Imagine that someone just sexually assaulted you. Maybe it was a stranger, or more likely, it was someone you thought you could trust. You turn to the police and to your family and friends for help, but something is wrong. They’re all of a sudden acting like assholes. Some of them go so far as to insist that you must have somehow brought it on yourself, that you could have done something to prevent this crime or that maybe, it wasn’t a crime at all.
Hopefully, if you’ve ever had to face sexual assault, you had many loving and supportive people to help you through it. Sadly, many women and men don’t only have to deal with having been sexually assaulted. They also get a dose of the douchebag phenomenon called “victim blaming.” Instead of being aghast at the behavior of the perpetrator, many jerks in our culture instead offer useless advice on how the rape could have been prevented, as if that were somehow possible.
The reason I’m calling this column “Everybody, don’t rape” is because it’s the only obvious advice that no one ever really seems to give. An article in USA Today, for example, boldly declares in its original headline “Women, don’t get wasted.” (for online version go here.) The author goes on to detail how parents should tell their daughters not to get drunk around the opposite sex because of its “sexual consequences.” She dismisses male responsibility in these encounters by saying that if you’re a parent of a girl, “you don’t want to be wondering who should take the blame after the fact.” Uhhh….what if you’re the parent of a boy who is accused of rape? If the article stopped at telling us all to be careful when we drink, it would be redundant and harmless. Of course we should be careful, men and women alike. But this article focuses its advice on how women’s parent’s can help their daughters prevent being raped, without doing something as simple as also addressing men’s parents about how to recognize and avoid sexual assault. Essentially, Naomi Schaefer Riley says nothing to help prevent rape, and instead opts to imply that not only are women to blame if they’re raped while drinking—their parents are also guilty for not having better prepared them for interactions with the opposite sex. Furthermore, by focusing on the supposed “sexual consequences” for women, she ignores the consequences of sexual misconduct for men. Consequences which the two Chicago police officers charged with raping a drunk woman while on duty could tell you all about if their lawyers let you near them.
The time for educating women about how to prevent rape, while not doing the same for men is over. That is what Slutwalk Chicago is here to declare on June 4. With international roots, the Slutwalk campaign is working to change the dialogue around rape from the victim blaming mantra of “don’t get raped” to a more effective and informational “don’t rape.” (And if you’re still looking for more reasons to go to Slutwalk, read up on how the House of Representatives is still working to redefine rape and create “rape audits” despite public outcry.) I recently had an epic interview with Slutwalk Chicago’s Guerilla Marketing Coordinator, Stephanie Lane Sutton, who is in charge of spreading Slutwalk’s message via the arts.
Gozamos: I wanted to ask, basically for people who don’t know what Slutwalk is, could you describe Slutwalk and the event?
Stephanie Lane Sutton: So Slutwalk started in Toronto. I want to make sure I get this right because there’s so much confusion about what Slutwalk actually is and why we use the word “slut.” Slutwalk started in Toronto in response to what a police officer said at a campus safety session to a woman who asked how can I best protect myself against getting raped and he said that the best way was to “not dress like a slut.” Um, so, there were tons of other things that he could have said that would have fit into the ideal we’re trying to oppose like “don’t walk alone at night,” “don’t take drinks from strangers.” Stuff like that.
Yeah, like pretty obvious stuff…
Yeah, and that stuff doesn’t actually apply to most rape cases. But the fact that he said that shows how radical police abuse of authority can be in these situations. So that started Slutwalk. And it wasn’t a campaign for women to be free for one day to dress however they want and not get raped. It wasn’t anything like that. It was more like “I’m going to come out because I’m a victim or someone I love is a survivor and I’m going to protest against this idea that they somehow had any responsibility in their attack.” So that’s what I think it’s really, really about.
Like you said, there was a lot of confusion about why the word ‘slut’ was being used. So where do you think that’s coming from?
Well, it’s um, it is problematic when you get into issues like “reclaiming words.” You understand that words have connotations that change over time. And some people find that problematic and some people don’t. It’s just a natural thing that happens to words in our culture. I think the reason the term “Slutwalk” was used is more just to oppose the notion of what it means to be a slut. A lot of people, I don’t understand how they think this if they do any research, a lot of people think it’s just a bunch of women who are dressed really sexy or whatever, but it’s not. If you actually look at pictures from the event, there are a lot of people wearing clothing from head to foot or people just dressed however they would normally dress to any protest. I don’t know if it’s really a central ambition of Slutwalk as a whole to reclaim the word. I don’t know if one protest can do that. It’s more something that happens over time. It might be the first step in that direction, but it’s more about calling attention to behavior and ideals in our culture.
One of my interpretations and I wanted to have a dialogue with you about it, but when I first heard about Slutwak, and you know, the police officer having used the term “slut” and having that become the name for the movement, I saw that as maybe an effort by women to shame the officer and shame the misogynistic culture that uses that word as a label against us, kinda like well, that’s what you think of us and we’re gonna make sure everyone knows it. Do you think that element is there?
