SlutWalk Vancouver challenges blame placed on sexual assault victims

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      On January 24, a piece of advice that a Toronto police officer gave at a safety seminar for York University students triggered a worldwide reaction.

      “Women should avoid dressing like sluts in order not to be victimized,” said Const. Michael Sanguinetti.

      That was the last straw for many Toronto citizens. On April 3, more than 3,000 people—dressed in such provocative attire as raincoats, track pants, and sneakers—took a stand against victim-blaming and participated in what organizers billed as SlutWalk Toronto.

      Toronto’s SlutWalk participants, who marched from Queen’s Park to police headquarters, were not only responding to Sanguinetti’s comment. They wanted to inspire a shift in the way mainstream culture blames victims of sexual assault rather than targets the perpetrators of the crimes.

      SlutWalk Toronto has already inspired cities around the world, from Canada and the U.S. to New Zealand, to launch their own SlutWalks. In Vancouver, student activists have used social media to mobilize thousands of people in a short amount of time to bring about SlutWalk Vancouver. It will take place on May 15 along Granville Street downtown.

      On March 31, SFU student Josh Tabish emailed fellow communications student Katie Raso a link to a newspaper article in which a Saanich police officer was quoted as saying that victims of sexual assault are “people who have placed themselves in vulnerable situations and are unfortunately victimized as a result”. (The newspaper later “updated” the story online and wrote that the officer was quoted “out of context” and that some readers had “misconstrued” the comment.)

      Raso posted the link to the SlutWalk Toronto Facebook page; within minutes, she said, she received a text message from a SlutWalk Toronto participant encouraging her to organize a SlutWalk in Vancouver. Raso emailed several local organizations to gauge support for the idea, and by the end of the day, SlutWalk Vancouver’s organizing committee had come together.

      Within four days, more than 1,700 Facebook users had confirmed their participation in SlutWalk Vancouver.

      “It took off like wildfire,” Tabish said. “We did not expect things to happen this quickly. It reminds us of how important this issue is for everyone.”

      Tabish is one of four men on the SlutWalk Vancouver organizing team. “No one has challenged our involvement,” Tabish said. “Most victims of sexual assault are women, but men will be coming to the walk as citizens, as family members, and as boyfriends. We want men to know that whatever role you play, you have an important role in this conversation.”

      However, not all responses have been positive. Every day, individuals leave messages on the Facebook event page criticizing walk organizers for encouraging scantily clad women to parade around on the streets.

      “There is no such thing as dressing like a slut,” Raso said, “Because there is no such thing as dressing for sexual assault. We encourage participants to wear whatever they would normally wear. We are trying to bring to light that when we excuse away sexual assaults by blaming the victims, we are ensuring that assaults will continue.”

      Despite the controversy that a name like SlutWalk is bound to stir up, it might be part of the reason why the walk has generated so much attention and dialogue worldwide.

      Natalie Hill, a former Vancouver Rape Relief & Women’s Shelter volunteer who is doing her master’s research on rape in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, had reservations about reclaiming the word slut.

      “After thinking about it, I realized the irony and the satire in SlutWalk”, she said. “It’s pretty brilliant of them to take a pejorative that a Toronto police officer used and leverage that into a movement that has attracted the support of people who may not usually get involved in activist efforts.”

      Becki Ross, who chairs the women’s and gender studies department at UBC, also applauds the SlutWalk organizers for working to challenge harmful cultural norms.

      “To me, the SlutWalks in Toronto, Vancouver, Boston, and elsewhere reclaim slut for all women who dare to challenge constricting and punishing gender and heterosexual norms that have historically divided ”˜good women’—monogamous, virtuous, passive, subordinated—from ”˜bad women’—sexually experimental, curious, and rebellious,” Ross said.

      The SlutWalk Vancouver organizers do not expect to overturn entrenched ideas overnight. However, Raso and Tabish said that the event will offer an “open and inclusive forum for people to talk about how to work together to change toxic environments”.

      B.C.’s Battered Women’s Support Services is among an assortment of nonprofit agencies that support SlutWalk Vancouver. According to BWSS executive director Angela Marie MacDougall: “The paradigm in our society is that women are prey, and as prey we need to protect ourselves. There is rarely recognition [of the fact] that men are often responsible for sexual violence and the question of how can men help end violence against women. This paradigm needs to shift, and I believe SlutWalk Vancouver is a part of that shift.”

      In the weeks leading up to May 15, the SlutWalk Vancouver committee will host a series of discussions on its blog and campaign to spread awareness about its goals. Raso and Tabish also said they hope to lend their support to other communities interested in organizing their own SlutWalks.

      “As for SlutWalk Vancouver 2012? The absolute best thing that could happen is that we will help start a conversation that won’t have to be restarted in a year,” Raso said.



      James Peters

      Apr 14, 2011 at 7:38pm

      NOONE wants to be sexually assaulted and In NO way should the charactor and or manner of dress or lack thereof be EVEN taken into consideration in relation to deciding the guilt or innocence of the accused .Sadly however the victim seems to have less rights than the accused in Canada

      Andrea D. Merciless

      Apr 14, 2011 at 11:42pm

      So basically a message to women to do what they want, dress how they want, and go where they want, and never ever take any responsibility for the consequence of any of their actions. Typical femminazi BS.

