A woman is sexually assaulted on the NCC bike paths and people discuss why women can’t choose where they go and when. In fact, women are free to wander at dusk on secluded pathways. Only, they might be violently attacked and raped as a consequence for that choice. Some choice. Now I feel liberated.
In August 2003, Ardeth Wood disappeared while biking on the National Capital Commission (NCC) bike path where I did my daily jogging. When she was found forcibly drowned in a creek off the pathway, I stopped jogging on NCC paths. Aside from being devastated by her death, I was also annoyed to be confined to residential streets for my exercise. The NCC’s stretch of land bordering the Ottawa River in Ottawa/Orleans is a gorgeous and inspiring place to run. As a taxpayer, shouldn’t I be entitled to the same enjoyment of crown land as my male counterparts? Maybe, but as long as some freak will think himself entitled to the use of my body for sexual gratification, my entitlement to run alone on a secluded pathway is tainted by some serious “what if’s?”
Earlier this summer, I went jogging along the river with my son in the jogging stroller. The path ran behind a row of houses and I felt relatively safe until the path veered away from the residential area and into the deeper wooded area where Ardeth Wood met her killer. I tried to reassure myself that this was the afternoon, that the paths were well-traveled, that I was aware of my surroundings and able to defend myself but I couldn’t shake a deep feeling of fear for my safety and that of my son. I returned to the inhabited area and later learned of Pamela Kosmack’s murder on a west-Ottawa bike path. I have now reluctantly accepted that in this crazy world, single women should always be within line-of-sight and earshot of someone else. Violence against women makes us all victims.
Interesting how we don’t hear cries to protect sexual assaulters’ reproductive freedoms, or their ability to do what pleases them with their reproductive organs. No calls for women’s groups and crime-fighting organizations to get their noses out of assaulters’ crotches (you think I’m vulgar? I’m just quoting pro-choice writers who link to our website). Quite obviously I might add, since it’s been long accepted that freedoms cannot be exercised violently over other people’s bodies. Or your reproductive freedom stops where my body begins. But this short foray into the nature and limits of freedom illustrates once again to what extent the acceptability of abortion hinges on dehumanizing the fetus. Because if the fetus is even remotely human abortion becomes the violent exercise of one’s freedom over the body of another. At this point, we can clearly see why abortion advocates must oppose any effort to assign any value to any fetus – as in bill C-484 – lest it opens people’s eyes to what abortion really is. As for me, it is obvious that if the fetus wasn’t human, women wouldn’t need to abort it. Really. The reason why women feel the need to dispatch their unborn babies and the reason why others oppose abortion are one and the same: because it is a baby. And I have yet to understand why women’s reproductive freedom extends over the bodies of their infants.
Andrea hesitates to add this: but men are also attacked–so the question is not of “a woman’s right to use the NCC paths” but one of understanding that this is indeed a dangerous world we live in… She trails off and vows not to run with headphones on again. Sad.
Véronique begs to differ: Men are also attacked, granted. And I think that if we look at crime stats, we would quickly find out that it is generally riskier to be a guy than a girl. But I don’t think that we can simply compare statistics on violent attacks and say “there, it is more dangerous to be a guy” — we also need to look at the reasons underlying violent attacks. I am no criminologist but I would venture that women are violently attacked because they are women. Ardeth Wood would not have died had she been a guy. The latest victim of sexual assault on NCC property would not have been assaulted had she been a guy. In fact, how many guys probably passed by unfeathered on both occasions before these women were assaulted? The criminals who thought themselves entitled to the use of both women were specifically and anonymously looking for women. Any woman. And that what makes a woman’s right to use public spaces more qualified than a guy’s.