August 30, 2011

An Open Letter to Fluid Salon

Posted in Current Events at 5:18 pm by sacetalks

As a public educator dealing with violence against women, the recent fervor over Fluid’s ad campaign has been interesting to observe.

At the most basic level, a critical part of dealing with violence is to get people to talk about it. For that, I am thankful, because it’s clear from my Facebook and other social media feeds that just about everyone I know in Edmonton is talking about this ad.

However, I feel it is important to address why, as someone who works to prevent violence, this ad evoked a strong response in not only myself but in many others.

This morning on Global Morning News, Sarah Cameron, the owner of Fluid Salon, excused the approach of her ad campaign by pointing out that one of the key people involved “grew up” with domestic violence. I found this related statement on the Salon’s blog today:

“Everybody’s getting on me about, ‘well how would you feel if you knew someone who was in domestic violence?’ The producer of this shoot, the one who styled it all, she grew up in it.”

It’s unclear to me how this makes trivializing domestic violence acceptable in any way. Is using abusive imagery a privilege society now offers to witnesses of abuse? The experiences of the designer does not justify an image, created to sell salon services, that minimizes the impact of domestic violence by claiming, even satirically, that it’s not so bad if you have fabulous hair.

I also have a problem with what’s implied in the tagline: “Look good in all you do” and the relationship of that statement to victim blaming. The ad clearly focuses on the woman as the subject, as the one doing the “doing”; being a victim of domestic violence is not something that people do; it is something that is done TO THEM. This ad trivializes the trauma of domestic violence, and at the same time implies that victims choose to be abused. This ad, although it has evoked conversation, serves only to reinforce attitudes that excuse the perpetrators of violence and point the finger at victims.

I do want to acknowledge the comments made by Phyllis Jackson, mother of the designer on Fluid’s blog, who points out that verbal and emotional abuse is as harmful/or possibly more so than physical violence, and are all aspects of domestic violence. She is absolutely right, and I think that resorting to personal insults towards the salon owner and the ad campaign participants is not helpful. With that, I encourage all of the people who are speaking out, writing in, and contacting the salon to do so respectfully and without resorting to abusive behaviours. However, I do disagree with Jackson with this statement, also part of her comments on Fluid’s blog:

“In reality this is a picture on a computer or piece of paper of a woman sitting on a couch with interesting hair and a painted on black eye and a man standing behind a couch holding a necklace. With my experience on both ends of the spectrum, I fail to see how that equates to domestic violence.”

Well, I acknowledge it is possible to interpret this way (unlikely, but possible). However, in a Facebook photo album posted by Fluid Hair, screen captured here:, there is a caption by the salon underneath a photo of the model having her black eye make-up applied, and it says “hottest battered woman I’ve ever laid my eyes upon”.

For me, this is more evidence that those responsible for this campaign feel that it’s perfectly acceptable to make domestic violence “sexy” to sell salon services.

A posting on the salon’s blog from earlier today states:

“If survivors of abuse interpret this ad to make light of any abusive situation, we sincerely apologize, that was never our intent as there are people that worked on this campaign who are survivors of abuse.”

This is a start, but it’s insufficient. It sounds an awful lot like “Honey, I’m sorry I hit you, I didn’t mean to… but you know how I grew up watching my dad beat up my mom; I just lost my temper.”

Images created purely for commercial gain that make light of issues as serious as domestic violence are unacceptable, but it would seem as though that Cameron still fails to see the connection:

“To the rest of you who this has so deeply affected, we truly hope you do something to help stop domestic violence. Truly honor the survivors that you are standing up for. Unfortunately boycotting a hair salon will not accomplish this.”

Absolutely, everyone should be doing something to help stop domestic violence. But I would argue that boycotting a hair salon, does help accomplish this because it is one way for potential clients to show that they would rather their hard-earned dollars go services that do not trivialize domestic violence to sell hair cuts. I, for one, will be encouraging any non-abusive action such as boycotts or respectful letters and phone calls until Fluid Salon issues a public apology and take some direct action to compensate. The blog mentioned that anyone who goes into the salon and mentions this ad will have the proceeds from whatever services they book to go to the Edmonton’s Women’s Shelter, but isn’t that just another attempt to get clients in the door?

It’s clear to me that if Cameron really believes that her campaign was “just fine” and everyone is just being “too sensitive”, then she has a lot to learn, and I suggest that she takes steps to do so.

Sarah, here at the Sexual Assault Centre of Edmonton, we offer customized workshops and presentations to schools, groups, or businesses that are interested in learning more about violence against women without charging fees (although we do ask for honorariums when the group can afford to pay). If you are sincere in your claim on your website that you want to turn this negative backlash into something positive like “partnerships… with appropriate organizations in this community”, I hope that you will give me a call and access our education services.

I look forward to speaking with you.

Lily Tsui, Director of Public Education




August 24, 2011

Believe me, sexual assaults do happen

Posted in Myths, Uncategorized at 4:10 pm by sacetalks

There was a recent article in the Edmonton Sun about a sex-assault hoax. A woman gave the police a tip that a sexual assault involving two Edmonton 16 year old girls had occurred on Sunday afternoon, but when all the emergency vehicles arrived at the scene, they discovered that the report was false. She made it all up. They are now charging her with public mischief.

