I was working last week at one of my other avocations, staffing a booth at a gift and craft fair in Mount Pearl, when VOCM posted a controversial Question of the Day at its website. It flared quickly into a mini-controversy before VOCM removed the question and apologized to those who were offended by its mistake.
I received a handful of messages from readers, asking if I was going to write about it. The issue was interesting but I just didn’t have time, so I contacted Sarah Smellie, a media friend who I knew to be quite upset about the matter, and offered her a guest column. She agreed.
Smellie is a freelance writer and journalist who has been published in The Scope and The Telegram. She is also the Communications and Publicity Manager for the St. John's International Women's Film Festival.
This is her guest entry:
October 30, 2012 - On the heels of an announcement from the RNC that sexual assaults linked to date rape drugs were increasing, VOCM’s Question of the Day last Friday asked:
“Do you believe that women and young girls do enough to ensure that they don’t become victims of the ‘date rape drugs?’”
Facebook and Twitter pretty much exploded as soon as it was posted.
VOCM took the question down and issued an apology, saying it had been worded in an “insensitive manner.” (At the time the question was removed, the response was 944 saying No, 257 saying Yes, and 149 Not sure.)
Before it came down, I phoned VOCM to ask them what the deal was.
They didn’t see my problem with the question. I mean, hey, who the heck would blame the victim of a horrible crime for being the victim of a horrible crime?
They were really just wondering if women were putting themselves in danger.
It came from genuine, well-meaning concern. Even the majority of the respondents – most of whom voted “No” – probably had the best of intentions. Maybe they just wondered if we were leaving our drinks unattended.
We grow up with friends, family members and even the Provincial Advisory Council on the Status of Women ( http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/newfoundland-labrador/story/2012/10/26/nl-linda-ross-1026.html ) telling us how to protect ourselves from everyone who might want to rape us. We’re told to keep our drinks with us at all times, to never walk home alone, and to stay in groups whenever we might be out and about the bars.
We grow up in a society that deals with sexual assault by teaching girls to watch their backs, behave properly, dress modestly, and not be out there asking for it. And if something happens, we question the victim’s role.
I’ve done it, too – I’ve wondered what a friend was doing drinking with sketchy dudes.
It’s what we’re conditioned to do. And it’s shitty.
Women will be sexually assaulted even if they wear nothing but tracksuits and drink in armies of ten. Unless we can “ensure” that people stop drugging and assaulting people, there is no way to “ensure” that we won’t become victims of it.
The onus should not be on women to keep drugs out of their drinks.
We should be asking why people plunk pills in drinks and sexually assault people.
We should be asking if our culture’s attitudes towards sex and gender are messing with people’s heads, and people’s safety.
We should be asking whether we really understand that everyone has a right to wear what they want, go where they want, and live how they want without being drugged or sexually assaulted.
We should be asking if our questions implicitly blame victims of date rape drugs and sexual assault for what happened to them.
And we should probably talk about this a whole lot more.
- Sarah Smellie
Here is the full text of VOCM’s apology:
The VOCM News Question of the Day on the topic of the Date Rape Drug was, in hindsight, worded in an insensitive manner and has since been removed from our website. It was not the intention of the author of the question to attach blame to females or imply in any way that those who are most often victimized by the use of date rape drugs should change their movements and patterns.
The Question of the Day is one component of our website meant to appeal to the masses, and occasionally we may appear to be insensitive. VOCM assures we make every effort to address each topic raised in our Question of the Day in a sensitive and appropriate manner.
VOCM apologizes to anyone who was offended by today's question.