Tuesday, August 11, 2009

dear carleton university: blaming a girl for her own rape? not going to fly.

on august 31, 2007 the president of carleton university was probably sleeping the sound sleep of the privileged on expensive sheets in a quiet neighborhood.

but at 11:30pm, a young woman was working late in a chemistry lab and was violently sexually assaulted by a man that has never been caught.

because i don't really believe in reiterating the details of sexual assault, i won't. but it was violent and cruel, and the woman ended up needing surgery for her jaw and spent weeks on a liquid diet, and is now facing shoulder surgery as a result of her attack.

since the attack carleton has ensured that new security measures are in place including, which is great, but the victim of the attack was still attacked and had her life destroyed.

so she sued carleton.

according to the ottawa citizen the woman is seeking $535, 000 in damages for her injuries, mental suffering, expenses and future loss of income. in her statement the jane doe states that "university officials were negligent by failing to take adequate security measures, including equipping laboratory buildings with security devices such as swipe cards and ensuring that door and tunnel entrances to the building were visibly monitored by security cameras."

i agree. any student knows that sometimes being at school late at night is completely unavoidable. science students especially know this because they do lab work which often requires checking results or other time sensitive things.

also, it was 2007. which means carleton university had ample time to make accommodations for women working late at night on campus. throw up a camera or two around or in the labs, make the buildings inaccessible except to those who have keys, you know, simple things like that.

small security measures like cameras or swipe cards might not stop all violent crimes, but they do help deter some crime or catch the perpetrators of others.

considering that carleton DID put in these measures after the woman's attack you would think that carleton would agree that maybe they dropped the ball.

actually, the university is alleging that it's the woman's own fault that she was violently raped and had the shit beaten out of her. because she didn't keep a "proper lookout" for her own safety, failed to register with the department of university safety as a student working late, that she chose to remain on the premises alone, and that she chose not to lock the door of the lab.

i have four words for whoever crafted this response: you piece of shit.

not only has this statement been properly identified as victim blaming, but it sets an incredibly dangerous precedent.

'don't want to get raped? don't go to school' is basically what their statement is saying to women and men on their campus. oh, you don't want to have your face smashed in while you work in the lab? well then you'd better make sure the door is locked at all times but keep in mind that by choosing to be at school late at night you're choosing to make yourself available to rapists.

it's like how in the 90's a police officer in toronto who was investigating a bunch of stranger rapes in the park told women that in order to prevent the attacks they should hit the ground and start chowing down on grass. yes... grass.

apparently, a woman vomiting is so repulsive sexually that a rapist will immediately take off running.

so maybe this young science student just didn't eat enough grass before her long shift in the lab.

i'm guessing that carleton tries to encourage its students to feel safe at their new school, which eventually becomes a home to many of them. they probably tell students that theirs is a special community, a community that each student belongs to. they want you to feel comfortable for the four years or more that you will spend on the campus.

well in this case we get to see a rare case of complete transparency: the university will blame a young woman for a violent attack to save itself $535,000.

$535,000 doesn't seem like a lot of money to be asking and it doesn't really seem like an amount of money over which to invoke such a ridiculous defense. it especially doesn't seem like a huge amount of money considering this woman probably ended up dropping out of school and maybe now her science dreams are ever farther from coming true.

that amount of money is nothing to a university, some university presidents make a little under this amount every year for doing basically nothing. so carleton university, do the right thing and don't make this woman's life any harder than it has been. give her the money, some grass seeds, and maybe shove your antiquated victim blaming up your ass.


Feminist Catalyst said...

Hum... amazing?

I totally, 110% agree.

Anonymous said...


