By now, most of us are familiar with SlutWalk, the global movement triggered last year after Toronto police constable Michael Sanguinetti told a group at York University that women should avoid dressing like “sluts” in order to not be victimized.
Organized through social media, a far greater crowd than expected showed up, inspiring similar protests in over 150 countries.
Quick on the heels of Sanguinetti’s comment came a protest at the Manitoba Law Courts after Queen’s Bench Justice Robert Dewar’s remarks during a sexual assault sentencing. Dewar said that “sex was in the air” the night of the assault, and noted the victim wore a tube-top, no bra, high heels and “plenty of makeup” when he handed down a light sentence to her now-convicted rapist.
Only a week ago, Krista Ford, niece of Toronto mayor Rob Ford, sent out this tweet following a briefing regarding a number of Toronto sexual assaults: “Stay alert, walk tall, carry mace, take self-defence classes & don’t dress like a whore. #DontBeAVictim #StreetSmart.”
Oddly, despite all the attention victim-blaming has been getting, many of us still don’t know what it is and why it should stop.
What is victim-blaming? Basically, it’s the belief that anything the victim of a crime did or didn’t do could have somehow contributed to his or her own victimization.
It’s ubiquitous and a part of our language.
Though we might say, “A woman is never to blame for sexual assault,” there is often a big, fat “but” to follow.
“But she should dress conservatively,” even though there is no evidence of a causal relationship between victim attire and sexual assault.
“But she shouldn’t go out alone after dark,” even though she’s more likely to be attacked in a home than on the street.
“But she shouldn’t flirt,” even though sexual assault is about power, control, entitlement and objectification rather than sex.
Even clichés we use can be blaming in nature: “Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.”
Why should we take responsibility for someone who gains our trust, only to exploit it later?
“He won’t be able to keep his hands off you,” we say as a compliment, not realizing we may be impacting future disclosure of a rape with a touch of pre-emptive blame.
Victim-blaming has many faces, including denying the existence of the rapist: “Kobe doesn’t have to rape anyone.”
“What was she expecting going to his room at 2 a.m. anyway?”
“Those accusations against Julian Assange sure seem to have been made at a convenient time…”
And then there’s the institutional variety, carried out by those in authority; Todd Akin denied the existence of many victims with his term, “legitimate rape.”
Is there another kind? Imagine a woman being re-victimized through mandatory disclosure should she be denied an abortion without a formal complaint of rape.
Only the victim should decide whether or not to disclose, and to suggest otherwise is victim-blaming.
SlutWalk isn’t necessarily about reclaiming the word “slut,” though it certainly can be.
More importantly, it’s about accountability: accountability in the judicial system, police services, and in each and every one of us.
It’s about working accountability into the language we use when we describe victims of sexual assault and their choices— choices that have nothing to do with their victimization, and nothing to do with how we choose to live our lives.
At noon on Saturday, Sept. 15, we will walk together demanding and pledging accountability.
Participants will walk from the Law Courts at 408 York Ave., to the Legislative Building, 450 Broadway, in a united demonstration against victim-blaming.
Once at the Legislative Building, speakers will address sexual assault, victim-blaming, rape apologia and, ultimately, survival.
After the event, TheBestDefenseProgram.com will conduct a trauma-aware, victim-blaming-free self-defence and counter-violence workshop for the cost of a donation to Osborne House.
To learn more, visit slutwalkwinnipeg.wordpress.com. You can also email the Winnipeg SlutWalk team at email@example.com.
Published in Volume 67, Number 2 of The Uniter (September 12, 2012)