‘Slutwalker’ Katie Landers shares her story
For Katie Landers activism is more than just caring or righting a wrong. It’s therapeutic.
The importance of advocacy in her life was central in her recent speech at SlutWalk LA, an action that took aim at attitudes which blame victims of sexual abuse on their behavior or dress.
“I am … a survivor of sexual violence and domestic violence. Activism was a major part of my recovery,” she told the audience.
Landers, 29, is reticent about the details of her past, some of which, she alludes, lie in childhood. But the wounds are still fresh. As recently as January 2010 she extricated herself from her boyfriend, whom she said abused her.
She took action through the courts and got temporary restraining orders. However, the final request was denied by a judge who thought what happened a year ago had no bearing on the present, she said. It left her with no state protection and concerned for her safety.
“I was really scared, like he was going to kill me,” she told LA Activist in a telephone interview. “I had people rally around me. I had people coming by, calling and checking on me to make sure I was safe all the time.”
Landers described this moment as a turning point for her. She began connecting with other victims and learning of their stories of abuse. But it took a police officer in Toronto to propel Landers onto a stage.
On Jan. 24, the officer told an assembled crowd of students and staff at a York University campus information session that woman would be safer if they avoided dressing like “sluts,” according to the university’s community paper Excalibur. The incendiary comment led to widespread condemnation and began a series of international SlutWalks.
Though she never organized an event before, Landers wanted in on the action.
Through her Facebook friendship with Hugo Schwyzer, a professor of history and gender studies at Pasadena City College, Landers got him to agree in setting up a SlutWalk in Los Angeles, she said.
She contacted Jeanette Janzen, a SlutWalk satellites coordinator in Toronto. Through Janzen, Landers found out that she was not alone.
“Some other people had already contacted her [about setting up an event] and she put me in contact with them,” she said.
Now Landers and Schwyzer were paired up with Chelsea Delgadillo, Olga Ivezic and Antonia del Campo. What occurred next for Landers was another turning point in her life as an activist: acceptance.
In her speech, Landers described having a working-class background and no college degree as a perceived hinderance. She told LA Activist that even though she had been active in social justice since the age of 19, she had always felt outgunned by the academically-inclined.
“I don’t have the kind of formal credentials that the people involved in organizing this kind of event and participating in these conversations tend to have,” she said in her speech. “So for a long time, I didn’t believe that my voice or my experience mattered.”
But all that changed with her co-SlutWalk organizers.
“Everyone that I’ve worked with directly has been very kind, respectful and a great cheerleader to me,” she said. “All these very credentialed people, they have valued what I had to say.”
The acceptance and regard Landers found, she said, became a sort of treatment for the bruises she’s sustained in life.
“It was finding out … all these lessons that I didn’t know when I was getting hurt,” she said. “It’s OK to ask for help. There are things that you can do that you don’t believe you can. There are people you can trust and ask for help, and who will come through for you and back you up.”
It was through this process that Landers may have found her greatest asset. She may not have a degree or initials after her name, but it is her experience as a survivor, she feels, that gives her an edge.
“Here’s the thing about survivors: we are smart,” she said in her speech. “We are resourceful. We are really motherfucking strong. And if we ever doubt that about ourselves for a single minute, here’s the proof: we survived. So then it occurred to me that I am absolutely, perfectly, 100 percent qualified to jump into this fight and make some change.”
After the success of SlutWalk LA, Landers feels that social justice is something she will continue fighting for. Through such actions, she said, she is reclaiming the justice she never got.
“By doing this work together, we are making the world into a place that they are not so comfortable living in anymore,” she said. “Because every time we break into the public consciousness and get this conversation going and shape how people are thinking, it’s going to be a lot harder for misogynists, bigots, abusers, rapists or any of these people to fly under the radar like they do.”
“In doing what [my boyfriend] did to me, all he did was create someone who would be very dangerous to him,” she adds.
Landers is already setting her sights on future actions. There is already talk about a SlutWalk for next year and other events concerning women’s reproductive freedom.
“I believe everyone deserves the same chance to have the best life they can possibly have,” she said. “If you are going to be here and benefit from any of the things this great world has to offer, you kind of have a social contract to not be a total pissant and to give back and care about things.”