By Shannon Clarke
Photos by Shannon Clarke
They came in jeans, ripped stockings, hoodies, leopard print skirts and skin-tight dresses. They brought their children, mothers, partners, friends and baby bumps.
Most importantly, they brought their voices.
Hundreds of women and their male allies gathered at Queen’s Park for SlutWalk Toronto on April 4. The march, starting at the Legislative building and ending at Toronto Police Headquarters on College Street, was in overwhelming response to the victim blaming that so often greets women who report rapes to law enforcement.
At a safety information session at Osgoode Hall in January, Const. Michael Sanguinetti offered a tip to women everywhere: don’t want to get raped? Don’t dress like a slut. Those in attendance were shocked at the “advice” and the story was soon storming the feminist blogosphere and newspapers across the country.
The fact that it came from a police officer was bad enough. Worse than Sanguietti’s comment is that it wasn’t the first time women have heard that it was their fault: after two students were raped in their dorms at York University in 2007 their rapist, Daniel Katsnelson, said they should have locked their doors. When photos of a Vancouver teen being gang raped at a rave last September began circulating online, teens were apathetic in their comments. She was apparently “asking for it”.
Sexual assault is one of the most underreported crimes in Canada and, according to Statistics Canada, the reports are declining. Less than one in ten sexual assaults is reported to police.
“Whatever we wear, wherever we go, violence and rape have got to go!” volunteers screamed into the microphone, urging the crowd to join in.
“We are here to call foul on our protective services who, instead of making us feel safe, make us second guess whether we should call upon them at all in our time of need,” said co-founder Sonya JF Barnett.
And why SlutWalk?
“Because we are proud of sexuality and it is by no means an invitation for violence.”
Some protestors donned short skirts, low cut shirts and lingerie in defiance. Prepared signs were snatched up from the grass as the crowd grew. Others brought their own. With messages like “A Dress is not a Yes” and “My friend was raped while wearing a snowsuit”, they loudly disputed the common myth that a tight shirt and too much leg (or chest) sends men into an uncontrollable frenzy and women should know better than to make themselves so sexually appealing.
The comments from passersby’s, caught in the commotion were almost as telling as the signs. An onlooker watched with his friends on the sidewalk separating the demonstrators from police property surveying a group of girls clad in jeans and spring jackets.
“I thought there would be way sluttier girls here,” he said.
One in four of them will experience sexual assault anyway, most likely by someone they know.
Among the crowd were Sierra Harris and Magdalena Ivaseko, students from the University of Guelph. U of G organized a bus to bring students to Toronto and back for the march.
“We’re here today to say it doesn’t matter what you wear,” said Harris, who read about Const. Sanguinetti’s comment in the campus newspaper, the Ontarion.
“I’m wearing a white thong and black tights!” said Ivaseko. “No means no and yes means yes.”
The tips start at puberty, the minute you’re no longer under the eagle eye of your parents, and continue on until most women can recite a long list of safety rules: don’t wear shorts, skirts, or cleavage-bearing tops (but, you know, look hot).
Don’t look down when you walk. First dates must always be in brightly lit, public places and make sure someone is on standby. Beware of subway gropers. Don’t leave your drink unattended. Don’t drink at all.
Break any of these rules and your safety is no longer guaranteed.
Dark alleys, wooded areas, seedy downtown streets at midnight: rapists lurk there. The slight tensing of the shoulders and hyper vigilance when a woman passes a strange man on an empty street stems from the belief that rape can be prevented if you just pay attention, avoid unsafe situations and be as inconspicuous as possible.
“(Victim blaming) creates a false sense of security,” writes Megan Seely, feminist and author of Fight Like a Girl: How to be a Fearless Feminist “Often it is believed that if a specific behaviour or behaviours can be identified then we can ensure our own safety.”
And the safety of our mothers, sisters, daughters and friends.
Except for the yellow jacketed, bicycle escorts who surrounded protestors as they gathered at Queen’s Park, marched down College St. and descended on Toronto Police Headquarters, Toronto police did not acknowledge the crowd. Following Const.
Sanguinetti’s comment (he has since apologized), representatives for Toronto Police were quick to ensure his views did not reflect the entire police force.
Similar walks are scheduled in Ottawa and London, Ontario next week.