: “Yet no matter your gender, if you’re too impaired to take care of yourself, the odds someone will hurt you or take advantage of you certainly go up.” This is victim-blaming. The act of sexual violence is an action committed by one person, against another person. You ignore what you must have heard as a feminist writing about rape—the victim bears no responsibility over the crime perpetrated against them. Safety tips such as ‘don’t drink so much’ have been provided to teenagers for years. The perverse reality of safety tips, such as the belief that by drinking you are putting yourself in harm’s way, is based on an antiquated notion of rape as something done by a boogeyman lurking in the bushes to rape you. Stranger attacks do happen, but the overwhelming majority of attacks are committed in a victim’s home, and often by someone they trust.

Safety tips only place the responsibility of rape back on the victim. The pervasiveness of this attitude, of telling women who have been raped that having made themselves vulnerable and having been ‘damned stupid’, is unacceptable. Rapists create the threat of rape by being willing to rape. We are unwilling to see rape as inevitable. The notion that they could have prevented being raped haunts survivors of sexual assault. Please stop ripping open barely cauterized wounds in the name of commentary.

When you write that it is “[l]ittle wonder some confused young women use alcohol as a social crutch”, we wonder if you are aware that rapists knowingly use alcohol to coerce the victim, knowing that this makes allegations of rape look suspicious.

Regarding the “Don’t Be That Guy” Campaign: it was not intended as a campaign to paint all men as rapists, because the vast majority of men are not rapists. Current theory, ‘predator theory’ uses the work of Dr. David Lisak, who co-authored a 2002 study of nearly 1,900 college men, published in the academic journal Violence and Victims. He has said in interviews, “the vast majority of rapes are perpetrated by serial offenders who, on average, have six victims. So, this is who’s doing it”.

Ms Simons, rape culture runs deep in society and we understand the urge to teach people to protect themselves from harm. While teenage binge drinking is a problem, rape should not be used as a scare tactic on young women. Especially not in the same year in which Canada lost Rehtaeh Parsons to rape, slut-shaming, and re-victimization by her community. The safety tips you offer didn’t spare Ms. Parsons. Don’t insult her family by calling her “damned stupid” for acting like a normal teenager. She did not deserve what happened to her, and neither does any other victim. The safety tips of not getting into cars with strangers didn’t spare the young man sexually assaulted by four women in Toronto either. Let’s shift the onus from avoiding harm through ineffective safety tips, to preventing harm by teaching consent and to not rape.

There is nothing a person can ever do to deserve sexual violence.

Regards,

Danielle Paradis

Devonne Kendrick

Patrick McIlveen

Penny Paradis

Sheri De Vries

The Slut Walk 2013 Organizing Committee

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26 thoughts on “Open Letter to Ms. Simons and Editors of the Edmonton Journal

  1. This is a wonderful letter! Thank you all for taking the time to respond to Paula Simons in such a thorough way. Your focus on survivors’ experiences and critique of the effectiveness of safety tips puts things in a much more realistic context.

  2. Thank you for continuing this discussion. Victim-blaming and slut-shaming are such a sick, twisted, and pervasive part of rape culture. I’m pissed off that this is still something we have to discuss. We shouldn’t have to. It’s 2013. It’s just (can I swear here?) f***ing bullsh*t. And I’m sick of it.

    But Paula Simons said things that I have said to myself on many occasions: “If I go out tonight, I’m only staying as long as my best friend is there; when she goes home, I go home…” or “I’m only going to have two drinks max, because I know how I can get and I don’t want to lose control.” I consider myself to be acting proactively because I want to stay safe and making sure I set out my own rules for myself will help that, I hope.

    Am I guilty of victim-blaming?

    Of course I know very well that if something *were* to happen, it would not be my fault just because I had a few too many. Rapists are to blame for rape. Plain and simple. But since I can’t control what my potential rapist is going to do, I’m certainly going to try and control what I do as much as possible to minimize the risk. Shit may still happen. I am not okay with that. But I’m not going to make it any easier for that shit to happen, and if I’m drunk and my reactions are dulled or I pass out, it is undeniably easier for that shit to happen, no? I do the same thing when I get behind the wheel of my car. I am sure I can drive safely if I go ten or twenty kilometers above the speed limit, but I don’t because it’s a risk I’m not willing to take. Or when I’m walking home from coffee with a friend; I could shave ten minutes off my trip if I take a back alley here or there, but I don’t because I just don’t feel safe doing it.

