by Victoria Redlon
Dear Editor of the Province newspaper,
Every few months your newspaper publishes an RCMP warning regarding the release of a sex offender into our communities (An example can be read here). I am writing to explain how these stories fail to create awareness about the reality of sexual violence towards women and to offer suggestions. This kind of coverage contributes to the disassociation of rape culture for the following three reasons:
1) The RCMP reports are not informative enough about the threat these men pose. The release areas are so vague that they aid in creating a heightened sense of threat with no sense of location. The nature of their crimes remain a mystery; if they target – say-petite Asian women in their early twenties, or what area and atmosphere they typically troll (such as a local pub, park, etc.). This information along with their method of luring women would make a far better warning to women than a small, softly-worded warning issued by the RCMP. Help women stay safe by informing them of the latest approaches of sexual predators, the exact locations, and who is most likely going to be targeted.
2) Stranger Danger. The focus that this kind of report places on fearing a stranger distracts from the reality of rape. A woman is sexually assaulted every 17 minutes in Canada, of these attacks 80 percent occur in the woman’s home, of this percent 70 percent are committed by a man who is not a stranger. In fact approximately half of all rapes occur on dates. Thus, warning women about a stranger who is being released somewhere for some sexual offense, without reporting on the more common situations, creates a distorted image of sexual violence towards women. I believe it creates the feeling of isolation amongst women who have fallen victim to non-stranger attacks. The majority of women who are attached then feel alone because they were attacked on a date, or by their local grocery store clerk, or by their father’s friend. The reality of rape is that it happens right in our homes by the men we trust. This issue seems to elude mass media coverage and public knowledge.
3) The blame game. These women further feel isolated as they blame themselves because they trusted the man that attacked them. In your attempt to warn future victims, you are taking the blame from the perpetrator and placing it on the victim. The attacker no longer has to be responsible for his violence as society has been warned. This mentality is not healthy for a society that wishes to end violence. Women should have freedom of mobility without fear of men attacking them. The police and mass media should work together to develop effective ways of ending violence. Future victims should not be held accountable for their safety against dangerous offenders. Your dismissive approach fosters the reluctance to assign responsibility to the perpetrator that is dominant in rape culture.
Media publications have a role in protecting women and creating a violence-free society. Unfortunately, all public education in regards to the three points above appear to come from individual or small groups of women attempting to create awareness. It would be a great improvement if mass media outlets took a more vigilant approach to rape culture. Currently, just printing the meager RCMP warnings is ineffective, misleading and misdirecting. A better example of a publication would be as follows:
Warning to all residents of the Kingsway – Main Street Areas, on June 2nd, 2013, John Doe is being released from prison. He is viewed by RCMP as possible to reoffend again and his victims are likely to be indigenous women between the ages of 16 to 19 years of age. In the past, John Doe has lured these girls into his black van by offering free alcohol and an invitation to attend a party in the neighborhood. These girls often trusted John Doe because of his familiarity in the neighbourhood. If any residents in this area see a black van trolling suspiciously in the area and a man matching the picture (which should still be published, of course), please contact the following numbers: the numbers here should be: the RCMP, and local women’s groups. It is important to record the licence plate numbers and exact locations for reporting purposes. Furthermore, if upon reading this information you feel you know someone who may have been a possible victim of John Doe, please also contact the given numbers. Local residents and crisis centres have been alerted by RCMP about his release.
This kind of publication gives a sense that an entire neighborhood is on watch, it gives the women a feeling of strength in numbers and also lets the perpetrator know that more than one individual that is watching for them. It also shares the blame of who is responsible for women’s safety in our communities.
Beyond just publishing this information in The Province I also urge local centres and law enforcement to issue these kinds of warnings around areas where the women of the victimology are known to get together ,as not all women have access to the newspaper and this will reach a wider base of women.
Sincerely Yours, Victoria J Redlon