2016 Villain: Pedestrian Blaming
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2016 Villain: Pedestrian Blaming

Nominated for: ignoring the two-tonne hunk of metal in the room and instead blaming the 70-kg victim for taking up too much space.

Torontoist is reflecting on 2016 by naming our Heroes and Villains—the people, places, things, and ideas that have had the most positive and negative impacts on the city over the past 12 months. Cast your ballot until 11:59 p.m. on January 5. At noon on January 6, we’ll reveal your choices for Toronto’s Superhero and Supervillain of the year.

A person has been struck by a car. The first thing police ask (and subsequently report to the media) is: What was she wearing?

Implying that it’s her own damn fault.

I mean, what was she doing, walking around at night, wearing those dark clothes? How could she possibly have expected the driver to see her?

The parallel to slut shaming is perhaps shocking, but considering that we’ve had almost as many pedestrian deaths caused by motorists as homicides in Toronto in 2016, it seems apt.

Further damning questions the police might ask and answer for the media without knowing all the facts:

Was she crossing in the crosswalk? Was she listening to music?

The reality is that motorists are squarely to blame in two-thirds of all pedestrian deaths, yet police have consistently and constantly been pointing a finger at victims without having adequate evidence. By the beginning of December, 41 pedestrians had died on Toronto roads.

Shame on you, Toronto Police.

As a society, we can change our attitude about deaths resulting from careless and inattentive motorists, but if one of our most powerful organizations continues to perpetuate the fallacy the victim is to blame, the struggle will be a long one.

Dozens of media stories from 2016 provide proof of this unhelpful trend of victim blaming. Police spokespeople continually and consistently state that the pedestrian wasn’t paying attention. Why? Police resources should be used to tackle distracted driving—which has overtaken drunk driving as the major cause of traffic deaths—and address the inherent danger of fast-moving cars and trucks in the city.

Beyond the way we talk about traffic fatalities where pedestrians are killed, what we really need is safer street design and lower speed limits.

To add insult to injury, the City launched a spring campaign for pedestrian safety that was roundly mocked in the media. Toronto Police Service Constable Clint Stibbe was the spokesperson. One element of the campaign was to tell people not to wear dark clothes.

“The car is not the one committing the offences, it’s the pedestrians,” Stibbe told Metro the day after the pilot project launched in June.

“Unfortunately, individuals who are impatient, for lack of a better description, are finding that they’re going to take that chance and step on to the roadway.”

Why does he say “the car”? This is a conversation about people—both drivers and victims—and we need to use more thoughtful language to discuss, and solve, the problem.