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Police officer apologizes for 'sluts' comment at York U

A Toronto Police officer has offered a written apology nearly a month after advising women at a York University safety meeting that they can avoid sexual assault if they don’t dress like “sluts”.

The offensive comment was made at a Jan. 24 Osgoode Hall campus safety information session, according to Excalibur, the York University campus paper.

The officer prefaced his remark to the crowd with “I’ve been told I shouldn’t say this,” the campus paper said.

“These are the people survivors of sexual assault would be going to when they’re seeking support and this is the advice they’re giving them,” Darshika Selvasivam of the York Federation of Students told CityNews.ca Thursday.

“This has created a very serious uproar on campus from the entire community.”

Staff and students were outraged at the comment and demanded an apology — and a retraction of the statement.  

“It just speaks to patriarchy and sexism to a tee and it just speaks to the fact that the Toronto Police, as a whole, do not take the crime of sexual assault seriously,” deb singh (who spells her name in lower case), a counsellor at the Toronto Rape Crisis Centre, told CityNews.ca.

Toronto Police spokesman Mark Pugash countered that statement and said the offensive remark at York is “diametrically opposed” to how officers are trained to deal with sexual assault.

singh said when talking about sexual assault prevention the onus is often placed on what a woman should or shouldn’t do.

“The prevention is that men should not rape people. Men should seek consent before they decide to engage with somebody in a sexual way,” she said.

Pugash said police began an internal investigation immediately after receiving the complaint last month.

“The officer is apologizing to faculty and students at Osgoode Hall and he has been disciplined,” he said.

Pugash wouldn’t offer details of the disciplinary action. He said the internal police investigation into the incident wrapped up “within the last day”.

“I would expect faculty and students to get the officer’s apology either today or first thing tomorrow,” he added.

The issue of sexual assault was highlighted at the university after a string of attacks in 2007 and 2008.

Two men who broke into a York University dorm and attacked two students are serving jail terms. Daniel Katsnelson and his friend Justin Connort got into the Vanier College residence in September 2007 under the pretense of helping a drunk friend and then prowled floors for 90 minutes looking for unlocked doors.

Katsnelson and Connort attacked a 17-year-old student and Katsnelson also raped another 18-year-old resident.

In 2008, York students demanded a safety audit after three sexual assaults were reported on campus in three months. The university appointed the Metropolitan Action Committee on Violence Against Women and Children (METRAC) to conduct the study, which was released in June 2010. Read it here (.pdf).

Students and officials meet regularly to discuss and work on implementing recommendations put forward in the report.

With files from Cynthia Mulligan and the Canadian Press.