While I was living in Toronto, the first SlutWalk happened. This was in response to a police officer in a safety information session at York University saying that women can keep safe by not dressing like a "slut":
“One of the safety tips was for women not to dress like ‘sluts.’ He said something like, ‘I’ve been told I shouldn’t say this,’ and then he uttered the words,” said Bessner, Osgoode assistant dean of the Juris Doctor Program. “I was shocked and appalled. I made contact with the police [...] and we’ve asked for a written apology and an explanation.”The problem with the police officer's line of thinking is that the main reason why rape happens because someone is willing to rape someone. There are certainly, as with other crimes, ways to protect yourself that are not unreasonable, and indeed most women are well aware of them, but the way you dress has very little to do with rape happening. I've been linking the Yes Means Yes blog post about Predator Theory about a million times now, and it's still true. The idea that what you wear could make, say, a man not being able to control himself is ludicrous; we don't have women being assaulted randomly on a crowded street, no matter what they wear, meaning that rapists can control themselves until they know there is less risk that they'll get caught - they are acting in a motivated and targeted manner, rape does not "just happen" based on the behaviour or dress of women. When it comes to assault rape, there is even more reason to think that the perpetrators are specifically motivated to rape someone if they get the opportunity. That means that you're dealing with people who will go after the "most vulnerable", and that being a relative term, means that someone can always be identified by a rapist as being such. To focus on what women wear or their behaviour is essentially to play a game of musical chairs and telling women to hope not to be the one left without a chair, instead of rejecting that idea and focus on perpetrators.
The police officer's comment was especially troubling since rape is a crime that is very underreported and that convictions are even more difficult to come by. By framing women's behaviour and dress as being an important point, the police are not actually helping women, but are blaming the survivors of rape for the harm they suffered and implicitly (or even explicitly) saying that certain women can't expect the full protection of law enforcement and that rape of certain women (insofar as the rape of them doesn't get punished) is tolerated. So the SlutWalk is, at its basic level, about telling law enforcement loudly and clearly to focus on perpetrators, and not be a moral tribunal against rape survivors.
In my next post I will write about the other important messages that I think SlutWalks have to communicate.