    Am I somehow wrong to think that?

    I know the situation sucks and there’s a ridiculous and unfair double-standard, and that it’s incredibly lopsided that a man can get shitfaced in a bar with no consequences but a woman can’t. That’s a huge issue we need to dismantle, like, yesterday. But–and this is what I think Paula Simons is getting at, even if it’s not the most elegant argument ever made–I don’t know if ignoring the fact that those double standards are still here is going to make things better. I mean, maybe it will. Without Rosa Parks and the early acts of civil disobedience, where would the Civil Rights movement be? Without Stonewall, would we have seen any of the recent steps towards marriage equality? I don’t know.

    But I know I don’t really agree with your assertion that “safety tips only place the responsibility of rape back on the victim.” We all have responsibilities to ourselves and those around us, don’t we? Would you advise someone to walk alone through dark parks or in back alleys? I think most reasonable people would agree that we shouldn’t take unreasonable risks. Of course, it’s up to each of us to determine what a reasonable risk is. And it doesn’t mean that I’m to blame if I’m raped after taking any kind of risk, or no risk, or in any situation ever! But it seems like you’re suggesting that if we even mention that there are (still, unfortunately) risks in certain situations and as a result of certain actions, that we’re part of the problem, that we’re on the same side as victim-blamers and slut-shamers. I don’t know if that’s necessarily the healthiest message to be sending, either…

    “We are unwilling to see rape as inevitable,” you write. It’s not inevitable. We can teach people to not rape. We can also educate people to avoid places where they might be unsafe. I don’t believe it’s victim blaming to empower people to make the best choices they can, if they can. It doesn’t diminish what happened to people who have been raped, either, because rapists are to blame for rape. Solely. There is no one else who could possibly be blamed for the actions of a rapist but the rapist.

    I don’t believe it’s mutually exclusive to believe that we can try to protect ourselves from unwanted situations AND to also believe that if something happens to us anyway that it’s not our fault.

    “Let’s shift the onus from avoiding harm through ineffective safety tips, to preventing harm by teaching consent and to not rape,” you write.

    Can’t we do both?

    • here are some very important points that address many of your questions:

      -sexual assault is most likely to happen in one’s own home, committed by a partner/date/friend.
      -the biggest risk factor for women experiencing violence is being in an intimate relationship.
      -we live in a world where socializing frequently involves alcohol. don’t shame women for drinking, blame the capitalist media for promoting drinking as socialization.
      -people are not sexually assaulted because they’ve been drinking; people are sexually assaulted because PERPETRATORS ASSAULT THEM.
      -we’re more likely to be around perpetrators when we are around large groups of people… socializing… which often involves drinking (see above).
      -we can’t tell for sure who is or isn’t a perpetrator because they don’t wear handy-dandy name badges and they don’t look like the scary stranger we are accustomed to fearing.

      shall we tell people not to stay home and not to have romantic or sexual partners? or should we tell women not to socialize in groups? so if we really want to reduce the risk of being sexually assaulted, women can’t stay home with their partners and they can’t go out with their friends… hmm, i’m seeing a problem here.

      the point is, of course we each do things that make us feel safer, and we naturally assess risk in situations where we feel unsafe. but those are PERSONAL safety choices, and ultimately, i’m sorry to say, they are not guaranteed to protect us because of all those facts listed above.

      the narratives about which kinds of scenarios are unsafe and why are based on myths and stereotypes that do not correlate to reality. if a particular person feels better not drinking or staying in full control of their sober brain, that’s cool, A+, carry on. but telling others they should make those same choices is feeding into the exact same paternalistic, patriarchal crap that i assume we are all trying to dismantle here.

      it IS scary to come to terms with the fact that no, there is ultimately nothing any of us can do to guarantee that we will not be sexually assaulted. in fact, that’s fucking TERRIFYING. but there are ways to change that reality, and collectively fighting rape culture is a much more valuable use of our time than passing on safety tips that feed into perpetrators’ “social licence to operate” (http://yesmeansyesblog.wordpress.com/2012/12/12/good-men-projects-rape-faceplant-predators-and-the-social-license-to-operate/).

      as you said yourself, “it’s up to each of us to determine what a reasonable risk is.”

