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Dear Toronto Police, Stop Blaming Victims of Sexual Assault

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In January of 2011, Toronto Police Constable Michael Sanguinetti told a York University safety forum that women would reduce the risk of sexual assault if they avoided dressing "like sluts." These statements sparked an instant outcry, and on April 3 the first SlutWalk was held in Toronto. Since that time, SlutWalk has grown into an international movement to denounce victim-blaming in sexual assault. SlutWalks founders, Heather Jarvis and Sonya JF Barnett were named Utne Reader visionaries in 2011.

Despite all of this the Toronto Police Department seems to have learned nothing from the experience. According to reports, two students from the Toronto private high school Greenwood College were harassed on the way to school. An individual followed the girls and looked up their skirts. According to CNews, an Toronto police officer told the schools principle that "Students, especially females, should consider not wearing their school uniform when riding the TTC (public transit system)." Sadly the school principal, Allan Hardy, agreed and relayed the officer's advice to parents via email.

In 2011, it is many years past the point where any of the blame for sexual assault or sexual harassment should be pinned on the victim. It is the equivalent of telling victims of domestic violence that if they had dinner ready on time and stopped talking back they wouldn't have been beaten. Sexual harassment and violence, after all, occur even in countries where women are traditionally covered from head to toe. That victims are in any way responsible is not the kind of message that police should be sending to the community and is certainly not a lesson that should be taught in schools.

Although launching an international movement does not seem to have driven the point home for Toronto's police, an online petition is being circulated to attempt to reinforce this message. The petition, addressed to Toronto Police Chief Bill Blair, has gathered 1,000 signatures as of Monday night. It states that

"According to the U.S. Department of Justice, rape and sexual assault are crimes of violence and control that stem from a person's determination to exercise power over another. Neither provocative dress nor promiscuous behavior are invitations for unwanted sexual activity. Toronto police officers should know this, as they are public servants in charge of protecting city residents from sexual assault and harassment."

Hopefully this time Toronto's police will listen, if not the first annual SlutWalk will, no doubt, be there to remind them in the spring.

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