Slut Walks

Action

The trouble begins on January 24th of this year, during an information session on campus security at York University's Osgoode Hall Law School in Toronto, Canada. 

When speaking on the subject of rape, Police Contable Michael Sanguinetti from Toronto's 31 Division somehow thought it a good idea to tell a room full of young, female law students that, "women should avoid dressing like sluts in order not to be victimized." He prefaced the statement by admitting, "I’ve been told I shouldn’t say this," and had the misfortune to be overheard by Ronda Bessner, assistant dean of the Juris Doctor Program.

Reaction

Understandably, people are not exactly happy with PC Sanguinetti.

Said Bessner, “I was shocked and appalled. I made contact with the police... and we’ve asked for a written apology and an explanation.”

Mark Pugash, a spokesperson for the police department, issued the statement that, "The comments have been investigated. The officer will be apologizing to the faculty and students at Osgoode Hall. And he has been disciplined."

It was unspecified as to exactly what the disciplining would entail, but the officer was forced to apologize, saying, "'I am embarrassed by the comment I made and it shall not be repeated."

Police Chief Bill Blair further soothed the enraged masses by saying, "If that type of, frankly, archaic thinking still exists among any of my officers, it highlights for me the need to continue to train my officers and sensitize them to the reality of victimization.... [These comments] place the blame upon victims, and that's not where the blame should ever be placed."

So rare is it to see such understanding in authority figures - especially male ones - that several people have professed themselves legitimately shocked, a sad fact in and of itself.

The Issue

The entire discussion has brought to media attention the age-old problem of victim-blaming in today's society. 

Not long after the incident, a website (they also have a facebook page) was created, bearing the title "SlutWalk Toronto: Because We've had Enough," and the message:

"With sexual assault already a significantly under-reported crime, survivors have now been given even less of a reason to go to the Police, for fear that they could be blamed. Being assaulted isn’t about what you wear; it’s not even about sex; but using a pejorative term to rationalize inexcusable behaviour creates an environment in which it’s okay to blame the victim.

Historically, the term ‘slut’ has carried a predominantly negative connotation. Aimed at those who are sexually promiscuous, be it for work or pleasure, it has primarily been women who have suffered under the burden of this label. And whether dished out as a serious indictment of one’s character or merely as a flippant insult, the intent behind the word is always to wound, so we’re taking it back. “Slut” is being re-appropriated.

We are tired of being oppressed by slut-shaming; of being judged by our sexuality and feeling unsafe as a result. Being in charge of our sexual lives should not mean that we are opening ourselves to an expectation of violence, regardless if we participate in sex for pleasure or work. No one should equate enjoying sex with attracting sexual assault."

The ignorance on this subject in today's society is clear. Go to any one of the many articles dealing with the issue and read the comments below:  There are always several people (usually, but not necessarily, men) who not only agree with the police officer, but go on to make such enlightened statements as (and here I paraphrase), "Dress like a slut and you will be treated like one," and "More rapes occur in countries where women have more rights and liberties," and "This would not be an issue if women dressed modestly."

Statements like these completely disregard the facts. 

1) A short skirt and low-cut top is not an invitation for disrespect. If a woman wants to look good - and keep in mind that it's just as likely that she wants to look good for her own sake, or for another woman's appreciation, as for a man's - that is her business.  A woman should - and I do not claim that this is a smart idea, but they should - be able to walk down a back alley at midnight in the middle of a ghetto wearing nothing but strappy heels and her favorite lipstick without being assaulted.

Yet men and women alike have been taught by society that a woman is 'responsible' for, or 'caused' her own rape by dressing provocatively. And while police officers come into our schools and tell women 'not to dress like sluts,' it is a rare person indeed who tries to educate men not to act like raging bulls who are allowed to take whatever they wish.

"Rape is one of the most terrible crime on earth. The problem with groups who deal with rape is that they try to educate woman about how to defend themselves What really needs to be done is to teach man not to rape, to go to the source and start there."

- Kurt Cobain

Men - indeed, humans, because while it is rarer (due, among other things, to a comparative lack of physical strength) women have committed rape acts as well - are not brainless sex-seeking beasts with no self-control or impulse control. Humans do not - should not - see an attractive figure and lose all control of themselves. Humans do not have the right to take whatever they want simply because it looks tempting. 

Are there a huge amount of crimes committed every day? Yes, of course. Does this mean that 'It looked tempting, so I took it' has ever been accepted as an excuse in a court of law? No. What about 'It was easy to get to, so I stole it' or 'They were unprotected, so I killed them'? No. Never, not for a single second. So why is this theory bandied around so much when it comes to rape?

Wearing a revealing outfit does not mean you are sexually promiscuous; being sexually promiscuous does not mean a person does not respect themselves; a lack of self respect is not an okay to force sex on a person. Ever. At all.

2) Yes, some countries where women are forced to dress in head-to-toe-burqas, for example, do have very low reported rape rates.  Such as Saudi Arabia, where in 2006 a 19-year-old gang rape victim was sentenced to 200 lashes by the courts.  Yes, it is shocking that in countries such as this, women do not take their problems to the authorities.

3) People who are covered head-to-toe are raped all the time. 1/3 of women in the US military are raped; not, I'm sure, due to any sexy and revealing nature of their army fatigues. Women in long skirts or sweat pants are raped. Old women in nursing homes, children, babies, grown men - a sickening percentage of all have been assaulted and hardly any of them, I am quite sure, were walking around with their boobs popping out.

Most rapists are not psychos in a back alley, following a hot girl home from a club; they are known to the victim. 43% of rapes happen in homes. Date rape, marital rape, etcetera. For more actual statistics, go here.

To cut the argument short, all of the above can be summarized thus: It does not matter what a woman is wearing. 

March

And so we have 'Slut Walk,' a marching protest organized by Sonya Barnett, who says, "It was evident that if you're going to have a representative of the police force come out [and say that] then that kind of idea must be still running rampant within the force itself and that retraining really needs to happen to change that mentality."

The walk started at 1:30 PM in Queen's Park, featuring women in various sorts of dress, from proudly revealing and promiscuous to jeans and t-shirts to modest coverage from neck to toe. It attracted 3,000 people.

It has spawned dozens of walks just like it across not only Canada but Australia, Argentina, Britain, New Zealand, Sweden, and the United States as well. The Boston walk only last Saturday drew approximately 2,000, significantly more than the originally expected 20 or 30.

 Act

Links:  Rape Culture 101  *  *  Find out if there is a walk near you.