Tag Archives: safety

What Not to Wear [updated [again 17.02.2011]]

Update Thursday Feb. 17.2011

Things have moved along quite a bit since my last update. For one, the news media and blogosphere caught up.  Jezebel, Torontoist, CBC, the Toronto Star, Rabble and campus newspapers including the early off the mark Obiter Dicta and York’s Excalibur all reported on the story. The Star story has a quote from the amazing “Jane Doe“, a woman with the experience and expertise to put this in context.  Here’s what she told the Star:

Jane Doe, who won a landmark case against Toronto police in 1986 when a judge ruled she was used as bait to capture a serial rapist, said that unfortunately this was not the comment of “one bad apple.”

“In 2007, I was paid by the Toronto Police Services Board to monitor their sexual assault training for two weeks and the course is riddled with sexist and racist myths and attitudes about rape. I produced an assessment for them and it quickly disappeared.”

And now, in addition to the joys involved in reading the comments on all these sites, we have the apology.  The text is in the picture below.


Safety on campus is a big issue at York University (and at many other schools too) and students frequently raise their concerns about it.  Here’s a recent safety audit of the campus, here is a news release from the York Federation of Students about a year ago after a violent sexual assault near campus, in which the YFS calls on the University to act on the audit, and here’s a map of Toronto using Statscan data to illustrate violent crime rates across the city [2006 census] (I offer this one in part to illustrate that although many of the neighbourhoods around the University have high violent crime rates, the areas in which most students tend to live (on campus and near campus) have lower violent crime rates.

Sometimes, the police and York Security Services do sessions for students on “Safety Tips”.  A few weeks ago, the law school held one.  And at that session, i’m informed, a uniformed member of the Toronto Police Service told the audience that -although he knew he shouldn’t say so –  one “safety tip” he could offer was the suggestion to avoid dressing like a “slut”.

[Let me be clear- I wasn’t present.  I heard that the officer used the word slut or sluts or slutty and that the association between safety and non “slutty” clothing was made.  I think my primary source is as good as they come]

Update: Osgoode’s Assistant Dean Ronda Bessner was present at the session.  She was shocked and appalled to hear the comments and immediately afterwards she spoke to an equally shocked York Security rep (who had arranged for the Toronto Police Service to be there) to discuss how to respond.  AD Bessner phoned the senior constable at the TPS repeatedly, and when he called back, he admitted that he knew why she was calling.  AD Bessner (backed by an equally appalled Associate Dean Shelley Gavigan), has asked for written apology & explanation for the comments.  More information when it’s available.

When I discussed the comments with colleagues & students, everyone was shocked and angry.  But I think that we’re shocked at the unprofessional nature of the comments rather than the revelation that some people think these things (which makes us angry).  Is this kind of comment actually a distraction? Or is it an illustration of the pervasiveness of these beliefs, a hint at how challenging the larger goal will be to attain, an invitation to take on these kinds of beliefs (again!) directly? I’m inclined to think that there are important ways in which this is a distraction, even if it is an illustration.  It is the kind of situation which can easily be converted to a “bad apple” argument, and/or an argument about the police, and both of those seem far too narrow.  Sometimes I feel I’m being baited into losing my focus, baited into returning to arguments that have been made again and again, and I feel determined to keep moving forward.  But I can see that this approach isn’t always going to work.  When to turn back and do road repair work?

In other news, I’m brushing up on my arguments about why women deserve the vote.

I searched and searched for a picture of an outfit with which to illustrate this post (see past angst over the illustration issue), but every single one turned out to be totally begging for it. The overalls, the muumuu, the suit, the judicial robes, the lululemon pants and TNA parka, the classic librarian look, the flightsuit, the short shorts,  the trenchcoat, the slanket – when I really looked at these, it became obvious that all were totally inappropriate for wear by any woman who wants to be safe, since all have been sexualised one way or another.  I wonder if there’s anything at all which a woman can wear to prove that she really does not want to be assaulted?
I’ll update this post re: institutional responses (Osgoode’s and the Toronto Police Service’s). In the meantime, here are a few suggestions for reading – please put yours in the comments – along with your comments, of course.
  • Duncan Kennedy’s Sexual Abuse, Sexy Dressing and the Eroticization of Domination
  • Is Clothing Probative of Attitude or Intent – Implications for Rape and Sexual Harassment Cases; Lennon, Theresa L.; Lennon, Sharron J.; Johnson, Kim K.P. 11 Law & Ineq. 391 (1992-1993)
  • Undressing the Victim: The Intersection of Evidentiary and Semiotic Meanings of Women’s Clothing in Rape Trials; Sterling, Alinor C.  7 Yale J.L. & Feminism 87 (1995)
  • The Canadian Journal of Women and the Law recently published a volume honouring the 10 year anniversary of the Jane Doe case. Click here for more information and links.
If you would like something less academic, perhaps you will enjoy Amanda Hess (@thesexist) on short skirts etc. She doesn’t pull punches.
The next generation of potential rapists will have to receive their social cues by eavesdropping on the advice we’re providing to the next generation of potential victims. This is what they’re hearing: If she’s wearing a short skirt, it’s not your fault when you rape her.
Which is a bit of a zinger, but also terribly depressing, because it is written in 2011 and not 1981.

Is Yorku Safe?

This long awaited report (the process was started in 2007) has finally been released and is available here in pdf.

In President Shoukri’s covering letter (click here), he writes:

….one of the most prominent themes from the METRAC safety audit is the need to develop a more pronounced culture of safety and security for all community members. …The report also highlights opportunities for the enhancement to our services, programs, policies, and infrastructure. For those reasons, I have appointed Gary Brewer, Vice-President Finance and Administration, to lead a pan-University committee to review the report and develop a comprehensive action plan which will be developed over the summer. In early September, I will provide an update to the York Community….