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Walking the SlutWalk

Halifax SlutWalk rallies against rape and sexual assault 

Baring bellies in solidarity. Photo by Omar Bawhab.
Baring bellies in solidarity. Photo by Omar Bawhab.

‘Slutting your stuff’—the newest trend to protest victim-blaming in sexual assault cases. On Sept. 17 hundreds of Haligonians gathered to reclaim the word ‘slut’ for all of womankind in the first annual Halifax SlutWalk.

The campaign stemmed from a comment made in January 2011 during a crime prevention safety forum in Toronto, where Const. Michael Sanguinetti was quoted saying “Women should avoid dressing like sluts in order not to be victimized.”

SlutWalk has gone viral since the first event in April 2011, to become a global campaign reaching every continent (except Antarctica). There have been more than 80 SlutWalks worldwide to date.

“We are working to end the cultural practice that teaches individuals to take responsibility for sexual violence committed against them, as well as the belief that the perpetrators are provoked,” says Evette Awalt, head of the SlutWalk Halifax Organizing Board. “A person’s attire or activity is not provocation for sexual violence.”

Although attendees were encouraged to dress as provocatively as they like, many simply wore hoodies and jeans to protect themselves from the brisk wind. Others sported stilettos, ripped stockings and neon signs. One individual even marched around in her bra.

After an initial pep talk, the group marched down Sackville Street and looped back to Cornwallis Park, chanting phrases such as “Yes means yes,” “No means no” and “Our body, our choice.”

Included in the walk were two police officers who “weaved in and out of the crowd awkwardly,” according to Ray Boudreau, an NSCC first-year human services student.

Boudreau says it would have been “really nice” if the officers who rallied with the group made a statement, since a comment made by one of their own inspired the campaign. The Halifax Regional Police could not be reached for comment.

Others simply attended SlutWalk out of curiosity and were indifferent about who spoke. “I just got invited to the event on Facebook and thought it sounded really great,” said a third-year IDS major at Dal, Brody Rolston. “You know, just being part of a group working for change makes me feel empowered. I’m not wasting another Saturday watching reruns of Jersey Shore.”

Not only did the event serve to empower individuals, it shed some light on seriousness of the sexual assault issue in Nova Scotia. The HRP reported that at 40 attacks per 1000 people (2004), Nova Scotia is the province with the highest rate of sexual assaults per capita. There are about eight sexual assaults per day, but only one or two are reported. That’s an estimated 88 per cent of unreported attacks.

The message given by event organizers was clear: SlutWalk seeks to change these statistics through awareness and solidarity.

Despite this success, the event could have been more effective in delivering its message if the walk was longer, says Boudreau. “I would have liked a bit more publicity. It’s also pretty female-centric, which is a good and a bad thing,” she said. “Hopefully it builds in the future.”


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