The international event SlutWalk comes to Philly, as participants protest against sexual assault, rape and victim blaming.
On Aug. 6, hundreds of men and women of all shapes, sizes and walks of life filled the streets of Philadelphia in protest for Philly’s first “SlutWalk.” The protesters marched from 11th and Pine streets to City Hall, where a rally was held.
“It’s a much needed movement,” said Hannah Altman, the 20-year-old executive organizer for SlutWalk Philadelphia.
The movement began after a Toronto police officer, Constable Michael Sanquinetti, told a group of York University students that “Women should avoid dressing like sluts in order to not be victimized,” during a lecture on the dangers and prevention of rape.
On April 3, more than 3,000 people marched the streets of Toronto in response to Sanquinetti’s statement. Some wore everyday clothes, while others dressed provocatively to protest not only his comment, but also the tendancy to blame sexual-assault victims.
“Yes, the tragic cop was one person who said this, but it’s the mentality that someone brings to so many different people,” Altman said. “It’s the straw that broke the camel’s back.”
“I think it’s a fantastic thing to take this, to see this spur from one incident,” Altman added. “Because it just goes to show that it’s not just that one incident. It’s not just that one person. It’s a much needed movement.”
Activists and professors from the area spoke at the rally, including community health educator Qui Alexander, award-winning documentary filmmaker Aishah Shahidah, author and assistant professor of women’s and gender studies at Dickinson College Stephanie Gilmore and Senator Daylin Leach (D-Pa.). Temple alumnus Jake Marcus MC’d the event.
“I think it’s a very important public step to addressing this and to confronting the reality of rape and sexual violence, as it takes place on college campuses, but also as it takes place in any community anywhere,” said Gilmore, a feminist activist who has explored the disappearance of rape in public media in her recent work.
“As long as we continue to focus on teaching women not to get raped, we’re not addressing the problem,” Gilmore added. “Women are not the problem here.”
SlutWalk does not require participants to dress provocatively, but still, many made the walk from Kahn Park to City Hall wearing revealing clothing, trekking in very high heels and carrying signs with phrases such as, “Don’t tell me how to dress, tell them not to rape,” “My dress might have you hot & bothered, but that doesn’t mean you can rape me,” and “If my outfit was an invitation I’d be wearing an envelope.”
“I think a lot of people don’t really truly comprehend that a woman really shouldn’t be blamed for either what happened to her in regards to rape, sexual assault, things like that, based on what she wears,” said Victor Vunn, a protestor at SlutWalk. “I think it’s a cop out. And I think this event can bring awareness to that.”
According to the legal council for SlutWalk, the city was not cooperative in the beginning stages of event planning. Originally, it wanted the organizers to get a parade permit as opposed to a demonstration permit. A parade permit is often much more difficult and expensive to get.
Organizers also ran into trouble with the insurance company that the city told them to go through – they only insured county fairs and rodeos. SlutWalk had to bypass the city and go directly through an insurance company in order for it to go through.
As SlutWalk Philadelphia was going on, there were SlutWalks being held at the same time in both San Francisco, California and Helsinki, Finland. Since SlutWalk began in April, there have been more than 80 SlutWalks worldwide on every continent. There are also SlutWalks scheduled into next year.
“I think that it touched a nerve,” said Jake Marcus, legal counsel for SlutWalk Philadelphia.
Marcus said that while there have been protest movements such as “Take Back the Night” on college campuses for some time, there has been a need for a large-scale protest against victim blaming.
“I think that in all communities of women, this history of blaming women for being attacked is long and deeply entrenched,” he added. “[A large-scale protest is] really the only way you can create a movement this big, this fast.”
Bob Kaplan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.