Three years ago in B.C., Canada, a woman woke up in the bed of the man in the image to the left. She was bleeding and bruised, and though she remembered going out for a night on town, she didn’t remember how she got in this bed, or what had happened to her. Medical examinations determined that a man had vaginally penetrated her, and also found sedatives in her system.
The man’s name is Fernando Manuel Alves, and he pleaded guilty to sexual assault in the rape of this woman. He was initially charged with sexually assaulting three other women, and administering a noxious substance, though those charges were eventually dropped.
Despite pleading guilty, though, to the rape of a woman who has described since feeling the loss of both her will to live and ability to feel safe, Alves is not going to spend a single day in jail. No, instead, he received a 9 month conditional sentence, and placement on the sex offender registry.
Why, exactly, is Alves not being sent to jail for his violent crime, when non-violent criminals are sent there all the time? Well, that would be the point of particular interest:
In sentencing, the B.C. provincial court judge said Alves was not pathologically dangerous but had committed a crime of opportunity.
The judge ordered that Alves be placed on the sex-offender registry for the next 20 years but that he not spend time in jail.
Yes. Seemingly, since the judge felt the need to express as much during sentencing, Alves is not going to jail because he is believed to be not pathologically dangerous. And the way we know he is not dangerous is because his crime, his rape, was one of of opportunity.
One can only assume that when a rape is called a “crime of opportunity,” the “opportunity” in question is a woman being in the rapist’s presence.
And this would be true even if there wasn’t good reason to believe that Alves had deliberately set out to impair is victim for the purposes of assaulting her. Because you know what? Drunk women are everywhere — and this is especially so when you own a pub, as Alves does. Sleeping women are everywhere. Unconscious women are everywhere. Women out by themselves are everywhere. Women in “vulnerable situations,” that would not be vulnerable at all if there weren’t men out there looking to attack us, are everywhere. We, women, are everywhere.
And our bodies are not walking opportunities for violence.
Our autonomy and right to safety does not lose value, and the violation of that autonomy and safety has no lesser significance, just because a misogynistic man saw them as such.
Saying that Alves raped his victim as a crime of opportunity is not only greatly absolving him of full responsibility for his heinous, life-altering actions. It’s also saying that the victim is partially to blame. It’s saying that by existing, whether it be existing alone, or existing while drinking, or existing in public, or simply existing as a woman at all, she created an opportunity for a rapist. Not giving Alves jail time for this reason says that if a woman presents such an “opportunity” — again, by existing — that it mitigates her rapist’s actions. Frankly, the judge, whether man or woman, is aligning themselves with the rapist by presenting a rape as understandable when an “opportunity” presents itself.
And a culture that says “well, come on, can you blame him? She was there!” is a culture where men rape with few consequences and many excuses.
That’s why it’s no surprise that the Vancouver police force originally used this rape as an excuse to scold women about their risky, risky behavior.
During a news conference on Wednesday, Const. Tim Fanning reminded the public to be aware of the risks involved with knowingly going somewhere alone with a new acquaintance.
“Stay with your friends to the end of the night,” he said. “If you meet somebody that you want to see again, meet them the next day. Don’t get in the position of going back with them alone, especially when you’ve been drinking.”
Knowing perfectly well that women who do all of these things are still raped, all the time, is the warning and implication in this constant, paternalistic reminder — which is always given as though women haven’t heard it a thousand times throughout their lives — anything but the idea that if women don’t follow these instructions, they’re presenting an “opportunity”? Are the questions so often asked of a woman when she tells of a rape, which regularly include interrogations on whether she followed the above rules, anything but trying to determine whether or not she presented an “opportunity”?
We are constantly treated as though our bodies are opportunities for rape. Victims are constantly told that they created an opportunity for someone to hurt them. And it’s absolutely disgusting that a court would buy into and propagate such a notion.
And it gets almost impossibly more disgusting still when you look at the fact that contrary to the judge’s assertion, this man actually is dangerous, not only because he has proven himself to see women’s bodies as an opportunity for rape, but because he has been accused of rape numerous times before. Though I have absolutely no love in my heart for Vancouver Rape Relief and Women’s Shelter, I think that just this once, it’s worth listening to what they have to say:
Russell, of Vancouver Rape Relief and Women’s Shelter, said Fernando Manuel Alves of Burnaby, a pub owner and former vice-president of the B.C. Ball Hockey Association, was accused by a woman in Whistler in 2005 of raping her. But according to Russell the RCMP bungled the investigation and no charges were laid. She said the police interviewed the alleged victim while she was drunk, didn’t get a sexual assault examiner to collect forensic evidence and didn’t allow a woman’s advocate to sit with the alleged victim when she gave police her testimony.
This is especially easy to believe when you consider the fact that the victim in the crime to which Alves actually pleaded guilty also accuses police of incorrectly handling her case, and even claims that the (unnamed) head of the sexual assault division was removed from the department.
The justice system is failing women at every turn. It’s failing to properly investigate sexual assault allegations. It’s telling women that how they behave will determine whether or not they are raped. It’s failing to give out adequate sentences to convicted offenders, and then, even worse, making excuses for rapists during sentencing.
We’re treated as walking and deserving targets. Our assaults are treated as, and explicitly called, crimes of opportunity. Never is it mentioned that there would be no “opportunities” in a world where women were seen as people, nor in a world that had no rapists.