‘Sluts’ walk to reclaim word

By Matt Watson

Thousands of people marched the streets of Toronto on April 3, carrying signs reading, “Enjoying sex doesn’t mean violence” and “Met a slut today? Don’t assault her.” The protesters, who ranged in age, race and sexual orientation, all marched to end the derogatory use of the word “slut.”

SlutWalk is a parade and rally held to raise awareness about sexual abuse and the culture of victim blaming.

The movement began in Toronto and has since spread around the globe to more than 30 cities. SlutWalk Chicago will be held on June 4, starting at the James R. Thompson Center, 100 W. Randolph St., at 11 a.m., and going around The Loop to Daley Plaza, 118 N. Clark St., for speakers and festivities.

After hearing about the Toronto event, Jamie Keiles, a freshman at the University of Chicago, posted about it on her Tumblr account. Her followers expressed interest in the rally, and Service Employees International Union contract administrator Jessica Skolnik contacted her about hosting a Chicago walk. The two worked with local organizations, such as Feminist Creative Alliance and Bisexual Queer Alliance, to create support for SlutWalk.

Heather Jarvis, co-founder of SlutWalk Toronto, said the organization’s mission is to fight back against a culture that blames victims instead of perpetrators.

“Everybody can be affected by sexual assault, whatever gender,” Jarvis said. “We need to fight these ideas and come together, so we can empower each other and take a position where we can reclaim the

word ‘slut.’”

Jarvis said too many victims of sexual abuse are blamed for dressing or acting a certain way, and that no matter how many consensual sexual partners someone has had, it’s not an invitation to be targeted.

Acknowledging that “slut” is a word many people aren’t comfortable with, Skolnik said they use the word to desensitize it.

“It’s a powerful and challenging word,” Skolnik said. “And I think it allows us to open up a dialogue about the subject that is new and sometimes difficult.”

Keiles said the parade will lead into a rally, which will have speakers, a disc jockey and, possibly, a burlesque show. However, there is no dress code, and Keiles cited while some supporters at the Toronto march wore revealing clothes, others bundled up.

The idea for SlutWalk came about after a Toronto police officer, speaking at York University, said women should not dress like sluts to avoid being victimized. Jarvis said this was the final straw, and years of victim blaming and slut bashing needed to stop.

“Statistically, it doesn’t keep people safe to dress a certain way,” Jarvis said. “There’s no way to dress to stop yourself from getting sexually assaulted. It can happen in your home, from friends and people you trust.”

Jarvis worked with four others to organize a protest to raise awareness in the community and show the Toronto Police Department their press conference apology was not enough.

“Initially, we thought we’d have maybe 100 people march to the Toronto [Police Department.] It ended up being around three to 4,000,” Jarvis said. “It wasn’t about hate or vilifying our police department; it was about having a dialogue.”

The Toronto Police Department declined to come out and speak that day, but Jarvis said the event was more successful than she could have imagined. It raised awareness in Toronto and around the world.

Shortly after the Toronto event was announced, SlutWalk began sprouting up in other Canadian cities. It wasn’t long before the movement spread to the U.S., with most major cities hosting a SlutWalk between April and September. Some have been planned in England, Australia and other cities across the world.

None of the SlutWalks are affiliated with one another or the founding Toronto event, and all have a specific mission, while mostly keeping in line with the core dialogue, Jarvis said. Some have a more feminist tone and don’t allow men to participate. Others focus on LGBTQ issues.

Skolnik hopes the Chicago event will get people in the community talking about a taboo subject people often avoid. Participants don’t have to be a slut, she said, but anyone can come out and support the movement.

“If someone wants to reclaim that word and sees themselves as a sexual and powerful being, that’s something we absolutely stand behind,” Skolnik said. “I think it’s important to disconnect the sexual double standards that contribute to victim blaming.”