Hundreds March Against Sexual Assault In 'SlutWalk'

Jun 20, 2011
Originally published on June 20, 2011 6:07 pm

This spring and summer, scantily-clad women, and some men, are taking to the streets in what are called "SlutWalks." They say they're protesting a culture in which the victim of a sexual assault is blamed, rather than the perpetrator.

Hundreds of women in skimpy outfits — plunging necklines and the shortest of shorts — disregarded the overcast 60-degree weather and marched down the streets of Seattle's Capitol Hill neighborhood last weekend.

Protester Monica Thomas explained why she came out for the walk.

"I don't believe that how a woman dresses dictates whether or not a woman wants to be raped. No one wants to be raped. And no one deserves to be treated like that," she said.

SlutWalks began in April when a Toronto police officer suggested women should "avoid dressing like sluts in order to not be victimized." He was talking to a small group of law students, but that comment incited an international movement. So far, thousands of protesters have participated in demonstrations in Ottawa, Dallas, Boston, London and several other cities.

From afar, the protest could be mistaken for a Mardi Gras celebration, but behind the garter belts and bustiers are stories like Jessi Murray's.

"I was a nerd. Never been kissed," she said.

Murray is one of the organizers of the Seattle SlutWalk. She says on her 18th birthday, she visited MIT as an accepted student.

"I had recently lost some weight. ... I wasn't used to the idea of guys being into me. And it happened that I was assaulted that night. And I ended up blaming myself and I thought, 'I must be a slut,' " she said.

Murray says this march was for women like her, who were shamed into feeling responsible for their own abuse. She says it's about reclaiming the word "slut."

"Along the lines of how a guy might refer to himself like 'I'm a stud,' a woman never says she's a stud. But maybe, you know, 'I'm a slut.' ... For some people, it's a really uncomfortable term, and it's one we need to take the negative power away from," she said.

But there are some people who are a bit uneasy with some elements of the protest movement. Catherine Sharpe is one of many women at the rally who were uncomfortable with "I'm a Slut" protest signs and the general chest-beating on display.

"I still have mixed feelings about the way some people are dressing up. It seems like an excuse to just dress slutty and I don't know how I feel about that," she said.

She was dressed in a hoodie, jeans and sneakers. There was a topless 22-year-old in pasties nearby.

"But then again," Sharpe said, "I am kind of mad at myself for thinking that, because I really do think women should be able to wear whatever they want to, whenever they want to. And it's never an excuse for sexual assault or harassment."

In all, there are 81 SlutWalk chapters around the globe. Their Facebook pages are full of personal stories and encouragement. The next SlutWalk is scheduled for June 25 in Detroit.

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MICHELE NORRIS, Host:

This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Michele Norris.

ROBERT SIEGEL, Host:

For the view from Seattle, here's Vanessa Romo of member station KPLU.

VANESSA ROMO: Hundreds of women in skimpy outfits - we're talking plunging necklines and the shortest of shorts - disregarded the overcast, 60-degree weather and marched down the streets of Seattle's Capitol Hill neighborhood.

U: The outfit is a tiny, tiny bikini, string bikini.

U: A red dress that has an over black lace thing.

U: Hot pink leopard-print halter top, garters and...

U: Vinyl platform boots, a very small green micro mini, a leather belt with pockets, and a vinyl bikini top with a veil of glittery camouflage print.

ROMO: Protester Monica Thomas explained why she came out for the walk.

NORRIS: I don't believe that how a woman dresses dictates whether or not they want to be raped. No one wants to be raped. And no one deserves to be treated that way.

(SOUNDBITE OF PROTEST)

U: (Chanting) When people are raped, what do we do? Stand up, fight back.

ROMO: From afar, the protest could be mistaken for a Mardi Gras celebration. But behind the garter belts and bustiers are stories like Jessi Murray's

NORRIS: I was a nerd, never been kissed.

ROMO: Murray is one of the organizers of the Seattle Slut Walk. She says on her 18th birthday she visited MIT as an accepted student.

NORRIS: At that point, I had, you know, recently lost a lot of weight, was actually looking pretty cute, but I hadn't really been used to the idea of guys being into me. And it happened that I was assaulted that night. And I ended up blaming myself, and I thought I must be a slut.

ROMO: Murray says this march is for women like her, who were shamed into feeling responsible for their own abuse. And she says it's about reclaiming the word slut.

NORRIS: Along the lines of how a guy might refer to himself as a stud. A woman never says she's a stud. But maybe, you know, I'm a slut. And again, it's not - for some people it's a really uncomfortable term, but I think it's one we need to take the negative power away from.

NORRIS: I still have mixed feelings about the way some people are dressing up. And it seems like an excuse to just dress slutty.

ROMO: Catherine Sharpe is one many women at the rally who are uncomfortable with the I'm-a-slut protest signs and general chest-beating on display. She's dressed in a hoodie, jeans and sneakers. There's a topless 22-year-old in pasties nearby.

NORRIS: But then again, I am kind of mad at myself for thinking that because I really feel like women should be able to wear whatever they want to, whenever they want to. And it's never an excuse for sexual assault or harassment.

ROMO: For NPR News, I'm Vanessa Romo in Seattle. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.