Currently, Toronto women are living in fear. There are perpetrators of sexual assaults prowling multiple neighbourhoods. As the number of victims increase, I feel the familiar pulse of fear growing in the people around me, a frenzied hysteria disturbingly similar to that of that era I deeply researched while secluded in my cabin in the woods. And just like the newspaper reports of the ’80s and ’90s that surrounded the Scarborough Rapist, there is a slew of misguided commentary on how women can prevent themselves from being “easy targets.” Women are consistently asked to be “aware,” as if they aren’t already aware every hour of every day.
Words are being used to dictate what women wear, how much they drink, what hours of the night they are allowed to travel in. It is more than 20 years since Paul Bernardo’s gruesome Scarborough attacks, and the conversation still hinges on what women should do to protect themselves. It has become tedium, this multiple-decade standard hum of complete disregard for a woman’s reality. When police “encourage women to be vigilant,” they fail to recognize that women are already living in a constant state of vigilance that is no way to live, under the ceaseless threat of violation, by a stranger or by someone they know. All these years and words and we have failed to learn that no amount of prescribed costume changing or behavioural policing will ever change that.