Friday, 31 August 2012

Annals of Notpologia: Krista Ford

Annals of Notpologia: Krista Ford

September 1 Update: Discovered this morning almost all of the links were broken. Hopefully they are now all fixed.

Recently, Krista Ford, the neice of current Toronto mayor Rob Ford, got in a bit of hot water.

Due to a recent spate of sexual assaults in the Toronto area, the local police have been advising the public to be wary (you can see from the news releases that there have been twelve sexual assault alerts released since August 25, which is quite a few, even granting that they may not all be related).

Following one such news release, Ms Ford elected to tweet (1) the following advice to aid women in avoiding sexual assault:

Screen capture from This Tweet was eventually deleted from Ms Ford's feed, but everything is forever on the Internet.

I'm sure I don't need to spell out the problem with her message.

Suffice to say, Ms Ford suffered some blowback for her comment. (2) This article summarizes the circumstances and includes screen captures of Ms Ford's pertinent tweets, as well as an open letter (originally published on Facebook) published by one of the victims which gently, but unambiguously, called Ms Ford out for her victim-blaming.

Ms Ford later tweeted an apology:

Krista Ford apologizes. Well, sort of.

As the title of this post reveals, and as I will make clear below, Ms Ford's apology was, in fact, in the form of a “notpology”. I will grant that Ms Ford may have meant to apologize sincerely and simply wrote her apology in an incorrect fashion, but reading her words at face value, they remain essentially unapologetic.

Ms Ford is not apologizing for slut-shaming or victim-blaming or engaging in “just world” fallacious argument – that is, she is not apologizing for what she wrote. She is apologizing that she “caused such alarm” - that is, she is apologizing for the reaction that followed, although this is couched in impressively ambiguous language.

An ideal apology has four components:
  1. An admission of what was done wrong. In Ms Ford's case, she ought to have admtited to slut-shaming and propagating the victim-blaming myth that women who dress in manners stereotyped as 'whorish' or 'slutty' are more vulnerable to sexual assaults (despite evidence to the contrary).
  2. An admission of why what was done was wrong.
  3. An expression of regret for one's own action. In Ms Ford's case, this would have been apologizing for what she wrote rather than for the fact that it “caused such alarm”.
  4. A commitment to avoid such action in the future (it is, I hope, understood that a perfect record on this commitment is not expected – we are all, after all, only human).

As you can see, Ms Ford's notpology contained none of those components.

I have no doubt that Ms Ford meant well in her original comment; it seems to me she merely tried to pass on advice she thought helpful. However, in doing so she engaged in slut-shaming and propagating of false assumptions about sexual assault – and indeed, in propagating the cultural assumption that the responsibility for avoiding sexual assault falls on the victims, when it should instead fall on the perpetrators to control their own behaviour (and to be called out and chewed out for it by anyone who becomes aware of it).

Unfortunately, we live in a world where men, women, and children (3) must be wary of darkened streets and wooded areas at night, and be wary of their family, friends, relatives, and intimate partners. That is how the world currently is. It is a failure of moral imagination, on my view, to lazily assume that is how it ought to be. Ms Krista Ford, in committing the "just world" fallacy and propagating cultural assumptions favourable to the perpetrators of sexual assaults, appears, however inadvertently, to engage in just such a lazy assumption.


(1) Anyone who doesn't understand what I said, in the year 2012, is a complete n00b.

(2) Someone who was neither the neice of the mayor of Canada's biggest city nor briefly a captain of the Toronto franchise of the Lingerie Football League would doubtless have experienced little to no reaction. Such is the price of celebrity.
One wonders: does someone whose professional athletic attire was, at one point, lingerie, have any business calling attention to the 'whorish' dress of others? (4)

(3) I would have written women solely, but enough men and children are victims that they deserve mention in a generalized comment on the topic.

(4) Krista Ford, or indeed any woman, can, on my view, dress (or not) in any manner she pleases, and ought to be able to do so without fear of sexually-based harrassment or assault, and without slut-shaming judgement. The caption to which this note is appended is meant to call out Ms Ford's hypocrisy in getting paid (briefly) to play sports in sexually-objectifying uniform but, without irony, later slut-shaming others by linking "dress[ing] like a whore" to being sexually assaulted.


  1. You wrote 'n00b'? Devilry!

    Also I dislike the word 'notpology', although it does capture what the concept is pretty well. (The actual etymology is 'apo-logy', a 'cause of words', meaning, why I am saying what I am saying.) Actually, if anything, Ms (Miss?) Ford's comment is an apology in the strict sense in that she is defending what she wrote, rather than saying that what she wrote was wrong.

    I'd be interested to see what the figures are for sexual assault by strangers vs that by relatives; the former gets all the publicity, but I'd be willing to bet the latter happens more frequently - depressing to say.

    1. The RAINN site I link to in footnote (3) has a summary page on offenders (with data gathered from US Department of Justice publications). Although it's now due for an update (the sources are from the late 1990s and the most recent source is 2005), it's probably not too far off the mark.

      With all that preamble out of the way, it appears (in the US, anyway) that approx 70% (± 5%, say) of sexual assaults & rapes are committed by people who are, at least, casually acquainted to their victims, although only 7% are blood relatives. (The most disturbing stat in my view is the 28% proportion of intimate partner offenders.)