Smith: Focus on Kelowna Greenway assault explained

Did you question media attention on the recent sexual assaults in Kelowna? So did we at the Capital News and here's a little of our logic

Jennifer Smith

When the Globe and Mail broke its epic tale on the foundation of Ford Nation, the story ran with an explanation of the editorial board’s logic.

A year-and-a-half of research came down to one decision: Can we run this if none of the sources are willing to put a name to their comments?

As the answer was yes, the paper wanted to clearly explain its justification, lest it seem like pure sensationalism on an already extraordinary tale of a crack-smoking, criminal-cavorting mayor.

And if you are going to accuse a sitting mayor and councillor of stemming from a drug-dealing, criminal family, it’s probably good to get the ducks in a row for the lawyers.

Now we have an issue in our own newsroom that’s generated debate.

With the recent sexual assaults in Mission Creek Park and Glenrosa—the latter still to be verified by RCMP— there are questions to answer about how to play the story.

The Greenway, the main landmark in Mission Creek Park, has had its fair share of issues; not many, but enough to raise an eyebrow.

The 22-year-old woman assaulted in this case was on a smaller trail within the park, although the police have not specified an exact location, and as the Greenway is a main thoroughfare in the park, it seems fair enough to flag the assault as Greenway connected. This is, after all, the park’s central focus.

Warning the many people who will traverse the Greenway of the location of the assault seemed important.

Many woman, and men, are still running the Greenway alone, as anyone who goes to down to have a look will notice.

The thought process that says women should grossly modify their behaviour on the basis of a news item, particularly a single news item, is daft after all.

On the other hand, as a woman myself, I rarely run alone and almost never in certain areas. The Greenway has been one of those spots since a man started groping women while riding by on a bike in 2011.

When I sat down to write the first story on the Greenway assault, I was nevertheless well aware that statistically, the chances any woman, myself included, would personally be in danger on such a trail are minimal; but armed with information, I’ve made my own choice.

It’s not easy to find accurate statistics on sexual assault, in large part because it’s widely believed to be under-reported, but some of the points the Rape Victims Support Network has isolated include:

-one in every 17 Canadian women is raped at some point in her life

-girls between the ages of 15 and 24 are the most likely victims

-80 per cent of assaults happen in the victim’s home

-70 per cent of rapes are committed by a perpetrator who is known to the victim

I think this last point is pretty important in this story. Clearly, focusing one’s attention on an unknown predator—the police have provided no description—who may or may not strike twice at a given location, makes no sense.

And yet, we do know these things happen. As news reporters, its our job to provide the information, and contextualize it, and wave the red flag so people notice; how much to wave that flag is always in question.

I called the Elizabeth Fry Society for comment as I was expecting the director, Aimee Thompson, might highlight some of the statistics and point out where the agency sees the most assaults, ie. between adults in relationships, and maybe suggest what is needed to support victims in terms of resources. She went a different route, calling on civic leaders to look at the safety of the Greenway.

As the representative of an agency where the workers spend their days working with victims of sexual assault, hearing the gut-wrenching stories and trying to provide help, her opinion is critical and her comments well-measured and thought-provoking.

There is a court case pending which speaks to why. Had Taylor van Diest, the young woman in Armstrong who was attacked and killed Halloween night 2011 by a man she did not know, had the knowledge every woman in this community now has, she might of chosen her route or mode of transport differently.

A random sexual assault, while rare, is serious and deserves both considerable debate and exposure and that’s exactly why it lands on the front page of the newspaper.

Tweet: @jaswrites

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