Photo of a SlutWalk in Boston on May 7. © Courtney Sacco.
When a Toronto police officer made the off-the-cuff remark that women shouldn’t ‘dress like sluts’ to avoid being sexually victimized, he probably didn’t expect the worldwide wave of indignation his comment would unleash. From Canada to Australia, an international series of marches known as “SlutWalks” are being organised by women protesting for the right to wear what they like and behave how they choose without facing sexual harassment.
Constable Michael Sanguinetti was addressing students from York University at a safety forum last January when the remark slipped out. Although he later apologised and was disciplined by the Toronto police department, some women felt that his words revealed the inadequate treatment of sexual assault victims by many law enforcement agents. To make their voices heard, Toronto residents Heather Jarvis and Sonya JF Barnet decided to organise a march in front of the city police department in April. Little did they know that this would be the first of many. 
Once again, the Internet and social media networks proved a powerful – and global – rallying tool. Facebook and Twitter echoed calls to protest across Canada, ten different US states, the UK and Australia. Over a dozen marches have already taken place and more are scheduled for the summer (for a complete listing of SlutWalks and their Twitter hashtags, click here). In past events, some protesters wore nothing more remarkable than jeans and t-shirts, while others dressed in revealing outfits to bring home the point that a woman can wear what she choses.

Poster used by Holly Black during the Boston SlutWalk on May 7.
Post written by FRANCE 24 journalist Lorena Galliot.

SlutWalks worldwide

Video posted on YouTube by payamrajabi.
Video posted on YouTube by AskAsheville.
Video posted on YouTube by albinwonderland.

“SlutWalk is not an event to recruit sluts, but to defend sluts”

Holly Black lives in Boston where she works in a hospital emergency room. She participated in a local  SlutWalk on May 7 and wrote about it in her blog.  
If we understand ‘slut’ to mean someone (usually a woman) who dresses sexy, acts sexual, and/or has a lot of sex, there’s absolutely no harm done, and their sluttiness should be their right. Our goal is to re-claim the word ‘slut’, and make it not a negative insult but an empowering term. If a so-called ‘slut’ is abused or assaulted, she did not want it and she did not deserve it, and the people victimising her are every bit as guilty as if they did it to a ‘non-slut.’
“There is no evidence of connection between clothing and sexual assault”

The police officer who advised girls not to dress like sluts to ‘avoid being victimised’ voiced a commonly held and prejudiced misperception that rape is somehow connected to clothing and attitude. In reality, there is no evidence of a connection between clothing and sexual assault. Rape isn’t fuelled by sexual desire, it’s an act of deliberate violence and humiliation. As an ER worker, I regularly see rape victims come in. Most aren’t wearing miniskirts, but jeans, sweatpants, pyjamas, even hijabs – or, in the worst cases, little baby pyjamas with cartoon characters on them. Blaming clothes is a hypocritical solution, because there is no bottom to modesty. If all women covered every inch of their skin, the harassment would focus on women whose pants were deemed to tight, or whose hijab was deemed too colourful, or whatever…

“The SlutWalk movement aims to shift the blame away from the victim back to the offender”

The real problem is that women who are perceived as sluts are more likely to be blamed and less likely to be protected or get justice if they’re assaulted. This is the prejudice that the SlutWalk movement aims to denounce and change – to shift the blame away from the victim back to the offender. Enjoying consensual sex, even lots of it, isn’t a crime. Rape is.

There were mostly young people at the Boston march, but otherwise it was a very mixed crowd: a lot of women, but also men, gays, lesbians, people in revealing clothes, people dressed conservatively, sexually active singles, monogamous couples, celibates… Absolutely no-one was telling the modestly dressed people that they needed to be sluttier. SlutWalk is not an event to recruit sluts, but to defend sluts. The name of the movement may seem provocative, but the important thing is the positive and empowering message we’re trying to get across.”

Photos of the Boston SlutWalk on May 7 by Courtney Sacco.