This letter is in response to the April 26 article, “Safewalk is no longer a ‘nice option’ for me.”
When designing a service, one needs to consciously maximize accessibility while limiting abuse — and often the more accessible a service is, the more room there is to abuse it. Safewalk is no different.
That’s why I thought I would enjoy reading the letter that was recently published. But I realized quickly that the article shifted away from this conversation of abuse and focused on painting a picture of a “typical abuser.” It presumes that “rather large, intimidating-looking male” individuals that use the Safewalk service probably are abusing it. And that’s a dangerous statement to make.
The moment we accept the author’s rhetoric that the male-looking individual’s reasons for using Safewalk are probably different than the author’s, we also have to accept that “large, intimidating-looking males” don’t have cause to fear walking around at night and can’t be assaulted. Though the author of the letter did make clear that she is making assumptions, the author does end up treating those assumptions as facts — questioning the male-looking individual’s motives for using the service and tying it to the conversation of service abuse.
Let’s start with the list of possibilities. It could have been that this male-looking individual didn’t identify as male and feared assault due to their gender identity. It could also be that this individual is a sexual assault survivor or have reasons to fear for their safety. It could also be that they have an injury that prevents them from traversing long distances. And it could definitely be that they’re simply abusing the service.
Any of these possibilities could have been true, but the point is that we simply do not know which of these possibilities are true. I’ve heard stories of all kinds of individuals abusing the Safewalk system, regardless of their gender or how intimidating they look. The moment we start second guessing an individual’s motives based solely on how an individual looks or how they identify, we lose our ability to make every patron who uses the service feel safe and comfortable.
I acknowledge the author’s experience and I appreciate the courage she has for being an outspoken survivor. It’s an incredibly courageous thing to do, but there are better ways to prompt a conversation surrounding service abuse without using a specific population (in this case, large and intimidating males) as the presumptive villain in the story.
Viet Vu is a fifth-year honours economics students and was an AMS councillor for the 2015/2016 academic year.