Slutwalk Doesn't Mean What You Think

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Thursday, October 13, 2011

In January, a police officer in Toronto addressed a group of York University students at a forum on public safety. Among his advice for avoiding sexual assault? "Women should avoid dressing like sluts in order not to be victimized."

The comment was met with immediate and strong censure, prompting an apology from the officer.

But that mea culpa did little to quell outrage over the suggestion that women who dress or behave provocatively—however that's defined—are "asking" to be assaulted. This spring, activists in Toronto organized a "slut walk" in protest. "Being assaulted isn't about what you wear; it's not even about sex," organizers said. "But using a pejorative term to rationalize inexcusable behavior 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."

That Toronto protest has inspired similar ones around the world. On Saturday, Oct. 22, Valley activists will hold a Northampton Slutwalk, "to tackle the task of ending both victim blaming and slut shaming in a culture that is much too lenient towards sexual violence."

The protest will begin at noon at Lampron Park, with participants marching to City Hall. There assault victims and others will speak.

In an announcement of the event, organizer Georgia Gerike referred to a recent case in the U.S. in which a young girl's behavior was questioned after she was raped by a group of men. "When an eleven-year-old was sexually assaulted by 13 men in Texas, the media brought attention to the way she dressed, as if it were a relevant detail," Gerike said. "Rapists cause rape, not victims, and not eleven-year-old girls who are learning how to embrace the power of their sexuality."

Gerike also clarified the protest's use of the word "slut," saying, "The name Slutwalk can be misleading—it isn't just about dressing provocatively —it's about rising up to make sure women are recognized as individuals with certain rights."

For information about the protest, contact

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