Don’t Dress Like a Slut If You Want to Avoid Rape.

On January 24th, 2011, a representative of the Toronto police gave shocking insight into the force’s view of sexual assault by stating: “Women should avoid dressing like sluts in order not to be victimized.

To say that this statement has caused uproar within the community would be an understatement. Lately there has been a lot of buzz around a walk that has shifted itself into what many people are calling a global movement: The "SlutWalk." "This movement aims to make a unified statement about sexual assault and victims’ rights and to demand respect for all; it aims to generate a voice and emphasize that being assaulted isn’t about what you wear; it’s not even about sex; but using a pejorative term (slut) to rationalize inexcusable behavior creates an environment in which it’s okay to blame the victim." -SlutWalk

A friend of mine sent me a copy of the speech given by a victim of rape at a SlutWalk. During the victim's recount of the incident, she listed off 33 questions that she was asked when being interrogated by the police. The questions are invasive, personal, and in some cases, outright offensive. My heart goes out to anyone who has faced this situation; I can't imagine reliving a nightmare through investigations, the media, the courts and the nasty demeanour that some individuals in society choose to push on victims. (More about this later.) Here are the questions:

"After I was date-raped, I had to explain to the authorities:
-what outfit I wore
-what I drank
-what I ate
-what I said
-if I crossed my legs
-how I laughed
-if I laughed
-the makeup I wore
-what underwear I wore
-who I talked to
-what bar I went to
-who my friends are
-what type of car I drive
-what type of shoes I wore
-if I wore tights
-how many sexual partners I have had
-my sexual orientation
-the age I lost my virginity
-if I was wearing perfume
-the color of my hair
-if I said “no”
-when I said “no”
-how I said “no”
-how many times I said “no”
-why it was in my bed
-why I had no bruises
-why his number was programmed in my phone
-why we were friends on Facebook
-why I said yes to a date
-why I let him pay
-why I went to class the next day
-if I showered
-why I didn’t stop him

After he raped me, he had to explain: nothing. Because they never asked him"

The moment I read these questions I felt anger, sympathy, hurt and disappointment. My eyes immediately zoned in on the questions that infuriated me the most: What outfit I wore, if I crossed my legs, the makeup I wore, if I wore tights and what underwear I wore. I couldn’t help but think to myself that this is where we are at in 2011? Disgusting.

So, I continued to dwell on the questions and started to formulate my own answers as to why on earth the police are asking the victims of sexual assault these brutally intrusive questions. Is it because wearing a short skirt or a certain shade of lipstick may entice a rapist, and that the victim brought it upon herself? My mind went on a tangent which did nothing but make me even angrier. I decided that I needed to get some real answers regarding these questions, and so I went to the source - the police.

Before I go ahead with this, please understand the purpose of what I am writing at this point. My goal is to focus on the confusion that I have with the questions above. I will not go into the issues that I feel are present within society, the law and the authorities. Also, I am by no means trying to downplay how an interrogation makes a rape victim feel. I am, however, making an effort to understand why the law asks these intrusive questions, the purpose they serve and how they can affect the outcome of a case. Here's what I learned from an anonymous police source:

When you interview a witness you need to know as much as possible about the person; before, during and after the incident. The amount of inquisitive questions can also depend on whether or not the victim knows the suspect.  You cannot look at a question on its own and try to interpret it as is; one simple question could lead to an entire web of evidence.

For example, what colour of underwear were you wearing?

The question on its own sounds irrelevant; however the color/style of the victim's underwear may be a detail that the interrogator can ease the suspect into revealing, especially in a case where the victim was not able to identify the suspect.  An investigation can be a lengthy process, if a potential suspect touches on the colour of the underwear years from now - this could be a step towards a win in terms of evidence.

The officer continues…

Either way, the investigator should take time to reassure the victim that essential details can emerge even when being asked personal/intrusive questions such as descriptive details of the incident, intercourse, actions, etc. When it comes to he said/she said, the credibility of each party is a huge factor. Let's not forget that everyone is innocent until proven otherwise and ultimately how the courts interpret credibility plays a huge role in a case.

I then went on to ask why we (society) and the law (police, the courts, the system itself) are so quick to push blame onto the victim rather than the accused. Why do we care how short her skirt was, if she dressed provocatively and what she was doing walking alone at night? Why aren’t we directing our questions towards the rapist, the assaulter, the crazy, the monster?

Response:

You are right as far as  the questions appearing to target the victim instead of the accused. You have to take into account that these are credibility questions, they are not meant to attack the integrity of the victim. No matter how much we train police officers, lawyers, judges, we will always get the lone wolf with the Neanderthal mentality that will put the blame on women for getting assaulted, however this is not common practice, but more of an isolated incident that  tarnishes everyone else's good work.

-end

Conclusion - I have full intention of taking part in the Calgary SlutWalk. Why? Because I want to promote what the walk set out to do in the first place: send the message to society that victim-blaming is toxic. I feel that this is a way to challenge people and change their mentality. Whether a victim has a reputation for being promiscuous, wears revealing clothing or conducts themselves differently is irrelevant. This is a real issue which touches people from all walks of life.

So, the Slut Walk, in my eyes, is a step in the right direction, but what about the aftermath of a sexual violation? What can be done to minimize the already horrific recounting of events?

Pointing fingers doesn't do much. Maybe it would be better practice to propose a solution such as sensitivity training for police officers and get them to collaborate with female advocacy groups and victims to discuss strategies that would help in collecting evidence in a more empathetic way. Perhaps there needs to be some  enhanced initiatives to prepare victims of sexual assault when making a statement or testimony in order to reduce the already severe emotional impact. In the instance where a male officer is handling the case, the victim should be offered the support of a female officer for questioning and vice versa.

"SlutWalk has become a mechanism for increased dialogue on victim-blaming, slut-shaming, misogynist and oppressive ideas that  need to be challenged. These damaging ideas affect all of us and play into racist, ableist, homophobic discussions, discussions about status, class, sex work, indigenous rights and more that need to be challenged." -SlutWalk

For more information on the SlutWalk, please visit http://www.slutwalktoronto.com/