Edmonton police under fire for ‘victim-blaming’ after spate of assaults

Matthew Coutts
Daily Brew
January 18, 2014

Is suggesting assault victims should stay out of back alleys a form of victim blaming, or simply good advice? That question was raised in Edmonton this week after several women were assaulted by an unknown assailant.

Edmonton police put out a public warning after three women were attacked in the same southwest Edmonton neighbourhood. Police said the latest assault occurred on the evening of Jan. 14, while a 29-year-old woman was walking alone down an alleyway. Police say she was grabbed from behind and thrown to the grown by a man wearing dark clothes and gloves. She managed to escape after a brief struggle.

The incident is believed to be linked to two other attacks in the same neighbourhood – which occurred on Jan. 9 and Nov. 8. Local news reports a fourth woman was similarly attacked on Jan. 15 but did not file a police report.

According to the Edmonton Journal, Det. Jerrid Maze suggested the attacks were avoidable. He said, "Alleys aren't meant for people to walk down."

He added for emphasis: "Those are meant for vehicles and for people to put their garbage out."

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Some folks have taken umbrage with the comment – claiming Edmonton police were blaming the victims for their plight.

Surely even those who considered the comment a form of victim blaming, would not suggest it was anywhere to the extreme of the “dress like sluts” Toronto police comment that prompted international backlash a few years ago. But truthfully, Maze's advice is simply sound. Not just for women, but for men as well.

The Edmonton police's walking tip sheet includes a recommendation to "walk in the light and stay in well-lit areas," such as avoiding dark alleys, even if it takes longer.

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There has been some study on the connection between alleys and crime. The late architect Arthur Newman's "defensible space" theory promoted the idea of limiting access points to a community. Notably, part of his studies included fencing off alleyways, blocking them pedestrians and the general public, and crime did decrease.

The U.S. Department of Justice more recently reviewed 11 studies into the affect reducing access to back roads and alleys have on crime. In most cases the result was a significant reduction in illegal activity, most notably violent crimes.

Was the Edmonton police detective’s suggestion that alleys are not for walking well worded? Arguably no. But was it based on sound advice? Inarguably yes. The preference would be that no crime exists anywhere, a close second would be that police would be on hand to make sure we were always safe.

Failing that, we should take steps to avoid places and situations where trouble could befall us. This is not about limiting our rights or changing who we are as people. This is just about changing how often we are caught alone in a dark alley.