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How Many “Sluts” Does It Take to End Violence Against Women?

I admit – I am unsure about SlutWalk.

More accurately, I am unsure about calling it SlutWalk. When I refer to SlutWalk, I’m not talking about some particular way of walking that young girls try to master so that they look cool, yet indifferent when walking back and forth in the gym during the Jr. High School dance. I’m talking about the awareness walks that have been organized. SlutWalk Philadelphia just took place on Saturday, August 6.

So SlutWalk began when a misguided Toronto cop told students at a crime-prevention talk that “Women should avoid dressing like sluts in order to not be victimized.” Now, I’m fairly certain that cops are learning in Victim 101 that you should never say things like that (or let on that you are thinking them). I won’t harp on the point because said misguided cop did apologize.

My personal challenge with SlutWalk was the dressing up. In theory, protesters participating in the walk would come dressed as sluts. According to Dictionary.com, “slut” is defined as a dirty, slovenly woman or an immoral or dissolute woman; prostitute. Now, I’ve already confessed to remembering the days of junior high. I can remember the scathing ways that kids referred to other kids and that it included using the word slut. As older, wiser, and kinder adults, are we really using slut to describe how people are dressed. And, if we are standing up to protest sexual violence, should we dress up like “sluts?” Might that then confirm that someone could be accurate in their visual assessment of me when they say I look slutty?

All personal challenges aside, I get the point. So I give three cheers to the 500 protesters who participated in SlutWalk Philadelphia. It is enough of this victim-blaming nonsense. If we could define what dressing in a manner inviting of rape actually looks like, we would ultimately have to acknowledge the ridiculousness of the whole thing because most rape victims are not dressed that way.

I realized that I am partial to a position because I work for A Woman’s Place, the only domestic violence organization in Bucks County, Pa. One in four women will be a victim of domestic violence in her lifetime. One in four women will be sexually assaulted. Yet we still focus on what they are wearing, what they said, how they said it, whether or not they met the expectations of their husband/boyfriend, their level of self-esteem, and the like. Point is – NOT THEIR FAULT. At the risk of offering a strong opinion (shocking, I know) the behavior is criminal, and not on the part of the victim.

We love to read the history books or even modern-day news from other parts of the world and express our shock and disbelief at how women are treated. Honor killings and the like stun and appall us. Dare I suggest that maybe we should be similarly distraught by how we treat victims of crime here in our backyards? Sexual assault survivor Beatrice Culbertson bravely shared her story in Lansdale, Pa.’s newspaper, The Reporter. Culbertson, a high school student, was raped by two male “friends.” And then, as if the attack was not horrible enough, she walked back into the halls of her school to face a student body that taunted and ostracized her. They posted obscene and threatening comments about her on Facebook and started a fan page for her attackers. Shared Culbertson, “Now I hang my head when in public, just because I did the right thing.” She stood up and told the truth – did the right thing – and was further victimized. Why aren’t we more appalled by that?

According to Stu Bykofsky’s article about SlutWalk Philadelphia on Philly.com entitled “More message than skin revealed at SlutWalk,” very few of the 500 protesters dressed up. Dressed up or not, thank you for standing up for my right to not be raped. I offer a special thank you to the older woman at the rally that Bykofsky wrote about. She was there with her guide dog and held a sign that read, “I was wearing jeans and it was not my fault.” And another special thank you to young Beatrice Culbertson. I hope that you soon feel strong enough to hold your head up again in public because you did do the right thing.

Allow me to take a moment to do some quick math. I have 349 friends on Facebook. This is modest compared to countless others (Really? Thousands of friends??). Now, they aren’t all women, but for the purpose of the exercise let’s pretend that they are. 349 friends + 1 (me) is 350 people. 1 in 4 of us will be victims. 87.5 of us will be victimized in our lifetime. 87.5. That makes me sick.

At A Woman’s Place we are celebrating our 35th anniversary. As part of that celebration, we are inviting people to add their name to a Declaration of Peace and Safety. We are inviting people to declare that “we hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men and women are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness; that to secure these rights governments are instituted deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.” We are inviting people to pledge their commitment to a society in which all individuals are safe and have the space to thrive and develop to their full potential. We are inviting people to join our Declaration of Peace and Safety.

Thank you, to all of you who stand up and declare our shared right to be safe.

Ifeoma Aduba, AWP Associate Director

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