SlutWalk NYC – An Important Message, But Who’s Listening?

No one asks to be raped. Or sexually assaulted. Or harassed.

Earlier this year, however, a police officer who spoke to students at Osgoode Law School in Toronto suggested that women who want to avoid being raped shouldn’t dressed like sluts. Officer Michael Sanguinetti quickly tried to remove his foot from his mouth but he didn’t realize that his ignorant statements would soon have a larger impact.

Understanding Rape Culture

The re-victimization of women, by blaming them for the sexual violence they encounter, is an ongoing problem that cuts across ethnicities, race, and national borders. Rape culture has no global boundaries.

I notice, though, that North American mainstream media often depicts rape and gendered sexual violence as a “Third World” consequence. In other words, rape and sexual violence mostly occur in societies that are poor, strife with conflict, and not quite modernized. The Democratic Republic of Congo, South Africa, Colombia – we often cite these countries as places where assaulting women is ingrained in the culture. In fact, books like “Half the Sky” and “A Thousand Sisters” (which are great books that address important issues) seemingly suggest that gendered violence is a Western burden – that Westerners must take action and help poor, uneducated women who constantly face sexual violence in these faraway, backward countries.

I think the idea that gendered sexual violence is a Third World endemic has helped to foster the kind of rape culture prevalent in North America: a woman who was sexually violated brought the attack upon herself by means of her appearance or behaviour because our civilized society has come along way when it comes to women’s rights. Surely the suffragists, Oprah, and Kim Kardashian indicate that not only have we established equal gender rights, but we are now a society that idolizes women best known for their sex tapes. This must be a sign of progress, right?

So, the idea follows, if our society treats women better than the way women are treated in Third World countries, then women who are sexually violated must have put themselves in a compromising situation. Like this and this and this.

SlutWalk NYC

Our society’s attitude about gendered violence obviously needs to change but do events like SlutWalk detract from the cause it fights for?

Today’s SlutWalk at Union Square in NYC is one of many rallies calling for an end to such thinking. An estimated 200-400 people marched down Broadway and then back to Union Square to raise attention to problem of women being blamed for being raped. Protestors shouted slogans like “No means no, yes means yes” and some carried placards that detailed when they were sexually violated.

That being said, I’m not entirely convinced that events like SlutWalk makes a meaningful contribution toward ending rape culture in North America. Nearly ten months after Officer Sanguinetti misspoke, I expect these SlutWalk campaigns to be more than just a protest about wanting change. Women should never be held responsible, but I’m not sure so if people parading shirtless or yelling at the police makes a significant difference. After all, it’s NYC – there’s a protest about something almost every week.

I wish that protests like SlutWalk and Occupy Wall Street focused on serious grassroots campaigns that involve community leaders as the best way to their message publicized. Also, SlutWalk NYC would have be more effective if it also included an outreach effort to Community Affairs officers and local leaders to help teach the police and the rest of the community to change their attitudes when it comes to gendered violence.

Here are some photos from today’s event:

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