Ottawa police offer useless, victim blaming "advice" for women to avoid rape

Two Ottawa women are recovering from some very terrifying moments after they were sexually assaulted in the city’s west end.

The Ottawa Police Sexual Assault and Child Abuse section is investigating after two separate sexual assaults were reported  Monday July 14, 2014.

The first assault happened around 2:30pm in the 2800 block of Dumaurier Avenue when a woman in her late 30’s was attacked.  Just hours later, around 7pm, another woman, also in her 30’s was attacked along a walking path near Richmond Road and Bayshore Drive.

Police say in both cases the female victims were walking when they were grabbed and sexually assaulted (source: ottawctvnews)

In response to these horrific crimes, the Ottawa police department offered advice to women:

  • Try not to walk alone at night but if you do, be alert and avoid dark or isolated areas.  Instead, walk out in the open, away from walls, doorways and pillars.
  • Whether you are walking or driving, determine the safest route before you leave.  Take the longest route if that is the safest.
  • Tell friends or family members where you’re going, and then let them know when you reach your destination.
  • Have your key ready as you approach your house or vehicle.
  • Don’t enter environments where you feel unsafe. Trust your instincts.
  • Know your physical capabilities and limitations.
  • Don’t carry offensive weapons such as knives. They may be used against you.

Ottawa Police say if you suspect you are being followed:

  • Cross the street or walk on the side of the road.
  • Go immediately to the nearest well-lit or populated area.
  • If others are within hearing distance, turn to the person following you and say in a loud and assertive voice: “Stop following me!”
  • Contact Police immediately—go to a house or a store and call the Police or flag down a taxi and ask the driver to call the Police for you.
  • If the person following you is driving a car, take out a pen and paper, look at the licence plate and write the number down, making sure that the driver sees you do this.

Ottawa Police say if you are attacked:

  • Try to remember the complexion, body build, height, weight, age, and type of clothing worn by the attacker. If possible, write down the information while it is still fresh in your memory.
  • If an attacker is after your purse or other valuables, don’t resist. If you have the opportunity, throw your purse away from you to the distance the attacker from you.

I’ll just get it out of the way:  the Ottawa police department may have had the best of intentions, but none of this shit helps.  Why?  Because rapists rape. They’re the ones with the power to NOT rape.  Women are not in control of being raped.  Women are already taught from a young age to watch their behavior, to be careful in public, and other ways of guarding themselves.  This advice is patronizing and tone deaf.  It’s also not informed by facts.

Women are often sexually assaulted  in familiar surroundings.   Telling a woman to be careful at night, or in unfamiliar areas is making an assumption that they’re more likely to be raped under those conditions.  Women are raped at home, at church, at the convenience store, at the mall, or at work.  There is no “safe” place from rape.

Women are raped in the morning, the afternoon, at night, at dusk, at dawn.  There is no time of day women are not raped.

Women are raped whether they wear a full body burqa, or a bikini.  They can show NO skin and get raped, or they can be completely nude and get raped.

Women get raped whether or not they carry a weapon.

Women get raped if they’re stone cold sober, have had a sip of wine, are buzzed, or are shit faced drunk. The level of sobriety has no bearing on whether or not a woman will be raped. Rapists often get women drunk to facilitate their rape bc they know society will look at the woman and blame her (we so often hear about the “I didn’t like the sex so I’m calling it rape” excuse by victim blaming assholes).

Women are raped by family members.  Friends. Lovers.  Spouses.  Exes.  Bosses.  Co-workers.  And yes, strangers.  There is no way to “avoid a rapist” bc theoretically anyone can be a rapist*.  There’s no way to know who is a rapist and who isn’t.  A woman cannot look at someone and determine if they’re going to rape them or not. 

Over at femifesto, the Ottawa police “advice” is searingly mocked:

How To Not Get Raped: The smart way

  1. Start Young: Learn self defence but know that you are physically limited and cannot defend yourself. Learn not to talk to strangers before you learn to talk. Learn not to walk alone before you learn to walk. Especially learn how to be accountable for your rapist’s actions.