      Feminists: women should not be treated, perceived, or regarded as sex objects.
      Feminists: women should have the right to act like sex objects.
      Feminists: objectification of female sexuality is oppression.
      Feminists: objectification of female sexuality is liberation.

      Feminists = spoiled little brats who wanna have it both ways.

      Live Free

      Apr 15, 2011 at 12:35am

      Sadly I think the message was missed in the cops unfortunate choice of words.

      Sarah Donnelly

      Apr 15, 2011 at 1:17am

      Andrea, how did you get the sense that Slut Walk is about dictating to women what they should or should not do?

      Seems to me like that's exactly what Slut Walk is working to fight against. When sexual assaults happen, there is often too much focus on what the victim could have done to avoid the assault.

      Rarely do people say: Why did the rapist rape? What could we as a society do to prevent another assault from happening?

      Females grow up hearing the same messages over and over about how not to become a victim. Women already know that they should avoid walking alone at night, watch their drinks, carry cell phones, etc, etc.

      When a sexual assault does happen, as it happens to 1 in 3 Canadian women, and a police officer makes a statement to the press reiterating the same points telling women to be careful, this does not make much of a difference. Women are already careful. Women are already afraid.

      What we need to do is to overhaul our culture so that rapes and sexual assaults are simply no longer acceptable.

      Instead of excusing rapists' actions by focusing on how short the victim's skirt was, or how much cleavage she was showing, we need to stop blaming the victims and we need to send rapists a loud and clear message: Don't rape!

      Plus, men and trans persons are also victims of sexual assault and rape, so we should not exclude their experiences.

      Sarah Donnelly

      Apr 15, 2011 at 1:24am

      And about your points on feminism...Have you ever talked to any feminists? No two feminists have the exact same opinions. Trying to make generalizations about feminists is as misguided as trying to make generalizations about white people, Asian people, black get my point. Right?


      Apr 15, 2011 at 7:24am

      I think Andrea was referring to radical/extreme/militant feminists. The reality is most large power based groups have their fringe or extreme element (the Tea Party comes to mind) and often this element yields too much power and authority by using bully tactics. I agree that these type of people give feminists overall a bad name and this often undermines their credibility which is so unfortunate.

      Dealing and conversing with this element can be an exercise in frustration which I experienced as recently as yesterday....

      I wish that moderate and progressive feminists come to the forefront of the feminist movement and that it evolves in harmony with the changing dynamics of society.

      Lady Confusiya

      Apr 15, 2011 at 9:50am

      I'm heading to slutwalk - and I'm wearing my niqab too - because that's my right!
      Won't you join me?
      <high pitched yodel>Allalllllalalalaalaalala</high pitched yodel>

      sensibility > sensitivity

      Apr 15, 2011 at 2:10pm

      I'm totally on board with the women who say it's not about what you wear when it comes to reasons why people get raped. It's about some sick fuck who's out to rape someone. Slutwalk is a total overreaction though.

      Maybe it doesn't change much to tell women to be careful but it doesn't hurt either. This officer was wrong to put his emphasis on a dress code but do we need to have a mass protest over one asshole's dumb comment (he might as well tell you to be as ugly as possible and smelly too). I agree that we shouldn't put the entire focus on what the victim could have done to avoid being raped but it does deserve a mention if it's something that could help other women avoid being raped as well. Even if you've heard it 1000 times before someone else probably hasn't heard it enough.

      Now, I like Sarah's idea of telling rapists not to rape. We should definitely crash their next meeting. We need to make sure the pedophiles are there as well. Also it wouldn't be a bad idea to tell murderers to stop murdering, thieves to stop stealing etc... I'm sure we can solve these problems in a week or two. Sounds about as dumb as the dress code thing actually. Good thing your comments won't be scrutinized by feminists Sarah.

      Onni Milne

      Apr 15, 2011 at 6:03pm

      I support the SlutWalk proposed for May 15. As a woman, I am TIRED of hearing that women are used as punching bags and objects for men who haven't learned how to deal with their issues. I keep hearing about how rapists in the DRC do so with impunity because they know they will never be held to account for their actions. I suggest the same attitude is present in our "progressive" society. Rapist trials put the woman on trial instead of handing the rapist the sentence coming to him for his actions.


      Apr 15, 2011 at 7:49pm

      Sexual Assault Prevention Tips Guaranteed to Work!

      1. Don’t put drugs in people’s drinks in order to control their behavior.

      2. When you see someone walking by themselves, leave them alone!

      3. If you pull over to help someone with car problems, remember not to assault them!

      4. NEVER open an unlocked door or window uninvited.

      5. If you are in an elevator and someone else gets in, DON’T ASSAULT THEM!

      6. Remember, people go to laundry to do their laundry, do not attempt to molest someone who is alone in a laundry room.

      7. USE THE BUDDY SYSTEM! If you are not able to stop yourself from assaulting people, ask a friend to stay with you while you are in public.

      8. Always be honest with people! Don’t pretend to be a caring friend in order to gain the trust of someone you want to assault. Consider telling them you plan to assault them. If you don’t communicate your intentions, the other person may take that as a sign that you do not plan to rape them.

      9. Don’t forget: you can’t have sex with someone unless they are awake!

      10. Carry a whistle! If you are worried you might assault someone "on accident"you can hand it to the person you are with, so they can blow it if you do.