Nunatsiaq Online
NEWS: Nunavut August 11, 2017 - 6:59 am

Nunavut RCMP apologizes for advice to women on sexual assault

"The way it was worded rubbed me the wrong way, and a lot of other women”

The Nunavut RCMP have apologized for issuing advice to women on how to avoid sexual assault, saying they didn't intend to offend anyone. (FILE PHOTO)
The Nunavut RCMP have apologized for issuing advice to women on how to avoid sexual assault, saying they didn't intend to offend anyone. (FILE PHOTO)

The Nunavut RCMP has issued an apology for advice given to women to be “vigilant and keep safe” to avoid the risk of sexual assault.

The advice, which offended some women, came within a news release on the Aug. 5 arrest of a Clyde River man, Mark Paneak, 21, who is accused of sexually assaulting a woman in the Baffin community of about 1,050 people.

Paneak, described as “well known to the police” in the Aug. 8 release, has been charged with sexual assault, break and enter and resisting arrest.

To avoid the threat of assault, the RCMP encouraged women “to be alert to who and what is around you,” carry a backpack or purse with a strap and stay off cell phones while walking alone.
“This will ensure that your hands are free to defend yourself at all times,” the release said.

Rates of assault in the territory are high, and the initial release does state that RCMP “know women aren’t to blame for tragic assaults.”

But words used later in the release were seen by some Nunavummiut, who reacted on social media, as treating women like victims and putting extra responsibility for sexual assault prevention on one gender.

Janet Brewster, an Iqaluit resident, took to Twitter following the release, which, for her, triggered an emotional response.

“Seeing that release and seeing some of the other people’s reactions to it caused me to think deeply about how I have been impacted by sexual violence in my lifetime. When it begins in childhood people tend to be ashamed and to not speak out.”

“I appreciate the apology,” Brewster said.

She said it’s important to do public education and prevention, but this effort was not the right one, because the message puts the onus on women to protect themselves.

“I feel like it’s victim blaming,” she said.

Elisapee Sheutiapik, the chair of Qulliit Nunavut Status of Women, said she understands the message that the Nunavut RCMP was trying to get across.

“But the way it was worded rubbed me the wrong way, and a lot of other women,” she said.

“If you’re going to come out and say something, say [the assault] is unacceptable. And target it at everyone.”

Instead, the news release focuses on what women can do to try and prevent getting attacked, which is the wrong approach, she said.

“If they’re trying to make a statement about safety, they should do it separately and not make it about women. It’s a matter of reminding people to be respectful.”

Police could play a more active role in preventing assaults and abuse, Sheutiapik said, especially at this time of year when Inuit youth spend long hours outdoors, away from their parents.

There also tends to be more drinking during the summer months, Sheutiapik said, which can put people in more vulnerable situations.

“Police could be sending a message like ‘if a person says no, it means no’ and we need to understand that,” she said.

In an added effort to show why language used in the release would be rejected by women in the territory, Nunatsiaq News spoke with Senator Kim Pate, a former executive director of the Canadian Association of Elizabeth Fry Societies, an organization that works with marginalized women in the criminal justice system. 

Pate also visited Iqaluit in May to speak on police accountability in the territory.

“The police are trying to help, but these sorts of messages unfortunately reinforce myths and stereotypes that characterize women as responsible for preventing men from assaulting them,” wrote Pate in an email response while travelling.

Pate noted the effort by the police to say that women are not at fault for attacks on them, but said, “despite the caveat, this essentially deputizes and hyper responsibilizes women to defend themselves.”

Pate said the incident speaks to a larger need to ensure “issues of women’s economic, racial and social inequality are remedied.”

In the apology, the RCMP said that the suggested safety tips are useful for anyone.

“Keeping our residents safe is always our top priority, regardless of one’s gender… we should not have implied that females should be especially vigilant and take extra precautions,” the RCMP said.

“Absolutely no offense was intended, and we wholeheartedly apologize.”


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(18) Comments:

#1. Posted by WhAt??? on August 11, 2017

Why are you woman getting upset cause the police are telling you to be careful, it’s woman that are usually targeted.  Be thankful they are giving you advice on how to protect yourselves, people nowadays are getting offened way too F****** easily.  Happy Friday.

#2. Posted by The offenderatti on August 11, 2017

Some people like to exercise their moral authority by complaining about whatever real or imagined offense they can find. This appears to be one of those cases.

#3. Posted by I don't know on August 11, 2017

#1) It is true that women have been targets however I do understand why many people were upset.

As a 17 year old, my parents always tell me to be cautious and careful going out in public. When ever they hear stories like these in the news they always have to remind me, and it is because of that my parents always make me paranoid to go out alone even during the day! I don’t understand why they have to address it to specifically females, everyone in general should be cautious and alert when they are out by themselves. It makes girls feel more scared and too paranoid to even go out in public—and I feel like that is why many people were upset with the matter. I don’t know.

#4. Posted by Won't someone stand up for us poor white males!?! on August 11, 2017

@1&2: c’mon guys, we’re better than this. We can sit comfortably at our GN computers for one day and not anonymously lash out at women and their perceived ability to be offended by everything? Why can’t we just agree that someone at the RCMP messed up? They had good intentions, but they’re clearly out of touch on this issue and this was a great learning experience for them. You don’t have to be a progressive woman to admit that.

Or is this matter just too important for us to not tell it like it is?



#5. Posted by Ataniq on August 11, 2017

It is absolutely ridiculous that people are getting their feelings hurt about receiving practical preventative advice at an unfortunately convenient time.

