Skip to main content

"Don't dress like a slut."

That's the safety tip for how women can avoid a sexual assault, reportedly offered by a Toronto police officer speaking at a campus safety information session at Osgoode Hall Law School last month. At the January 24 session, university security and two male officers from the Toronto Police Service gave advice for how to stay safe on campus.

"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," Ronda Bessner, Osgoode assistant dean of the Juris Doctor Program, told York University's newspaper the Excalibur.

"I was shocked and appalled." After the meeting, she called the police service to demand an apology and followed up with a letter.

According to a spokesperson for the Police Service, the officer involved will apologize and has been disciplined, although because it was handled internally the punishment was not made public. "The comments were entirely inappropriate and should not have been made," said Mark Pugash, the director of communications.

Ms. Bessner suggested that the officer's comments might make it difficult for victims to go the police. "I think the problem with the constable's conduct was that he was blaming the victim," she said. "It's quite astounding that in 2011 that you hear comments like that from a professional."

In fact, explains Meaghan Ray, a police spokeswoman, the department now avoids giving women a list of should-nots when it comes to reducing their risk of sexual assault, such as avoiding dimly lit places and not walking alone at night. Instead, police release detailed information about the time, place and nature of actual assaults to allow woman to adjust their behaviour, if they choose, based on specific cases.

"Women make decisions all the time about how to protect themselves, and for us to issue a list of things they should do, becomes patronizing."