    • I don’t think we should be surprised at the amount of Victim-blaming and slut-shaming in our society, mainly because our moral societal foundations are based on the assertion of a Biblical ideal. This Biblical ideal is essentially anti-women, and it permeates society to the core. The Bible and the Koran for example, label women as inferior beings that are natural whores and harlots. To change the system we need a complete overhaul of the system, and that is to get rid of male dominated dogmas, that oppress women. Sadly, it is women en masse who follow these male created dogmas of oppression in the first place.

  3. I whole heartily agree! I feel the poster ‘Don’t be that girl’ is going to cause more silencing of victims! The poster tries to discredit the legitimacy of the woman’s ( or man’s) voice! Have some foresight, Simons! Well written, Slut Walk 2013 Organizing Committee. By directly quoting legitimate stats and People you give your piece much more legitimacy and strength. You show a well educated opinion that helps people to understand the situation better.

    • The posters try to redefine consent and are out of step with the legal reality of consent. Go and read the posters, they literally promote rape.

  4. This article raises some interesting points. One thing I’ve heard and debated about many times in the last few years is the “safety tips only place the responsibility of rape back on the victim.” argument. I can see the why that this might be classified as victim blaming as if you think that you could have prevented it, then you could assume responsibility for what happend since you didn’t take the cautonary steps. This is clearly terrible, but I also can see the argument though that if there is something *reasonable* you could do to lower the statistics of getting raped, would you do it?

    I know I would.

      • That’s a really cool presentation – If you have any more let me know.

        It did a good job emphasizing the how safety tips can be seen as victim blaming, but in a way it didn’t really answer the question that I was trying to ask: if there was something *unobtrustive*, (i.e. theoretically doesn’t trigger a ‘fear loop’), that would increase your safety, would you do it?

        A lot of my friends say they wouldn’t, yet everytime they get in my car they put on their seatbelt.

    • his comment is intended to reply to David McBean (@smavey). i don’t know how the commenting system works so this might not have worked properly.

      the problem is that there aren’t any ways to actually prevent rape. the commonly touted methods of rape prevention are scare tactics against strangers who are unlikely to be perpetrators. the only way a woman could truly prevent rape from men* is to live in absolute isolation from all men from birth (she must have no male relatives, no male friends, no male coworkers, and never ever see any men again for her whole life).

      your assumption that there must be some reasonable hypothetical action that women can take that will actually serve to reduce the incidence of rape, but there is not. the act of rape is not about the victim – the victim is an irrelevant interchangeable pawn to the perpetrator.

      men who prey on women will prey on any women that they can victimise. so, for example, if a man cannot find a drunk woman (i am using this as an example because victims are often blamed for being drunk) in a bar that he can rape, he would be using other tactics to find someone else who cannot consent. other common victims are elderly women, disabled women and incapacitated women, children, or women who can be threatened into silence. the potential for rape across he population is not lessened if women suddenly stop drinking; the problem is not reduced or eliminated because of one woman’s choices.

      clothing is another aspect that is used against rape victims, hence the creation of SlutWalk. the problem with blaming clothing is that no correlation can be found between how a woman is dressed and whether or not she will be raped. so there is no point in dressing a certain way as some kind of preventative measure.

      the types of social shifts or education that COULD serve to reduce rape are ignored when the focus is placed on hypothetical ways that women could behave which is supposed to reduce their chances of rape. it is actually quite detrimental to dig for ways that people can prevent rape by focusing on the victims (who do not have the power that perpetrator holds). the only person that can stop rape is the rapist, and changing the way our society views victims will assist with that.

      *obviously men are not the only perpetrators and women are not the only victims, but they form the majority so i have used gendered language here in response to a relatively gendered question.

