“SlutWalk Philadelphia” Grows Up

The idea of the original “SlutWalk” came up in 2011, when Toronto police constable Michael Sanguinetti discussed campus rape at a forum at York University and remarked, “I’ve been told I’m not supposed to say this, however, women should avoid dressing like sluts in order not to be victimized.”

The lead organizer of the march, Christie Eastburn, said that “the ignorance of one police officer ignited people across the globe into action. The suggestion that women can avoid rape by dressing conservatively was something that people were tired of hearing, and we decided this antiquated belief needed to end.”

Eastburn said that the purpose of the march was “to give support to survivors of rape, and also to educate the community and to raise awareness about the issue of rape culture”:

There are many different things in society that basically give people the idea that sometimes rape is okay, that it is condoned, or that victims are blamed when something happens to them.

On September 27, the march took place in Philadelphia under a new name: “The March to End Rape Culture.” Eastburn said that since the first Slutwalk, “groups of people let it be known that the word ’slut’ was not something they felt they could reclaim”

Some African-American women felt they were not in the position to reclaim the word ’slut’ because of the unique construction of the sexualities of African-American women in America, and the different associations that [the word] has for them. Some groups didn’t identify with the word, others found it triggering.

The first speaker at this march was the chair of the Philadelphia branch of the group Promoting Awareness Victim Empowerment (PAVE), Preeti Pathak who gave these statistics:

  • one in four girls, and one in six boys, will be sexually assaulted by the age of eighteen…
  • every two minutes, someone in the U.S. in sexually assaulted…
  • seventeen percent of men, and twenty-five percent of women, are or will be victims of sexual assault in their lifetime…
  • ninety percent of young women involved in prostitution were victims of sexual abuse as children…
  • only five to twenty percent of sexual assaults are actually reported by girls and women…
  • an even smaller percentage of male survivors report [being raped]…
  • one in twelve college age men admit having fulfilled the prevailing definition of rape or attempted rape, yet virtually none of these men identify themselves as rapists.

The Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network (RAINN) says that 17.6% of women and only 3% of men are victims of sexual assaults, and that 40% of rapes get reported to the police. However, RAINN agrees with Pethak’s other claims.

Pathak defined a rape culture as “a culture in which sexual violence is accepted as part of everyday life,” which include such things as “rape jokes, slut shaming, victim blaming, sex negativity, trans-phobia, homophobia, sexism, racism, and silence.”

Pathek added that “male allies and male survivors stand alongside women and shatter the silence. Gender-based violence is not just a women’s issue anymore, but a human-rights issue.”

An activist for LGBT youth of color, Qui Alexander, referred to the assault on two gay men in Rittenhouse Square earlier in the month, and the push for hate-crime legislation to combat assaults on LGBT people:

Violence against trans-women of color, and gender non-conforming people of color, is normalized in our society, particularly around trans-women of color, particularly around sexual assault, in this way where people talk about it to each other saying, ‘Hey, you have to protect yourself because this will happen.’

A survivor of child molestation and rape and founder of Just Be Inc., a group dedicated to the well-being of you women of color, Tarana Burke, spoke about the importance of support groups for victims:

I was introduced to the word ‘survivor’ during a meeting of activist women in California in the late nineties. It was on that trip that I also met more than one women who had the same experiences that I had, or worse. It was the first time in my life that I did not feel completely alone in the small world of ‘victim’ that I created for myself. The realization that I wasn’t alone changed my life.

The magic of what happened to me in California wasn’t just in meeting those women, it was being able to share my experiences with other women who didn’t look at me with pity or sympathy, but with genuine empathy that created authentic connections that crossed social, economic, and racial lines.

There weren’t deep conversations about reproductive rights or restorative justice, there was no mention of rape culture at all. It was just me taking a chance and sharing a part of myself that I have successfully compartmentalized and kept under wraps for a very long time, with women who have carved out a safe and protected space for me to share. The outpouring of empathy was so simple that I almost missed it.

Last Tuesday, the Pennsylvania House voted 195-0 and passed the bill known as the Sexual Assault Forensic Evidence Registry in PA (SAFER PA).

The bill, introduced by state Representative Brendan F. Boyle (D-Philadelphia/Montgomery), will require timely testing of DNA evidence kits, and that backlogged and untested evidence be reported to the state. The legislation also requires that victims or surviving family be notified when DNA testing has been completed.

Boyle praised the legislature after the bill’s passage:

Nationwide, there are at least 400,000 backlogged and untested rape-kits of which we know. Many states, including Pennsylvania, have no reporting requirements, meaning the true extent of this backlog is unknown. Every untested kit represents a horrible injustice to the victim; a victim who may be lacking the closure that would come with solving their case. Passing my legislation today represents a big step toward bringing justice and closure to victims of sexual assault.