I think it’s definitely there. I don’t know if Slutwalk is really trying to shame anyone, I don’t think that’s the right word. It’s more about empowerment, but it’s definitely about calling people out and saying “Hey, guess what? The way that you view women is sexist. I know you think it’s socially acceptable, and I know all your friends maybe use this word, but it’s actually really damaging and it’s part of this larger attitude that oppresses women.” And obviously not all victims of rape are women either, but the vast majority of perpetrators of rape are male.
So what kinds of behaviors do you think need to be called out through this protest, through our everyday actions?
Well, I think one of the most important things to do is to point out to men how their behavior can be damaging to women. It’s not like I think every man is a rapist or every man is sexist or anything like that. But when it comes to instances of assault that I’ve experienced or others have shared with me, it always seems to fall into this gray area for both people where it’s like the man didn’t necessarily realize that what he was doing was wrong either because he felt he had that power or something like that…I think a lot of men don’t recognize signs of non-consent or the inability to consent. I think drinking has a lot to do with that and you hear “Yeah, I was drunk, she was drunk. We didn’t really know. I didn’t realize what I was doing was wrong.” Sometimes you need to ask someone “Do you want to have sex?” and if you don’t think that they are in a state of mind to know what they’re doing or give an answer, then you shouldn’t have sex.
Men tend to think that if a woman is dressed a certain way then she wants sex, which isn’t true. A lot of times I’ll be dressed in a way that I think is normal and for instance, some guy made a comment to me that he could see a lot of my boobs and obviously I wasn’t really a Christian girl. And I was like, okay, well, I kinda just have big boobs that I can’t always hide away from view in every outfit that I wear. That doesn’t mean that I am looking to get laid tonight or anything….It’s not “Hey, I’m wearing this outfit, so fuck me.”
So you think that part of the problem is a lack of education about consent?
Well yeah, going back to where the term Slutwalk originated from, there’s a lot of education that goes on for women about how to prevent themselves from being assaulted and a lot of those pointers are moot when it comes to being assaulted by someone you’re friends with or know. I think what’s more important is to start educating men the proper way to treat women in schools and in sex education.…It’s just something that needs to be more present in our culture and that’s ultimately what Slutwalk is trying to do. And obviously that’s just a first step in preventing and ending rape ultimately which is what we all want, but I think it’s a big first step to make and that’s why I’m doing it.
From research I’ve done on rape, I find that it’s not just these same excuses that are used to perpetrate rape, it’s also these same excuses that make it harder to prosecute rape. So can you talk a little about that?
That’s a bit of a gray area for me because I’m kind of like in a weird place with pressing charges against my own assailant, I guess. I think there are a lot of reasons why a woman would choose not to prosecute her perpetrator. And I think most women don’t because in just the short time that I went to the hospital and did a rape kit and called the police, in just the span of a few days, I faced so much attitude from people who worked at the hospital, the detectives I talked to, who were questioning whether or not my experience was legitimate. And I know that’s something that one of the women I’m working with, faced a lot when she was thirteen, and obviously, a thirteen year old has no part in their being raped, but police just weren’t cooperative, they weren’t understanding, and rape happens way too often, for there not to be consequences immediately. It’s ridiculous that we have to wait months and months for test results that only take a couple of days to come through. The fact that some women have to wait years just for their assailant to go to trial, in that span of time they could have done any number of harmful things, raped more people, it could have been someone she has to interact with often at work or something, like that. There’s just really not enough response on the legal, legislative level and not enough support for people who are victimized. I mean, the thing is, there are a lot of people who say yeah, that’s wrong, that’s not cool, but we need the police, the judges, the people who work in hospitals, the people who are dealing with these victims and their fates to get more behind that.
Do you think that sometimes when people engage in victim blaming, they’re trying to convince themselves that if they behave in a certain way, they won’t be attacked?
I think it has more to do with the fact that a lot of people don’t want to believe that the perpetrator could have done such a thing. That or like having some prejudgments of the person that was raped, like if they’re sexually active and they don’t approve of their lifestyle, they’ll be like “Well, maybe you shouldn’t get drunk and sleep with people then.” They don’t recognize the difference right away.
So in a perfect world, what would you want the result to be for this first protest?
I guess I would like it if people could respond to victims with empathy instead of an attitude, like “Oh, yeah, well. Maybe if you had done this, it wouldn’t have happened…You did something wrong.” I want people to stop blaming victims for what happened to them. I think we’re taking a big first step toward achieving this and people are starting to realize that things that they had done or said were fundamentally wrong.
(Keep an eye out for Stephanie Lane Sutton’s guerilla poetry actions throughout Chicago meant to keep us Slutwalking for our rights long after we’ve taken over the city. I’ll be there too and lemme just say, if you like this column, you’ll LOVE my filthy, filthy poetry.)