“Alleys aren’t meant for people to walk down. Those are meant for vehicles and for people to put their garbage out.”
In the last week, this statement, uttered by Edmonton Police Service’s detective Jerrid Maze in regards to three recent attacks on women in Terwillegar Towne in southwest Edmonton, has received an explosive reaction from the public. Some are calling it an example of victim blaming, while others scoff at this supposedly helpful safety suggestion as ridiculous.
The statement is, of course, both of these things. When people are attacked, they shouldn’t be told that they should have been avoiding certain areas of their neighbourhoods, as that’s essentially reprimanding the victims for something that was in no way their fault.
There’s also the issue of singling out alleys as the problem. Although two of the attacks reportedly happened near an alleyway in Terwillegar, this doesn’t mean that all alleys in that area or in the city in general are dangerous. If someone is going to attack someone, they’re not going to let the fact that no one is walking through a nearby alley stop them. They’ll just go somewhere else.
If the police really do feel that alleyways in particular are so dangerous, they should be taking measures to make them safer rather than telling people to stay away. If that means having more officers patrol the alleys in the Terwillegar neighbourhood, then so be it. This seems like a far better alternative than telling people they aren’t meant to walk around in the lane behind their own home.
Of course, the public should be aware of any dangerous activities in their neighborhoods, and take whatever precautions are necessary to make themselves feel secure. But by telling people to avoid alleys completely, we are actually creating a more dangerous situation. The fact is that some people have to—and want to—walk down their alleys for various reasons, and the more eyes and ears we have out there, the safer any alley—or park, street or front yard—will be. Telling people to stay away from certain areas of our streets isn’t the message we should be sending to the victims; it’s the one we should be sending to the perpetrators.
To be fair, it probably wasn’t Maze’s intention to blame any victims, and he probably had no idea that what he believed to be a general safety warning would garner this type of reaction. But this only highlights how easily victim blaming can worm its way into our manner of thinking. Statements like these do have consequences, and it’s important that the Edmonton Police Service and anyone else issuing statements to the public keep that in mind when planning their next public safety warning.