A response to this opinion piece by Paula Simons of the Edmonton Journal, on July 10, 2013
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.
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 ply 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.
Sheri De Vries
The Slut Walk 2013 Organizing Committee