The concept of SlutWalk was spawned in early 2011 when a representative of the Toronto Police said “women should avoid dressing like sluts in order not to be victimized” to a group of college students at York University.
Though SlutWalk began over a comment about dress, and features many provocatively-dressed demonstrators, the resultant uprooted emotions awakened a population that has much more on their minds than rape, victim-blaming or even “improper” attire.
Anastasia Krylov, a sex worker and feminist, is one such person. In her speech to SlutWalkers before their march, she argued that “every single woman experiences sexual assault.”
Krylov recounted an experience where she was sexually violated at the age of 14 by a male friend. She said because she was half-asleep at the time and, “wanting to avoid confrontation,” she rolled over, crossed her legs and went back to sleep.
Krylov explained she brushed the incident off because she had become desensitized to sexual assault through numerous, and seemingly, insignificant experiences.
“I came to the conclusion that I’ve been sexually assaulted so many times, just through the course of my day-to-day life, that kind of thing didn’t even register as a violation,” she said. “It was just another douche bag in a long list of people: the girls who grabbed my tits to see if they were real, the guys who pulled up my skirt when I was in school, the guys that slapped my ass at the bus stop or groped me at dance clubs. These are things that happen to us, almost daily, that we just accept as part of the landscape of being a woman.”
Krylov said because women’s bodies are “still public property” by many people’s standards, sexually aggressive behavior is viewed as a minor faux pas and brushed off.
“We are told that ‘It’s just a catcall,’ ‘It’s just a grope,’ ‘It’s just being followed,’ ‘It’s just threats. You are not actually being raped, are you?’ she said. “But these are all tiny little violations. They are a flagrant disregard of boundaries and bodily autonomy. They are tiny little blows that remind us, day after day, that our bodies are public property, that our sexuality is for sale to the highest bidder, to the person who is the strongest, most persistent and to the person who wants it.”
But SlutWalk is also about defying stereotypes, and women are not the only victims of sexual assault. James Michael Hornik, a gay man, can attest to that.
Hornik, who arrived late and missed his opportunity to speak, told us that he was raped one night while staying in a hostel in Hollywood where he shared a room with another man. He had taken his sleep medication to ensure a good night’s rest, but when he awoke, he discovered he had been violated and the roommate was gone.
Hornik said after calling 911, he waited three hours for police to show up. While waiting, the front desk clerk told him he could take the roommates luggage, who had not paid for the room and abandoned his belongings.
But things went from bad to worse when the police arrived. Hornik said the police officer told the rookie whom he was training, “Oh, another gay domestic dispute.”
“I started to re-explain what happened and the guy said, ‘Look, it’s obviously consensual sex. You chose to get a room with this guy. What happened, happened,’” he said.
Hornik tried to explain the difference between a hotel and hostel to the cop, that in a hostel, which have multiple beds per room, one does not choose their roommates.
“I got into an argument with the officer and he flat out told me that ‘a gay men can’t be raped,’” he said.
After ignoring Hornik’s claim of rape, police arrested him for allegedly stealing the roommates belongings.
“They took me to jail … for felony theft, even though I was given permission to take [the luggage] and called 911,” he said. “The cop would not check with the front desk to verify my story, he wouldn’t check with dispatch to verify the 911 call and he wouldn’t call his supervisor to get the Sexual Assault Response Team to come over.”
Hornik beat the theft charges and is now suing the Los Angeles Police Department.
“I have a right to proper medical care,” he said. “I’d been raped and I demanded a rape kit. They wouldn’t give me one.”
Though Hornik called 911 after being raped, others don’t find sexual assault easy to talk about, much less report it to the authorities.
Jhoana Salazar spoke to SlutWalkers about feelings of shame and some of the difficulties a victim may have in coming forward, discussing the assault and facing their attacker.
Salazar said she had been molested at six years of age by her stepfather, who had told her not to talk about what happened under threat of him doing harm to her family. She said she kept quiet about the incident, internalized it and began to think she had somehow caused the molestation.
“About a year later, they came to talk to us in school about sexual abuse and it kind of opened up my eyes that I needed to say something,” she said.
As a result, Salazar was eventually taken to a foster home.
“I felt the blame for years knowing that my brothers and my sister … could not be with my mom,” she said. “I think the worst part about it is that my family didn’t quite believe me. They were like, ‘Are you sure it happened to you? You weren’t dreaming it?’
Eventually Salazar began to feel that constantly hiding herself was no way to live. She said began to lose her fear and began to “speak for what is right.”
“For me, this is such an epic moment, because in Hispanic families, in our culture, what you do is stay quiet,” she said. “You don’t talk about it [because] you bring shame to the family.”
The SlutWalk event also featured a self-defense class for women only, men in attendance instead listened to a music performance. The class was sponsored by Shield, a group that teaches women in “close-range combat, to be efficient in tight quarters under adrenaline stress conditions,” according to a pamphlet printed by the group.
Though SlutWalk deals with a very serious topic, that did not stop the injection of a little humor.
Stand-up comedian Lucé Tomlin-Brenner was the last to speak. She recounted two experiences in her life: one in which she was called a slut and one in which she was called a tease while heading to work.
“Am I a slut? A tease? I don’t know. There are benefits to both, right?” she said to the audience. “Maybe I just need to talk to a specialist or a sex therapist. Someone that I can feel comfortable asking ‘Am I fucking people too little or too much on my way to and from work?”
With humor, Tomlin-Brenner challenged the societal habit of calling women “sluts” for enjoying sex, which she said lacked a “reliable barometer” for determining who should be assigned the sexual term.
“There is no good scientific method to figuring out [who is a slut], which is bullshit,” she said. “We do have a process for knowing how many licks it takes to get to the center of a Tootsie Pop, but we don’t know how many fucks it takes to get to a slut.”
Posted: Thursday, 9 August 2012[To read last year’s coverage of SlutWalk, click here.]