We all repeat things we’ve heard. We may have grown up with these things; they may part of our culture or part of our community. We don’t necessarily question these things; we just accept them as true and repeat them as if they are self-evident and common knowledge. Described with different words, we could say that these things represent our traditions. Normally we consider traditions to be a good thing as when we say that someone is “traditional”, however are traditions always good? Do we need to re-examine our traditions and question whether they are good or bad? Just because this is “the way things are”, do they have to remain that way?
On January 24, 2011 in Toronto, Canada, the Osgoode Hall Law School held a campus safety information session at which members from York security and two male officers from Toronto police 31 Division handed out safety tips to community members. At one point, according to the story, Toronto Police Constable Michael Sanguinetti said, “You know, I think we’re beating around the bush here. I’ve been told I’m not supposed to say this, however, women should avoid dressing like sluts in order not to be victimized.”
Ronda Bessner, Osgoode assistant dean of the Juris Doctor Program, who was at the meeting and heard these remarks was quoted as saying she was shocked and appalled. She called the police service after the meeting to demand an apology and then followed up with a letter. Apparently Sanguinetti did write a letter of apology and admitted to being embarrassed by his poorly thought out comments. Whatever disciplinary actions he may have faced are not known, but the Toronto Police did publicly admit wrong-doing and added that their policy is to not blame the victim.
This incident was followed up by another similar case when a Judge Dewar in Winnipeg, Manitoba (see my blog Justice Robert Dewar: rape is inconsiderate) during a February case involving a man accused of rape, voiced a similar idea saying the woman in question was in part guilty because of her attire. Dewar commented that “sex was in the air” on the night of the alleged rape and the attacker may have had the wrong impression from the woman’s behaviour and dress. The defendant was found guilty but given probation. Normally, the sentence is at least three years in prison for such a crime. The judge said that the defendant was not threatening just “insensitive to the fact (she) was not a willing participant.” Subsequent to this, there were protests calling for the judge’s resignation.
Enough is enough. Two women in Toronto, Sonya Barnett and Heather Jarvis organised a protest march on April 3, 2011 with the message to reject the belief that female rape victims are asking for it. From their web site Slutwalk Toronto:
With sexual assault already a significantly under-reported crime, survivors have now been given even less of a reason to go to the Police, for fear that they could be blamed. 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.
Apparently over 3,000 people participated and judging by the list of other cities sponsoring similar events (see list of other walks), this has become something much bigger than a protest against a single Toronto Police constable. In fact, Wikipedia now has an article entitled “Slutwalk“.
Wikipedia describes the term as a pejorative term applied to an individual who is considered to have loose sexual morals or who is sexually promiscuous. The term is generally applied to women and was an insult or offensive term of disparagement, meaning “dirty or slovenly.”
Slutwalk Toronto says on their web site:
Historically, the term ‘slut’ has carried a predominantly negative connotation. Aimed at those who are sexually promiscuous, be it for work or pleasure, it has primarily been women who have suffered under the burden of this label. And whether dished out as a serious indictment of one’s character or merely as a flippant insult, the intent behind the word is always to wound, so we’re taking it back. “Slut” is being re-appropriated.
We are tired of being oppressed by slut-shaming; of being judged by our sexuality and feeling unsafe as a result. Being in charge of our sexual lives should not mean that we are opening ourselves to an expectation of violence, regardless if we participate in sex for pleasure or work. No one should equate enjoying sex with attracting sexual assault.
It is surprising even in this day and age to realise how much the “double standard” is still very much alive and well in our society. If a man is sexually active, he’s a man. If a woman is likewise, we look down on her in critical judgement. Why? What the heck?
From “Finally, A Feminism 101 Blog”, the article “FAQ: What is “slut-shaming”?“:
Slut-shaming, also known as slut-bashing, is the idea of shaming and/or attacking a woman or a girl for being sexual, having one or more sexual partners, acknowledging sexual feelings, and/or acting on sexual feelings. Furthermore, it’s “about the implication that if a woman has sex that traditional society disapproves of, she should feel guilty and inferior” (Alon Levy, Slut Shaming). It is damaging not only to the girls and women targeted, but to women in general and society as a whole. It should be noted that slut-shaming can occur even if the term “slut” itself is not used.