  1. Trust Your Instincts: Avoid all environments where you feel unsafe and where sexual assaults commonly take place: walls, doorways, pillars, streets, sidewalks, corridors, elevators, lobbies, parking lots, cars, public transit, cabs, parks, bars, restaurants, apartments, houses, offices, universities, colleges, nursing homes and government institutions.

  1. Always Conform: Don’t embrace the power and pleasures of your own desires. Don’t dress to impress – yourself. Don’t find yourself gorgeous and alive and wanting to share that. Don’t wear flirty skirts or revealing dresses. On the other hand do not be tomboyish. Avoid any expression that does not conform to gender norms as some people may use rape as a way to “discipline” you.    

  1. Don’t Ask For It: Do not smile or be charming. Be pleasant and polite to everyone you meet — if you’re hostile, you may be asking for assault. Also, be sure you don’t lead on your attacker. Never invite anyone into your home, but never be alone. Don’t be coy. Don’t be brazen. Don’t confuse anyone — mixed messages can be dangerous.

  1. Protect Yourself: If you live alone, install extra locks, buy a dog, and carry a small weapon. If you live with others, carry the dog and weapon around your home. Also, make sure you don’t carry the dog or weapon with you, as weapons could be used against you.

  1. Date Smart: Don’t go on dates alone, you could be attacked. Don’t go on dates in groups because then you could be attacked by a number of people. But don’t decline date offers either – insulting a potential suitor is just asking for trouble.

  1. If Attacked: Scream and struggle unless your attacker is the type who will kill you for fighting back. If you stay still for survival, make sure that they wouldn’t have let you go if you had resisted. Talk kindly to them, but don’t say anything that might sound bad in court. Protect yourself from injury, but make sure you get some bruises to count as evidence.

  1. Call the Police: Unless you face institutional barriers to accessing justice i.e. Aboriginal peoples, women of colour, persons with a disability, trans* people, queer folks, sex workers, Muslim women that wear the niqab, youth, low income individuals, homeless people, newcomer women, those with precarious status, Deaf people…you get the picture.

  1. Avoid Rapists: Most importantly stay away from those who commonly commit assaults; strangers, family members, friends, partners, spouses, co-workers, bosses, clients, teachers, doctors, teammates, and police officers. Be extra careful during peak times when rapes occur i.e. daytime, nighttime, dawn, afternoon, early evening, tea time, nap time. If you suspect you are being followed, go to a well lit area: unless you can’t because it’s dark outside – then set off a flare gun or light a torch. (Why are you outside when it’s dark anyway?)

I get that the Ottawa police department wanted to help, but they really need to target men, since the vast majority of rapes are committed by men against women.  If they want to truly do some good, target men.  The campaign Don’t Be That Guy is a good start:

Don’t Be That Guy – a behavioural marketing campaign sends the message that sex without consent is sexual assault. We are sending a visual message to men between the ages of 18 and 25, graphically demonstrating their role in ending alcohol facilitated sexual assaults. Don’t Be That Guy shifts the emphasis to men to take responsibility for their behaviour. Studies involving 18-25 year old men revealed that 48 per cent of the men did not consider it rape if a woman is too drunk to know what is going on.

The original vision for Don’t Be That Guy was a community collaboration in Edmonton, Alberta in response to recognition of increased reports of alcohol facilitated sexual assaults in their city. The community collaboration called themselves SAVE (Sexual Assault Voices of Edmonton) and their major partners were Edmonton Police Service, Sexual Assault Centre of Edmonton, University of Alberta Sexual Assault Centre, Saffron Centre, Alberta Health Services – Covenant Health, Prostitution Action and Awareness Foundation of Edmonton, University of Alberta Women’s Studies Program, Red Cross (Edmonton), Responsible Hospitality Edmonton and several community advocates. Here’s more about SAVE.

Stop putting the responsibility for ending rape on women. Men, if you’re opposed to rape and sexual assault, step up.  Don’t remain silent.  Don’t Be That Guy.


*Hence the idea behind Schrodinger’s Rapist

Ottawa police offer useless, victim blaming "advice" for women to avoid rape