  5. Just because THEY aren’t saying no, doesn’t mean THEY are saying yes. Men can be the victims of sexual assault too. It may not be as often as women, but topics like this perpetuate the societal norm that it is not okay for men to come forward as victims of sexual assault.

    PEOPLE can be victims.

  6. To say to a girl, “Just don’t get drunk and walk home alone,” is to say to a girl, “make sure the rapist gets some other girl instead of you.”

  7. you deride Simons for not providing stats when she makes a claim yet you do just the same. would you mind providing some evidence that safety tips/prevention are ineffective?

    • I already have with the work of David Lisak if you review his studies. Further information can be found here:

      Anderson, V.N., Simpson-Taylor, D. & Herrmann, D.J. (2004). Gender, age and rape supportive rules. Sex Roles, 50, 77-90.

      Anderson, L.A. & Whiston, S.C. (2005). Sexual assault prevention programs: A meta-analytic examination of their effectiveness. Psychology of Women Quarterly, 29, 374-388.

      Aosved, A.C. & Long, P.J. (2006). Co-occurrence of rape myth acceptance, sexism, racism, homophobia, ageism, classism and religious intolerance. Sex Roles, 55, 481-492.

      Berkowitz, A.D. (2002). Fostering men’s responsibility for preventing sexual assault. In P.A. Schewe (Ed.), Preventing violence in relationships: Interventions across the lifespan (pp. 163-196). Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.

      Blackwell, L.M., Lynn, S.J., Vanderhoff, J. & Gidycz, C. (2004). Sexual assault revictimization: Toward effective risk reduction programs. In L.J. Koenig, L.S. Doll, A. O’Leary & Pequegnat (Eds.) From child sexual abuse to adult sexual risk: Trauma, revictimization and intervention (pp. 269-295). Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.

      Day, K. (1997). Better safe than sorry? Consequences of sexual assault prevention for women in public space. Perspectives on Social Problems, 9, 83-101.

      Ferraro, K.F. (1996). Women’s fear of victimization: Shadow of sexual assault. Social Forces, 75(2), 667-690.

      Gidycz, C.A., Rich, C.L., Orchowski, L., King, C., & Miller, A.K. (2006). The evaluation of a sexual assault self defense and risk reduction program for college women: A prospective study. Psychology of Women Quarterly, 30, 173-186.

  8. Reblogged this on Danielle Paradis and commented:

    Letter written in regards to Paula Simons article in the journal.

    Additionally studies proving that safety tips are ineffective.
    Anderson, V.N., Simpson-Taylor, D. & Herrmann, D.J. (2004). Gender, age and rape supportive rules. Sex Roles, 50, 77-90.
    Anderson, L.A. & Whiston, S.C. (2005). Sexual assault prevention programs: A meta-analytic examination of their effectiveness. Psychology of Women Quarterly, 29, 374-388.
    Aosved, A.C. & Long, P.J. (2006). Co-occurrence of rape myth acceptance, sexism, racism, homophobia, ageism, classism and religious intolerance. Sex Roles, 55, 481-492.
    Berkowitz, A.D. (2002). Fostering men’s responsibility for preventing sexual assault. In P.A. Schewe (Ed.), Preventing violence in relationships: Interventions across the lifespan (pp. 163-196). Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.
    Blackwell, L.M., Lynn, S.J., Vanderhoff, J. & Gidycz, C. (2004). Sexual assault revictimization: Toward effective risk reduction programs. In L.J. Koenig, L.S. Doll, A. O’Leary & Pequegnat (Eds.) From child sexual abuse to adult sexual risk: Trauma, revictimization and intervention (pp. 269-295). Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.
    Day, K. (1997). Better safe than sorry? Consequences of sexual assault prevention for women in public space. Perspectives on Social Problems, 9, 83-101.
    Ferraro, K.F. (1996). Women’s fear of victimization: Shadow of sexual assault. Social Forces, 75(2), 667-690. Gidycz, C.A., Rich, C.L., Orchowski, L., King, C., & Miller, A.K. (2006). The evaluation of a sexual assault self defense and risk reduction program for college women: A prospective study. Psychology of Women Quarterly, 30, 173-186.

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