Women should avoid dressing like sluts? Just how prevalent is this idea? Toronto Police Constable Michael Sanguinetti actually said those words. Justine Robert Dewar of the Manitoba courts said the same thing in so many words. I’m sure if you stand around the water cooler with a bunch of guys that idea may crop more than anyone would care to admit. Judge Dewar commented during the rape case that “sex was in the air” and I wrote that “money is in the air” every time I buy a lottery ticket but that doesn’t mean I’m getting any.
Congratulations to Sonya Barnett and Heather Jarvis and their Slutwalk Toronto. Blaming the victim is wrong. Blaming the victim is shamefully overlooking what’s actually going on and who the guilty party is. Nobody wants to bring aggression upon themselves. We all have a right to be sexual and we all have a right to be free from violence.
Excalibur – Apr 3/2011
Don’t dress like a slut: Toronto cop
The co-founders of the walk, Sonya Barnett and Heather Jarvis, decided to use the word slut in their demonstration because it is the same word that was used by Sanguinetti to describe the attire of rape victims. The organization’s website states “historically, the term ‘slut’ has carried a predominantly negative connotation. Aimed at those who are sexually promiscuous, be it for work or pleasure, it has primarily been women who have suffered under the burden of this label. And whether dished out as a serious indictment of one’s character or merely as a flippant insult, the intent behind the word is always to wound, so we’re taking it back. “Slut” is being re-appropriated.” The organizers also write that women “are tired of being oppressed by slut-shaming; of being judged by our sexuality and feeling unsafe as a result. Being in charge of our sexual lives should not mean that we are opening ourselves to an expectation of violence, regardless if we participate in sex for pleasure or work. No one should equate enjoying sex with attracting sexual assault.”
Canada: London, ON; Sackville, NB; Ottawa; Vancouver; Waterloo, ON; Hamilton, ON; Yukon and NWT;etc.
USA: Florida, Arizona, North Carolina, Texas, New York, California, Maine, Illinois, etc.
International: Netherlands, Australia, Sweden, England, etc.
Facebook: Slutwalk Toronto
BBC – May 9/2011
SlutWalk march planned for London
A protest movement sparked by a Canadian police officer’s advice to women to “avoid dressing like sluts” is coming to England. The SlutWalk march in London, starting in Trafalgar Square, is being planned for 4 June. Thousands of people have taken part in such marches across the US and Canada. Organisers say the aim is to highlight a culture in which the victim, rather than rapist or abuser, is blamed.
Guardian – May 9/2011
SlutWalk event planned for Cardiff
A group of young women in Cardiff are planning an event which follows the craze of SlutWalks taking place across the globe. SlutWalking, designed to highlight the wrongful attribution of blame to rape victims based on their clothing, was triggered by inflammatory remarks made by a Toronto police officer three months ago. Michael Sanguineous sparked the phenomenon after comments made to a group of students at Osgoode Hall Law School during a talk on personal safety. Sanguinetti is purported to have said: “women should avoid dressing like sluts in order not to be victimised.” Now thousands of women worldwide are taking to the streets in organised walks to protest against a culture in which people believe victims of sexual assault are to blame.
The Washington Post – May 7/2011
Boston hosts latest ‘Slutwalk’ (video)
ABC News – April 23/2011
The Asheville Slutwalk (video)
Fox News – May 9/2011
‘Sluts’ Rally vs. Sexism (video)
Google video search: slutwalk
New Zealand Herald – May 8/2011
NZers plan to join ‘Slutwalk’ crusade
New York Daily News – May 6/2011
‘SlutWalks’ fight back against stigma surrounding sexual assault and rape victims
Facebook: Slutwalk Seattle
my blog: Sex: I’m a man and you’re a…
I’m a man and you’re a sl*t. There, I’ve said it. I know you don’t like it; I know you’re going to be angry with me but that is the truth. Yes? The fundamental reality we all live with can be expressed in these basest of terms: if a man sleeps around; he’s a man; if a woman sleeps around; she’s a sl*t. Why? That doesn’t seem at all fair, does it?
my blog: Justice Robert Dewar: rape is inconsiderate
The judge in the case is in hot water now over remarks he made during the sentencing of Kenneth Rhodes. Dewar made mention of the women wearing no bras (you don’t wear a bra with a tube top), of the women talking about going swimming even though they didn’t have bathing suits, of wearing high heels and having “plenty of makeup”. Judge Dewar described Rhodes as a “clumsy Don Juan” but said the circumstances were “inviting” and that “Sex was in the air.” He concluded by saying, “This is a case of misunderstanding signals and inconsiderate behaviour.”
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