Nunavut's RCMP apologized Thursday for a press release issued following a sexual assault in Clyde River.
The release included a bulleted list for how females can protect themselves from unknown assailants. It suggested wearing a backpack to keep hands free for defence purposes at all times. (Read the full press release.)
"Talking on a cellphone or listening to headphones makes you an easy target for criminals," the release said.
Iqaluit resident Janet Brewster was one of many who took to Twitter to call out the RCMP.
many survivors of sexual assault almost immediately revert to guilt, shame, self-doubt— @pitsiulaaq
The RCMP's tips put the responsibility on the victim
Elisapee Sheutiapik, president of the Qulliit Nunavut Status of Women Council, says the idea of targeting advice to women is unfortunate.
"They're only targeting the victim being a woman, telling them what not to do so they're not a victim again. They have to go to that next step and talk to the abuser, or potential abuser, to remind them it's not acceptable," Sheutiapik said.
"We should not have implied that females should be especially vigilant and take extra precautions," the apology reads. "The suggested safety tips listed are useful for anyone, at any time."
In an interview Wednesday, RCMP Staff Sergeant Mark Crowther told the CBC that women were singled out because they are more often victims.
"I think men, I think people in general, have an obligation to be outstanding citizens, and law abiding, but unfortunately we're in a society where that's not always the case," Crowther said.
"When in situations where you're alone... or you're jogging, or you're returning to your car from a workplace in a dark area there are some strategies that you can use to keep yourself safe."
In the case of the Clyde River assault, in which details are withheld under a publication ban, the assailant was unknown to the victim.
Crowther suggested both women and men should not wear headphones to be more aware of possible assailants in dark alleyways, behind fences and in oncoming cars.
"That was the intent of the message, and we think it was a good one," he said. "It's something we have to do. We have an obligation to send that message."
Tips for everyone
Kimberly Manning, principal of the Simone de Beauvoir Institute at Concordia University, disagrees.
"I am, as I think probably many people are, dismayed to read that the first response of the police is to in effect, school women on how to protect themselves," she said.
She would have liked to see the RCMP encourage victim and men's support groups, and mental health supports.
"Implying that women can somehow mediate or ameliorate the chances of being hurt or assaulted only exacerbates the underlying issues, which is there are larger structural problems at play."
She pointed to the controversies with the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls inquiry and the fact that most women suffer abuse at the hands of someone they know intimately as larger issues that bullet points cannot address.
Sheutiapik says the RCMP shouldn't use one incident to give general advice to women, and if they wanted to send out safety tips they should be relevant to men, women and children.
Crowther says the victim in the Clyde River assault has been connected with the RCMP's victim services.