Slutwalk clarifies sexual assault concerns

Kaye Herranen

In January of 2011, Toronto Constable Michael Sanguinetti advised that “women should avoid dressing like sluts in order not to be victimized” during a safety forum at York University. In response to his statement, the first Slutwalk was organized in Toronto in April of 2011.

The Slutwalk movement has since spread to many major cities in the United States. Slutwalks have also been organized internationally, in Berlin, Sydney and Cape Town. During each Slutwalk, protestors march along a designated route, and some protestors choose to wear provocative or “slutty” clothing. Milwaukee had its very own Slutwalk protest Aug. 13 in Humboldt Park.

Among the many pictures posted online, a few protestors stand out. One woman is dressed in a black corset, skirt and fishnets, and written on her chest is “this is not an invitation to rape me.” Another woman holds a sign reading, “Believe it or not, my short skirt has nothing to do with you.”

Even though most of the planned Slutwalks are over, the organization is still actively raising awareness. Jilian Michaels — from the show “The Biggest Loser” — appeared on the talk show “The Doctors” Sept. 15, and claimed that women who dress like sluts are “inviting danger.” The Slutwalk Milwaukee organization posted a thorough response to Michaels’ claims on their Facebook page.

As to the name of the movement, I’m not sure I can fully endorse the use of the word “slut.” I think the use of “slut” in the movement’s name definitely garnered significant media attention, which in turn helped raise awareness. I also support women taking ownership of their sexuality, and protesting the derogatory use of the word “slut.”

However, “slut” is a male-defined, misogynistic term. Instead of embracing and trying to redefine the word “slut”, I think that women’s movements should work with a more positive vocabulary in order to create new ways of defining themselves.

Slutwalk’s core message is that we live in a society in which sexual assault victims are blamed. They argue that our society teaches “don’t get raped” instead of “don’t rape.” I think their point is valid. Survivors of sexual assault — it happens to men too — need to know that it is not their fault.

Some women struggle with their identity after being sexually assaulted, believing the myth that “only sluts get raped.” Nobody deserves to be raped, regardless of how they are dressed. About 70 percent of all sexual assaults go unreported, in part because victims are afraid of being judged and blamed for their assault.

It doesn’t matter what a woman is wearing – “no” means “no.” Rape is a heinous crime, and it isn’t made any less heinous if the victim was dressed provocatively. Women have every right to dress in a way that expresses their sexuality. Yet, some might claim that if a woman is dressed provocatively, she is signaling that she would like to have sex — consensual sex, that is. Even if that is true, wearing suggestive clothing is not the same as consent.

Instead of judging victims of sexual assault, and discouraging women from dressing “like sluts,” we should focus on convicting rapists and counseling victims.