slutwalk toronto a success, the struggle the continues

This past weekend in Toronto, more than 1,000 people participated in SlutWalk Toronto, a public demonstration to assert women's rights to dress and act as they wish, without fear of sexual violence, and to assert that how a woman dresses is not the cause of sexual violence.

SlutWalk was inspired by a recent incident at York University: at a forum on campus safety, a police officer remarked that women should not "dress like sluts" in order to not be victimized. For more on SlutWalk, its origins and its goals, please visit the SlutWalk Toronto website.

The officer later apologized, but like most public statements that require apologies, the initial statement was revelatory. It offered more proof of something we already know: that many people still subscribe to antiquated myths and stereotypes about sexual assault, and beliefs about sexual assault are still used to attempt to control women's behaviour. The officer's remark made it clear (yet again) that the people who are supposed to be protecting the public are often doing just the opposite.

Thus, SlutWalk was born. Sonya Barnett, an organizer of SlutWalk, is quoted on blogTO:
As the city's major protective service, the Toronto Police have perpetuated the myth and stereotype of 'the slut', and in doing so have failed us.... Being assaulted isn't about what you wear; it's not even about sex; but using a pejorative term to rationalize inexcusable behaviour creates an environment in which it's okay to blame the victim."
The blogTO interview with Barnett about the origins of SlutWalk is very good.

In many ways, the police in most North American and European cities have come a very long way from the bad old days when women were routinely blamed for having been raped, then forced to endure the "second rape" by the judicial system. Laws have changed, prosecution has changed, and many, many police and juries have changed, too.

This change didn't happen through some natural evolutionary process. Police, prosecutors and judges didn't wake up one day and decide rape was the fault of rapists, not their victims. It is the hard-won product of decades of feminist activism.

But most often, such progress applies only to women considered "good victims" - white, middle class, behaving in socially sanctioned ways - and in stranger assaults (that is, where the victim doesn't know her assailant). Women of colour, low-income women, women from marginalized communities (sex workers, drug addicts, trans women), and almost all men, can still expect police to treat them like trash, and so, rarely report sexual assault.

In assaults where the victim knows her or his assailant, of if the victim and assailant have had prior consensual sex, it's still very tough going for almost anyone. The old standby applies: we've come a long way, and we have a long way to go.

Good coverage and pics from SlutWalk Toronto are here. Worth reading if you can avoid comments.

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