I am very, very excited to introduce a guest post by Jo O. All words and photos are hers, and have not been edited from her original submission. For more of Jo’s photos from the Boston SlutWalk, please visit her BostonSlut Walk set on Flickr.
Last Saturday I attended the Boston SlutWalk, one of many satellite walks affiliated with the Toronto SlutWalk held in early April. The original SlutWalk was organized in response to a statement made in January by a Toronto police officer during a campus safety forum at York University’s Osgoode Hall Law School where he stated “women should avoid dressing like sluts in order not to be victimized.”
Although he eventually issued an apology, organizers of the Toronto SlutWalk were not deterred, stating that police failed the citizens by allowing this culture of slut-shaming to enter the ranks of those sworn to serve and protect. “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.” And it’s not just Toronto Police that are the problem, which is why this message grew from a small group of people who heard the insensitive comment to the launch of satellite walks in London, Boston, Dallas, and many other cities (including Minneapolis on August 6th).
The belief that a woman’s choice of clothing could cause a man to lose control of his sexual urges is absurd and offensive to men and women alike. But this attitude exists everywhere, from the professionals to whom we report a crime to the communities expected to provide support. When an 11-year old girl was gang raped in Cleveland, Texas, the New York Times article about the case highlighted just how skewed some people’s views of the situation were. Interviews with residents familiar with the victim and the attackers focused on the fact that the victim “dressed older than her age, wearing makeup and fashions more appropriate to a woman in her 20s” as well as concerns about how the young men involved would “have to live with this the rest of their lives.”
Admittedly, I’ve harbored similar prejudices in the past, which is why I came out for the Boston SlutWalk. It’s easy to say that under no circumstances is rape acceptable, but it’s more difficult to quiet that voice in your head that asks inappropriate questions that don’t matter, like “what kind of reputation does she have?” or “what was she wearing?” When I told a friend of mine I was going to this event, he asked me if I thought a man wearing a Rolex or flashing a wad of cash should be surprised when he gets mugged. It stumped me for a second, until I thought about how sad it is to assume that an expensive trinket in someone’s hand would cause everyone in the vicinity make a grab for it or that seeing a little cleavage would suddenly turn any man into a sex-crazed animal. It assumes that every person out there is a potential attacker, a likely thief or a possible rapist. It also wrongly puts fault on the victim, when the blame should always fall squarely on the shoulders of the actual perpetrators of violence.
In the build up to the event, people questioned why a SlutWalk was being held in Boston. Did we really want to take back the word “slut” anyway? Did we want to advocate slutty behavior? Was this really the message we want to send to the children spending a nice day in the park with their parents? The true message was obvious at the event, when two thousand people, young and old, male and female, gay, straight, bi, and transgendered all came together in Boston to say we would not tolerate slut-shaming or victim-blaming anymore.
As Jaclyn Friedman said during her speech, “It ends because there is truly nothing, NOTHING you can do to make someone raping you YOUR fault. It ends because calling other people sluts may make you feel safer, but it doesn’t actually keep you safer. It ends because not one more of us will tolerate being violated and blamed for it. And it ends because all of this slut-shaming does more to us than just the violence of rape. As if that weren’t enough. The violent threat of slut-shaming also keeps us afraid of our bodies and our desires. It makes us feel like we’re wrong, and dirty, and bad, and yes very, very unsafe, when all we want is to enjoy the incredible pleasure that our bodies are capable of.”
The SlutWalk wasn’t just about one stupid statement made by a cop. It is a response to the skewed way society looks at victims of sexual assault. It doesn’t matter how many sexual partners a person has or what they like to wear, rapes happen because a rapist is around. The SlutWalk is a call for people to stand up together and say I’m not ashamed of liking sex, I’m not ashamed of the way I choose to dress, and I will stand up against anyone who suggests a victim of rape was “asking for it.”