The article also includes a statement by the Edmonton police saying that they receive several bogus calls a week. According to the police officer, some people just get a kick out of emergency personnel wasting their time and resources.

The article appears to be a non-biased reporting of the events. However, I am a bit confused about why it was written. If bogus calls to police are worth reporting on, and they happen all the time, why is this the first time in the last year I’m reading about a false report? The truth is; they usually don’t get reported because they’re not newsworthy. Most people don’t care about the weekly false reports of robbery, harassment, or sexual assault that police receive. I’m going to go out on a limb here and say they care more about what actually has happened in the world.

Without dwelling on the anomaly of why this article was written in the first place, I will address my disappointment with how people have responded to it in the Sun’s online comments section.

According to one outraged Edmontonian, the Sun’s article confirms that feminazis (they hide within social justice movements) have for years been deceiving us into thinking that women never lie about sexual assault. Obviously, one women lying about a sexual assault is unquestionably proof that the opposite is true: women always lie about sexual assault! Thus, in this fine reader’s opinion, a woman who accuses a man of sexual assault should get the same penalty a man would get for actually committing the offence.

Some good news for women: if this horrendous idea were to become reality, it’s likely you’d get off with a conditional sentence and wouldn’t have to spend time in jail anyway.

Following the post about feminazis, most commentators continued to attack women and feminists, with a few exceptions. This leads me to believe that people do care about false reports of crimes – if they are typically crimes against women. One false report and bam! People feel confident exclaiming that all women and all feminists, no wait, all skanks, fembos, and bit#ches, are liars! Therefore, the only rape myth is that rape IS a myth. According to their, um, arguments, any women who says she was raped is only after revenge, attention, or the monies. And any man that says he was raped, well… men don’t get raped.

Name calling: the clearest path to truth.

It’s evident that their tirades against women and feminists are not meant to engage in a reasonable, open dialogue about people lying about serious crimes. They are based on an intention to attack the experiences and voices of women, feminists and survivors of sexual assault. It seems pointless to address them directly, to affirm the value in women’s and feminist’s opinions and validate the experience of survivors, when their main mode of communication is the use of derogatory language.

So, for the community of this blog, let me say this. Sexual abuse/assault is a very real issue that affects nearly half of the Canadian population, both women and men. Some people might lie about it, because they think it’s a good idea for whatever reason. I wish people didn’t lie – that would make my life so much easier. However, I know that they do. People can choose to lie about most things in life. I also know that just because a few people lie about sexual assault, does not mean all or most people (women) are lying. Considering the stats, because I know most people commenting on the article cared greatly about the facts (right??), I know that most people will actually lie about a sexual assault NOT happening when it did. They keep it secret, probably because they know they’re going to be accused of lying anyway or be taken away from their parents or lose their friends or be called derogatory names, like the ones made by Edmonton Sun commentators. Or if they are male, told it couldn’t have happened because of their gender.

I feel empathy for any survivor of sexual assault, of any gender, who ended up reading those comments, and am disheartened by the thought that it could seriously impact the safety and support felt by survivors of sexual assault who want to tell someone what happened.

If you’re reading this blog:

I believe you. I believe you were sexually assaulted.

by Meagan Simon

August 3, 2011

Ranking the “Seriousness” of Sexual Assaults

Posted in Uncategorized at 9:34 pm by sacetalks

The other day I was speaking to a business owner about participating in “Work a Day for SACE”. I showed him one of the cards that people were handing out about the fundraiser/public awareness event. He quickly skimmed the back and then asked about the statistics (1 in 3 women and 1 in 6 men): “So what ‘counts’ as sexual assault? I mean, are they counting like, just unwanted touching?”

I thought about this question for a moment. Given the conversation we had been having before, the context told me that he wasn’t asking to be flippant about the issue; he really wanted to know. This was my response:

“I can understand why sometimes people wonder if the so-called ‘less serious’ assaults should ‘count’ as much as what are considered ‘more serious’ assault. And perhaps, for some people, unwanted touch or an unwanted kiss is not a big deal and they may not consider those experiences a sexual assault. That said, would you still think those things are ‘no big deal’ if it was your daughter, or your mom?”

I remember struggling with the same issue when I first became aware of sexual violence and the definition of what constituted sexual assault. It seemed obvious that being sexually penetrated against one’s will was “way worse” than an unwanted kiss or touch. Right?

Well, except when it’s a kid. Then maybe it could be worse. And the younger the victim is, the worse it is… right?

Okay then. So what’s the equivalent of forced penetration on an adult female for a newborn baby to endure?

At this point this logic becomes absurd. The issue shouldn’t be about which cases of sexual assault are more or less serious than others. The real issue is that every single person has the right to be safe from ANY and ALL unwanted sexual contact. Unwanted touch shouldn’t just be a big deal when it’s your baby boy or your elderly grandmother. The very fact that we rank order sexual assault cases by “seriousness” is an indicator that we live in a culture that victimizes so many people that we have come to a place where we make sense of the world by describing victims as “lucky” if their experience didn’t include every single violation included in the definition of sexual assault or accompanied by significant physical injuries.

To engage in dismissing or minimizing survivors’ experiences supports a culture in which sexual assault is assumed to be inevitable and acceptable. And that is something worth fighting against, even if the battle happens inside our own heads.

By Lily Tsui