The RCMP is not victim blaming.  Harden the junk up, and act like the strong Nunavummiut women you would claim to be.  Be thankful we are not in South Africa, where the health services are handing out rape condoms to women because it is inevitable being a women in a poverty filled areas of Johannesburg mean it’s not if you’ll be raped, but when.  Is this also victim blaming or attempts to prevent rape?

Nunavut has a staggering amount of dangerous sexual offenders constantly being re-released into these small communities which are packed with unsupervised children and vulnerable women. 

Instead of whining about how the RCMP words helpful advice, maybe start harping on the garbage justice system which seems to continually fail the innocent and those unable to protect themselves by releasing evil back into our communities.

#6. Posted by Hats Off on August 11, 2017

Hats off to the RCMP. Well intentioned I’m sure. I’m a woman and took no offence at all. Take it for what it is and stop bashing the very people for whom we can sleep at night while they stand on the line. Wording was a little off in the messaging, but the intention were very clear to most of us.  We expect the Mounties to be everything for everyone so we should support them. The media needs to get with reality and quit being so sensitive, or walk in their shoes for a week.

#7. Posted by unoffended on August 11, 2017

I am female and i was not offended by the RCMP advising the community of an incident that occurred and gave tips. I am more concerned that nothing was said to potential predators.  Its illegal to attack and force yourself on someone. No is no….. Keep your hands to your self.

#8. Posted by The offenderatti on August 11, 2017

#4 You are suggesting we all just “agree that someone at the RCMP messed up.”

But… what if we don’t agree? That’s a bit simplistic and not terribly persuasive logic.

I’m also curious what your argument has to do with being a “poor white male”? Can you expand on that, or..?

#9. Posted by Arnait Get Stuff Done on August 11, 2017

Nobody’s bashing the RCMP.
They were asked to apologize for a mistake, which they did.

The RCMP apologized because what they did was wrong.

I’ll say it louder for the jerks in the back: The RCMP apologized, admitting that what they did was wrong.

It takes a lot of strength to speak up, especially when you’re speaking to the RCMP.
More people ought to be speaking up and ignoring the armchair warriors that sit around whining and tearing people down from behind a screen.

#10. Posted by Walk in Their Shoes on August 11, 2017

@6. I think the people writing comments 1, 2, 5, and 6 should walk in the shoes of women who have experienced assault. Language matters. The way we talk about assault in the media matters. Yes, we are sensitive to that, and with good reason. I am grateful to Janet Brewster for speaking up, even knowing there would be comments like this in response. Go, Janet!

#11. Posted by Kayos on August 11, 2017

@#5. We’ll said !  I’m watching the CBC piece and all they want is a pound of flesh and much the same way here. My experience with officers here are all positive. They are extremely sensitive to the needs of the Nunavummiut and go out of their way to make life better. Everyone knows what was meant in their messaging. A reputable judge once said in court ” I should sentence you to be a policeman for a day and you’d never commit another crime again.”  Good on the RCMP for trying to get a difficult message out to the public.

#12. Posted by RCMP apologists on August 11, 2017

A lot of people praising the RCMP in this comment section for putting out a bonehead advisory. Word on the street is a lot different.

They messed up, plain and simple. And they apologized, so they must have realized they made a mistake. The RCMP do great work, but they’re not perfect. It happens.

Just because Janet Brewster is the one who voiced her opinion the loudest doesn’t mean that all these complaints are coming from the same fringe social justice warriors in Nunavut. I roll my eyes at them just as much as anyone, but they don’t speak for everyone. She’s not the only one who voiced her opinion. The average person doesn’t like being talked down to.

Why does this minority group of apologists have to do mental gymnastics to attempt to win this argument and blitz the comment section? The RCMP apologized, let’s accept it, learn from it and move on. If there are people working for the RCMP who are angry that people are questioning their judgement: get help. Anger solves nothing.

#13. Posted by NS on August 11, 2017

Thank the rcmp for the apology however I think it’s a little unfair that they all get the blame here. This news release was the work of 1 officer with poor judgement.  Good old Humpty Dumpty Insp War at it again. Thank you to the hard honest working officers

#14. Posted by Anne Crawford on August 12, 2017

Every comment in this section gives the appearance of carrying equal weight. Some opinionated folk make multiple comments to leave the impression of crowd support.

I would really like an up down vote on these comments so that sensible people can support sensible ideas and demote the repeat offenders off the Island.

Dear Janet. Thank you. Continue to speak and feel and share. May our world have a 1000 of you to keep us sane.

#15. Posted by A dog don't bite me on August 12, 2017

Some of these rapist are utterly savage, just like wild animals. One has to wonder if they would really care about the fact that RCMP, or anyone else would have a message out there asking, or telling them that rape is unacceptable. Maybe suggesting to people to be careful, that someone might try to hurt you, is not that unreasonable at all. Like I tell my kids to watch out for these dogs that roam the streets, caused I’m sure these savage dogs wouldn’t listen to me, if I ask or tell them not to bite.

#16. Posted by EENOOKATIGEENIK on August 14, 2017

The RCMP should not withdraw their initial words.  They are wise.  We need to live well together and uqaujjui which is missing in todays world. As a female and also as a human being I am a supporter of the press release.

#17. Posted by The offenderatti on August 14, 2017

#14 Hi Anne;

Your suggestion that “some opinionated folk make multiple comments to leave the impression of crowd support” is an interesting one, but I do have to wonder if you have any evidence or even good reasoning to support it?

As it is, such a comment comes off as if you are in denial that other people, maybe even a lot of other people, hold different views than yourself.

#18. Posted by Crystal Clarity on August 15, 2017

The advice on the link below wraps it up very neatly. Don’t put the attention on the victim.  Put it on the perpetrator. Change your perspective.

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