If you’re female, you’ve no doubt received well-meaning advice to not walk alone (especially at night), perhaps not wear hair in a ponytail, and be careful, be careful, be careful. Such advice is utterly demeaning to women and removes all responsibility from those who commit the crimes. In Toronto, law students were given some equally disempowering and, dare I say it, misogynist advice from a police officer. Though he has since apologized, the officer informed the students that if they wished to not become victims, they should avoid dressing like “sluts.”
Besides that such a comment blames the victims instead of the assailants, it shows ignorance about the nature of rape. This crime is about “power, control, and anger.” It’s not about sex, even if that is used as a weapon. When a person of authority, such as a police officer, distributes such harmful information, it perpetuates the type of culture that makes crimes against women possible, the type in which rapists are rarely punished, and women spend their lives fearful of becoming (re)victimized. Furthermore, those who do become victims have less faith in the law enforcement agencies; if a crime is reported, will the police be supportive of the victim, or will they blame her?
In early April, approximately 3000-4000 people in Toronto marched to the police department in a procession called the SlutWalk. Its intention was to call out the member of the Toronto Police force for insensitivity and to demand accountability. Since then, a number of other SlutWalks have occurred and/or are planned. This has spread from various sites in Canada to cities in the United States, including Orlando, Dallas, Boston, Denver, Philadelphia, Seattle, Washington D.C., Chicago, and Hartford.
The Hartford SlutWalk will take place on May 1st and the march will go from Jennings Road to the State Capitol. People may choose to “dress like sluts,” whatever that entails, or not. The purpose of this is not to put on a fashion show; rather, it’s a show of unity. As the event organizer writes, “it is about whole communities standing up for what is right, and asserting that blaming victims for the pain, degradation, and dehumanization they have endured is intolerable.” It’s about reclaiming a term that is used to degrade women; females are frequently judged on their sexuality (real or perceived) when terms like slut, prude, whore, uptight, and ho are tossed around. Judging someone on such grounds is a way to objectify the person; it enables the rationalization of inequity, mistreatment, and worse.
If you’re wondering about how to best prevent rape, check out this factsheet.
UPDATED 4/28/11: Some of the details of the walk have changed. It will go from in front of the Wadsworth Atheneum to the State Capitol, instead of beginning at the police station on Jennings Road.