1. Carleton is not the party who perpetrated the sexual assault, the university is just a third party

2. Carleton is not claiming anything in this particular instance, it's the lawyers hired by the university's INSURANCE COMPANY who filed the defense to the lawsuit

3. the statement of defense is legalese and it's necessary so as not admit liability (check what the U of O dean of law has to say about it in the Ottawa Citizen article you linked to)

4. $535,000 IS a lot of money to a public institution - just compare it to the operating budgets of some of the smaller programs; furthermore refer back to the point about this no longer being in the university's hands but in the hands of its insurance company

5. there's a difference between denying liability by stating that the party suing you could have done more to ensure their own safety and "blaming the victim"; it's not like the pleading states that the victim "asked for it"

6. the victim did indeed finish her degree and did no "probably end up dropping out of school" as you stated

CU's administration has a whole lot to be ashamed of and they ought to support and on-campus sexual assault support centre, but it's not exactly their fault that their insurance company is actually defending a lawsuit for an incident that the university is not responsible for.

tee said...


thank you sooo much for educating me on the facts of the case.

however, i already know all of this legal bullshit.

defend insurance companies away, i'm not on that side.

thanks for commenting.


Anonymous said...


As the dean of law at the University of Ottawa perhaps rightly states "Pleadings are pleadings, and everybody is obligated to overstate their case at the pleadings stage," pleadings are perhaps meant to be ridiculous defences, not based on fact and easily dismissed by those in the legal know.

The problem is that pleadings are not simply benign rantings given by fools as preamble to some form of actual substance, rather they represent the boundaries of what, in law and society at large can be considered acceptable discourse. For instance when being sued for sexual harassment it is unacceptable perhaps to plead that since sex change operations are readily available, a claimant should have changed sexes before the incident occurred, nor would it be wise perhaps in a racial discrimination case to suggest conversion or pre-emption through relocation.

I suppose that during the eighteen hundreds in America, a lawyer would have been called negligent had he (women were not allowed to practise) not pointed out that black people are not equal humans under the U.S. constitution, in defending cases concerning matters of their treatment.

In their plight and duty, burdensome no doubt, to ‘raise something’ as a defence, lawyers for Carleton University’s insurer used the easiest method, often accepted in a society that longs to blame victims because it is so much easier than actually dealing with the larger issues.
I guess it would have been too ridiculous to perhaps point out that maybe in a time when public institutions are watching unprecedented sums of money being transferred to private enterprise, decisions are often made and terrible consequences follow. How it took public outrage en masse for administration officials to be able to put priority status, regarding the precious few dollars in the system, on security rather than something else like increases to certain privileged salaries and honoured departments, needed perhaps to compete as an institution of learning in a hyper-pseudo-capitalist-ultra-masculine society.

Oh wait a second my head is starting to hurt, seems like actual intellectual exercise, not something those defending a university should be associated with. Better blame the victim and if it sticks, if she ‘wanted it’ were all in the clear.

Maybe the university is not responsible for this incident and maybe they are at the mercy of terrible lawyers overpowering them with their legal intellect, they should not be surprised though that some of us are unwilling to make the separation that such a system relies on. That those hired to defend power are infinitely dirty and external, a few bad apples to be discarded eventually, while the institutions they defend are pristine, blameless and ultimately above the vile hate speech their defence supposedly elicits.

Anonymous said...

to annonymous *sigh*

What more could the woman who was attacked have done to protect herself? What is an acceptable level of defense?

Whether you like to admit it or not, saying that a victim of violence did not do enough to prevent an attack *is* blaming the victim. And quite frankly, this is in no way an original response. How many women have been told that if they had just not been out at that time of night or in that neighborhood (etc.), they would have been safe? This is no different from what this woman is being told.

MM said...

It doesn't matter what you hide it behind - insurance companies, legalese, or fancy rhetoric, victim blamimg is still victim blaming and misogyny still misogyny.

Amazing what can be justified in a world where no one bears ultimate responsibility - not the university for the physical safety of their students and employees and the tactics and politics of the insurance company they hired; not the insurance company for trading in harmful and shaming stereotypes which encourage future victims to just shut the hell up and punish those who speak in the first place; and not anonymous #1, who doesn't even have the stones to sign their comment.

So in the end, no one is responsible here...except the woman who was asking for it.

It strikes me that's awfully f*cking convenient...and very, very wrong.

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