What women wear does not justify rape, say advocates
On June 4, hundreds of marchers hit the sidewalks of Santa Monica Boulevard in West Hollywood demanding an end to victim blaming and rape culture in one of many “SlutWalks” held internationally.
SlutWalk first kicked off in Toronto in response to a Jan. 24 comment made by a Toronto police officer to students and staff at York University during a campus safety information session. According to York University’s community newspaper Excalibur, the officer offered as a safety tip that women should avoid dressing like “sluts.”
“Rape is the only crime where we blame the victim or question the victims behavior, what she was drinking or wearing,” said Shira Tarrant, a women’s, gender and sexuality studies professor at Cal State Long Beach and SlutWalk LA participant. “The focus needs to shift to the perpetrators. It’s a more dangerous position because it questions the power structure, and that’s what we want to change.”
According to the Toronto Sun, in February the Toronto Police Dept. issued an apology to York University and disciplined the offending officer.
At a pre-march rally in West Hollywood Park, survivors of sexual assault and rape shared their stories to an audience that shouted back intermittently “We got your back” and “It’s not your fault.”
According to the advocacy group Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network, 60 percent of sexual assaults go unreported and 15 out of 16 rapists are never convicted. Activists spoke out against victim and “slut” shaming, a notion women’s rights advocates believe saturates American culture and embodies itself within institutions, laws and policies.
“Sex workers and women of color, particularly sex workers of color, are disproportionately victims of sexual violence and more likely to be blamed because of occupation or clothing,” said Alana Evans of Sex Workers Outreach Project LA. “Having a community of sex workers and going to a place where there’s no judgment is life changing.”
[FOR THE RECORD: The above statement was mistakenly ascribed to Alana Evans. The correct attribution goes to Jessie Nicole, director of Sex Workers Outreach Project LA.]
Some marched scantily clad, but whether they were in club attire or not, many of the demonstrator’s placards represented the idea that a person’s sexuality or clothing are not requests for sex, sexual assault or harassment.
“I understand that the word ‘slut’ is contentious but the fact is it took something like SlutWalk to get this kind of global attention to rape and sexual assault. So hey, deal with it,” said Tarrant referring to the backlash SlutWalk has received from people within the feminist community and on social media sites.
SlutWalk has also garnered a lot of positive attention by way of social media. Sex Workers Outreach Program got linked to the event on Twitter, and although SlutWalk LA was attended by a few hundred people, approximately 4,300 RSVP’d, and has sparked hundreds of discussions.
Hugo Schwyzer, a professor of history and gender studies at Pasadena City College and SlutWalk LA organizer, spoke to demonstrators before the rally. He challenged the stereotype of male sexual weakness calling it a myth.
“Men’s sexuality can be good, it can be positive, it can be safe and we can always distinguish a ‘yes’ from a ‘no,’” he said.