Monday, July 8, 2013

Slutwalks and risky behavior

Walking and texting late at night in a Calgary alleyway - photo Randall Atlas

Strolling downtown late at night after Calgary's ICA CPTED conference we came across this young woman walking by herself in an alleyway. What struck us was not how she was dressed or that she was alone or that the alley was well lit. What amazed us was that she texted the entire time as she walked down an isolated alley quite oblivious to her environment.

It seemed risky.

Then I thought about the Slutwalk phenomenon launched after the victim-blaming remarks by Toronto police constable during a 2011 crime prevention presentation.

"I've been told I'm not supposed to say this – however, women should avoid dressing like sluts in order not to be victimized," the constable commented to a group of women at York University.

He later apologized for his remarks but they led to city-wide (and later world-wide) annual Slutwalks.

The phenomenon has been both lauded and criticized by others, including feminists.

One motive for Slutwalks is the persistent and idiotic views on the topic. According to Huffington Post one Manitoba judge "condemned a rape survivor for wearing a tube top, no bra, high heels and makeup which he implied led her to sexual assault." The judge also implied "the assailant had succumbed to inviting circumstances."

That thinking is absurd. It is also still alive and well.

None of which changes the fact that mindless oblivion while texting late at night in an isolated alleyway is just not a good idea.

7 comments:

  1. Greg - nice title for this post - now my work account has been flagged... lol. It is amazing to see how many people simply walk down the street texting, oblivious to their surroundings!! I see that daily - even have seen bicyclists texting while riding. Crazy.

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  2. Yes, I see it too especially with vehicle drivers. Must be a sign of the times. Sorry about the title and your firewall. Overzealous system administrators...another sign of the times :-(

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  3. Which is the risk behavior? Texting while walking? Or texting while walking in a situation that one could be victimized?

    If the latter, there seems to be a mixed message. Is the absurd thinking that offenders read into a woman's appearance? Or that offenders can be partially excused?

    Being oblivious to one's env't does not just mean that immediate physical setting. It also means being ignorant about realities that impact your safety. For many reasons (including convenience as well as political views) people choose to ignore those realities.

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  4. Thanks for the thoughts Sean. I have no ideal answer, just a few observations.

    For me what is absurd is when we equate an open car window as invitation to theft alongside "provocative" clothing as an invitation to rape.

    I don't believe they can be equated. In the first case we blame the car owner for the open window. In the second case we blame a young woman for her aesthetic choice of clothing.

    The car is a thing - we expect it won't be violated. The offender doesn't see a person, he sees an object. There is a gap in which offender and victim are separated.

    Not so in rape. There is no gap. The offender sees a person. True he might not see them as a "person", but that is his his crime. True also we should not "expect" to be victimized in either circumstance. But I do believe clothing choice is a Grand Canyon away from where and when young women walk...or at least it should be!

    For me slutwalks represent the line between an aesthetic choice of clothing (which cannot "attract" crime) versus the choice to walk alone in high crime alleys unaware of your surroundings (which can).

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  5. Texting is probably why pedestrian deaths are on the rise. That and quiet hybrids.

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  6. Oh, can we ever stop the "but walking in a dark alley is risky..."?

    The overwhelming majority of rapes occur INSIDE THE VICTIM'S HOME and is perpetrated by SOMEONE THEY ALREADY KNOW and usually TRUST.

    If the message remains that being out at night is risky, the message also remains that homes are safer thatn streets, and that is FACTUALLY WRONG.

    Therefore, it is not "sensitive advice", it's diverting the attention from REAL advice (such as "mind your date's behavior. A LOT).

    Therefore, it hardly can cause anything else than harm.

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  7. Thanks Luz for the important comment.

    True, most research indicates the greatest risk for sexual assault is within the home. But when you say "the message remains" it is factually wrong that being out at night is risky, then I disagree. That is not the message that remains.

    This blog is about the connection between urban design and safety in public places and crime. It does not purport to divert the message of one risk onto another.

    While risks from sexual assault are lower outside than inside that doesn't diminish the reality that sexual assault happens outside too.

    And when it does risks outside vary greatly based on many preventable factors - walking alone and oblivious down a deserted alleyway at night is risky. It can be prevented. That too is a fact. It should not be ignored and pointing that out doesn't divert attention away.

    We can do both kinds of prevention. It is not an either/or proposition.


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