All photos Taylor Meredith/Catalyst
“Women should avoid dressing like sluts in order not to be victimized,” said Toronto police officer Constable Michael Sanguinetti, paving the way for the first SlutWalk in Toronto on Apr. 3, 2011. Since then, these rallies have made their way to the United States, taking place nationwide from Dallas to Boston.
“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,” slutwalktoronto.com said in the “About” section of their website.
Also according to the site, the primary goal of SlutWalks is to promote an end to this blame-the-victim mentality, which revolves around the idea that a victim of a crime bears some responsibility for the assault because of his or her appearance and/or actions. One such case took place in Manitoba, Canada, when Judge Robert Dewar did not sentence a rapist to jail on the grounds that the victim sent signals through her “provocative” clothing and behavior.
Some New College students feel very strongly about the cause.
“I feel that it’s very important to bring these issues to the forefront,” said third-year Chelsey Lucas. “It all has to start somewhere.”
First-year student Ganga Devi Braun agrees. “[SlutWalks] draw attention to some of the most basic problems that contribute to rape culture,” Braun said. “It’s an issue that needs to be addressed.”
Another first-year, Alexis “Lexi” Allen, said everyone should feel free to present themselves however they wish without the fear of being attacked for it. “It’s ridiculous to think anyone would be asking to be raped just because they look a certain way,” Allen said.
On Saturday, Sept. 17, SlutWalk found yet another home, this time in Tampa. Hundreds showed up to march through the streets with signs in the air, all of which bore sayings such as “My clothes are not my consent” and “Blame rapists, not victims.”
There were several guest speakers at the start of the walk, one being Connie Rose, president and founder of the Victim2Survivor organization. She had a courageous, though heartbreaking, story to share.
“I’m a survivor of fourteen years of incest,” Rose told the crowd. “I’m a survivor of sex trafficking. The person who sold me, right here in Tampa Bay, was my father.”
Within her speech, Rose helped create a feeling of unity among all who were gathered before her, explaining that many of the people in attendance had had their lives affected by sexual violence, whether directly or through someone else’s experience. Rose addressed the latter: “You are what is called a secondary survivor, who is just as powerful at taking a stand and breaking the silence,” she said.
Teagan Alexander, a sophomore at Florida State University and a sexual assault survivor, was another guest speaker. Alexander’s story is one that may easily resonate within the younger audience. She was raped during her first week of freshmen year in college, a traumatizing event that only became more difficult as time went on because of the lack of compassion she received from the police department that handled her case.
“[The police officers] told my parents I had probably just had too much to drink and regretted my decision,” Alexander said, though that wasn’t the case at all. Alexander had been drugged, and to this day she does not know if the person who altered her drink is the same one who raped her.
When the guest speakers were done, the crowd began their walk through the streets, snaking up, down and around blocks while cars driving by honked in support. Friends and strangers alike walked shoulder to shoulder.
The last hour of the rally was reserved for what was called a Survivor Speak-Out. During this time, anyone who wanted to tell their story was welcomed onto the stage. Survivors shared their experiences through brave faces wet with tears, and there were many pauses while people stopped to collect themselves.
Some say women need to reclaim the word “slut.” Others argue that women should not define their sexuality with male-defined terms. SlutWalk, whether or not one agrees with its title or cause, is nevertheless bringing these very arguments and ideas to the surface where people will see and talk about them.