Last updated: February 17, 2011 1:25 pm
Toronto cop tells York students not to dress like 'sluts'
Police apologize for officer's safety tips for avoiding sexual assault
TORONTO (CUP) — Students and staff at York University’s law school are demanding an apology and explanation from the Toronto Police Service after one of their officers suggested women can avoid sexual assault by not dressing like a “slut.”
On Jan. 24, a campus safety information session was held at the university, where members from York security and two male officers from Toronto Police 31 Division handed out safety tips to community members.
Toronto Police issued an apology to the university on Feb. 17 and a police spokesperson told media that the officer will be internally disciplined for his comments.
Ronda Bessner, who attended the session, remembered being surprised by what the officer suggested to women.
“One of the safety tips was for women not to dress like ‘sluts.’ He said something like, ‘I’ve been told I shouldn’t say this,’ and then he uttered the words,” said Bessner, assistant dean of the juris doctor program. “I was shocked and appalled. I made contact with the police ... and we’ve asked for a written apology and an explanation.”
York students’ union vice-president Darshika Selvasivam, who did not attend the session, also expressed shock upon hearing the comments.
“I’m appalled by the comment that the police officer has made saying that women should avoid dressing like sluts, and I think it goes to show the inherent misogyny and lack of education,” Selvasivam said.
“I think the officer should be very seriously reprimanded for the comment.”
After the session, Bessner spoke with students and student organizations and noted they, too, expressed concerns about the comment. Bessner proceeded to call 31 Division to demand an apology and explanation.
“Initially it was a call, and the officer said he would get back to me right away. A couple of days had lapsed, so I sent a letter,” she said.
Toronto police spokesperson Const. Wendy Drummond confirmed the incident has been brought to the attention of senior officials and is currently under investigation.
“[This is] definitely something that we take very seriously. This matter ... has been brought to the attention of our professional standards unit and is something we will be looking into,” she said.
“We are of the position that if these comments were made, it is definitely something that we will [act on],” she added.
“We have a good relationship with the Toronto Police Service and work collaboratively with them,” said Janice Walls, a university spokesperson. “However, we were very surprised and shocked by the comment that was made and we certainly don’t agree with it.”
Bessner argued that such comments make it difficult for victims dealing with sexual assault because they make them feel uncomfortable going to the police for help.
“I think the problem with the constable’s conduct was that he was blaming the victim,” she said. “He’s also not making victims feel safe to go to the police. It’s quite astounding that in 2011 that you hear comments like that from a professional.”
Bessner stressed the importance of officers having proper knowledge about sexual assault cases.
“I think it’s really important that the police ... receive appropriate training on sexual assault, so that statements like this are never made and that they understand the dynamics of sexual assault.”