Slutwalk marching into Vancouver
Kendall Walters, ctvbc.ca
Published Saturday, May 14, 2011 8:05AM PDT
Slutwalk Vancouver organizers plan to challenge conventional attitudes about assigning blame in sexual assault in a Sunday march expected to be 5,000-strong.
Now a global phenomenon, Slutwalk started in Toronto with the comments of one police officer who, in January, told a group of university students that they should stop dressing like sluts in order to avoid being raped.
They reacted against the outlook that fuelled his remarks, as did Slutwalk Vancouver organizer Katie Raso.
"Everyone I know has been called a slut and yet we're all very different women and we all dress very differently. Being labeled as a slut is a way of having your value taken away," she told ctvbc.ca on Friday.
The walk aims to raise awareness about the dangers of looking at the victim of sexual assault and blaming them for the crime because of the way they dressed or acted. She said blaming victims could deter future victims from reporting sexual crimes.
Slutwalk organizers hope to remind people that the onus for a crime should be on the person who committed it.
"People are ready to have this conversation," Raso said.
"Living in a culture of victim-blaming doesn't serve anyone except the people committing these assaults."
Nadia Sukhdeo Proctor agrees. She posted comments on the event's Facebook page.
"The shame should NOT be the victim's cross to bear. It should lie strictly with those who use such acts to abuse (sic)."
What's in a name?
March organizers have come under fire for the use of the word slut in the event's name.
Raso says she had to figure out how she felt about it when she decided to hold a walk in Vancouver.
"To me there is no other way to sum up everything we're talking about in this event in one word," she said.
"Slut really encapsulates everything we're talking about. For better and worse, I think there's a lot of power in the name.
Over 5,000 people have already RSVPd on the Facebook event that they plan to attend.
Dressing for Slutwalk
The walk organizers – a group of 12 that includes Raso – have launched a Facebook and Twitter campaign that's gained immense popularity, though they've had to deal with a lot of confusion and some antagonism.
Many people, misunderstanding the name, assumed the event was about dressing provocatively. On the contrary, organizers are urging participants to dress as they normally would.
"I'm Katie Raso wearing a pair of pants and flat shoes," Raso said. "I have a great GPA. I have a great job. I have a family who loves me and I'm active in my community.
"When I put on a short skirt I'm still Katie Raso who's active in her community, who's loved by her family and is deserving of control over my own body.
"Just because my legs might be showing doesn't mean somebody's allowed to touch them."
On their website, Slutwalk Vancouver organizers have collected stories from people who plan to attend about why they're doing the walk. Each one is accompanied by a photo of the shoes the person plans to wear.
Photos of stilettos are few and far between while flats – black boots in particular – have become the runaway favourite.
"When a lot of people explain why they're wearing boots they talk about safety and feeling unsafe," Raso said, adding many said they chose boots because that type of footwear gives them the feeling they could get away from would-be assailants.
Raso has a theory about why people still resort to blaming victims of sexual assault for the crime, though she is quick to say it certainly doesn't justify the attitude.
"In my more optimistic moments, I like to believe people victim-blame because they are trying to come to terms with atrocious acts against other people of their community," she said.
"It's saying ‘oh well… She was one of those women.' What the hell does that mean?"
Raso hopes the message will be adopted by multiple generations, and she's pleased to see those hopes realized. Several mother-daughter pairs have posted they're coming and at least a few grandmother-daughter-granddaughter groups.
"That's the most reaffirming thing is when women say, ‘I'm coming and I'm bringing my granddaughter because she needs to live in a world where she's respected,'" Raso said.
"Just as this isn't one woman's fight, this isn't one generation's fight."
Slutwalk Vancouver marches into the city via Granville Street on Sunday. The event starts at 1 p.m. in front of the Vancouver Art Gallery with speeches from allied organizations such as Women Against Violence Against Women.