It was really nice to believe, even for a short while, that SlutWalk would be a once-a-year exercise in gritting my teeth and thinking “Great cause, utterly wrong-headed reason” and that would be that. But now, gosh-darnit, the world’s all Krista Ford! Alice Moran! Nobody reading straight! CTV throwing gas on a fire! THE RAGE IT BURNS MAKE IT STOP!
‘Cause SlutWalk… wow. Sexual assault is one of those things — like corpse desecration — that you really can’t make a case for. When it comes to saying it’s wrong and it should be prosecuted and the perpetrators need to be slapped down but hard, I’m 100% with the people out there tromping around and waving signs. When there’s an outcry over people trying to give advice where no advice will really help, though… IT BURNS MAKE IT STOP!
Seriously, I pity the poor bastard whose comments to a group of students at York got him pilloried and prompted the First Great Tromping. That particular spate of assaults started, what, four months earlier? (I’m pretty sure that this is the campus police bulletin about it, but 2010 saw more than just a few attacks happening at York.) An arrest was announced mid-November, and that’s great, but come January 2011, Sanguinetti gave his crime-prevention talk to somewhere under a dozen people and great vengeance and furious anger rained down. I’d love to know if his “I’m not supposed to say this, but…” comment was in response to a question (“So, Mike… how can we avoid being victimized?”) or if it was just an off-the-cuff pronouncement that he’ll probably regret forever. (Same deal with Krista Ford, actually… now that her fateful tweet is gone and Stephanie Gawur’s account is private, I don’t see any way of knowing if she was just trying to be helpful or if someone actually asked for her thoughts.) Why do I pity him? Because there’s no right answer to that hypothetical question.
It’s been a while since I’ve been a university student, but even back in the days when the Internet was a supremely nerdy thing that often involved telling your housemates “Get off the phone; I want to check my e-mail”, campuses were littered with “Rape bad! Safewalk good! Don’t drug your classmates!” posters and seminars, and I really doubt that that’s gone away in the intervening years. Factor in four or five assaults at York over the space of a couple of months prior to Sanguinetti’s talk, and can you imagine what the reaction would have been if his answer had been “Don’t go out alone at night! Tell your friend’s where you’ll be at all times!”? I’m thinking something along the lines of “Do you think we’re completely retarded?”, followed by angry trumpeting at MongoloidWalk shortly thereafter.
So what should he have said? That some people are just plain awful and that, if they’re going to attack you, there really ain’t a damned thing you can do about it (other than fighting back, possibly with illegal weapons, per Ms. Ford’s advice)? That you should just talk an attacker out of what they’re doing, ’cause logic is the ultimate deterrent? I’d love to know — Genuinely! Break with global tradition and leave a comment if you’ve got any better answers at all! — what he could have said other than, basically, “try to avoid being noticed by scumbags in the first place”. It doesn’t guarantee safety, but it certainly can’t make it less likely.
One of the organizers of Toronto’s SlutWalk quite reasonably points out that the whole “stranger in the alley” thing doesn’t even come close to addressing every single rape that might happen, and that the responsibility for rape lies entirely with the rapist. She’s right. If there’s anything that you could possibly say, though, that might keep someone safe from a potential attack at some point, is it anything but irresponsible not to say it? Does anybody seriously think that Krista Ford was looking back on recent attacks and saying “Well, gee, they clearly didn’t follow my safety tips — sigh — which I’ll now outline again because they just weren’t paying attention the first time. Oh, and Alice…? You, in particular, are a whore”?
Over-broad as it might have been, I don’t see how Ford’s tweet was anything other than generalized advice that, even though you’ve heard it or something like it a million times, could possibly prevent a very specific sort of assault under pretty specific circumstances. It wasn’t a cure-all, and it certainly wasn’t an attempt to call anyone out or call them names… correlation, causation, fallacy, etc. Why does CTV’s talking head not get that? Or Alice Moran, for that matter, who otherwise seems to have no trouble keeping things civil and nuanced? I don’t know the specifics of her case, nor do I know what the four women who were attacked back in September 2010 were wearing, but if a common-sense reminder has the potential to help even one person, who is helped when we shout it down?