A news headline like “Prostitute found in dumpster” might have been a thing of the recent past, but it’s all but vanished from Canada’s mainstream media landscape these days thanks to an effective public awareness campaign against the harmful effects of victim-blaming.
But when it’s a male victim in the spotlight for his alleged work in the sex trade, we seem to be back at square one.
The latest development in the ongoing, so-called “naked judge” inquiry into the behaviour of Manitoba judge Lori Douglas - currently stalled amid accusations of bias - is an affidavit from Douglas’s lawyers claiming alleged sexual harassment victim Alex Chapman is involved in online sex work.
So far, Douglas’s lawyers have not been allowed to question Chapman about his sexual history.
The panel was absolutely right in banning that line of questioning.
I don’t presume to guess what - if anything - transpired between Douglas and Chapman, but Chapman has done several things that draw his reputation into question.
However, those things do not, should not and cannot include his alleged involvement in sex work.
Allowing such details to come forward in court and in the media perpetuates the incredibly harmful practice of victim-blaming that has seen such effective social backlash in recent months.
A failure to hold those same standards for male victims reveals a fundamental flaw in the movement - a hypocrisy that seriously damages the legitimacy of the campaign to stop victim-blaming.
Allowing any alleged sexual harassment victim - no matter their gender, legal circumstances or anything else - to be questioned on their sexual history in the hopes of discrediting them sends the blatant message that certain people deserve to be sexually harassed or assaulted because of their behaviour or lifestyle, and don’t qualify for basic protection from harm.
It’s a massive and dangerous leap of logic to assume that just because a person invites certain forms of sexual attention they are always, automatically and without question consenting to all forms of it, and we cannot afford to be inconsistent when fighting against it.
The battle is one that has been fought for decades and seems to only recently be garnering any focus. Just look at the backlash from Justice Robert Dewar’s decision last year to spare a man jail time in connection to a sexual assault because of how he said the woman was acting and the clothes she wore that night.
“ If lawyers want to discredit Chapman, they have a plethora of resources to rely on. But leave the alleged sex work out of it.
Look at the development of Slutwalk in response to a Toronto police officer’s advice that young women should avoid dressing like sluts to deter sexual assault, and the recent response to similar advice doled out by Krista Ford on Twitter.
There’s still a lot of fighting to do to ensure female victims of sexual violence are treated with respect and human dignity in the legal and public spheres.
But at least it’s a battle that’s being fought publicly. At least it’s a discussion that’s finally being had.
Calling out female victims of sexual violence as prostitutes or promiscuous or sexually deviant women in news headlines is beginning to become taboo because of the diligent work of various social activist organizations. If it’s done, there’s backlash.
But when it comes to a man, it’s done without second thought.
There’s a dangerous gendered double standard at play. If the headlines about Chapman were about a female victim, they would not fly. Male victims in these situations seem to have no leg to stand on when it comes to fighting for their rights and basic dignity.
The framework for that discussion seems to not yet exist. That’s because we are failing them with a lack of consistency and solidarity in the face of victim-blaming.
It doesn’t matter what other weird or unsavory things the alleged victim may have done, whether they pertain to a case or not. If lawyers want to discredit Chapman, they have a plethora of resources to rely on. But leave the alleged sex work out of it.
No one, no matter their sex or gender, or any other identifying factor, should be blamed for being sexually abused/harassed/assaulted based on their sexual history, or what they wear, or whether they earn money through sex work - no matter what bizarre factors may be at play in a case.
Sandy Klowak is a Winnipeg news producer and former Uniter beat reporter.