Heather Jarvis and Sonya Barnett are both co-founders of Slut Walk that caught plenty media attention in Toronto and now, around the globe. Speaking out against the perpetuated and maintained notion of blaming the victim, many people including the co-founders have set out to let you know who is actually at fault in a sexual assault... (psst... hint hint.. it's the perpetrator)... just in case you missed the memo.
I took it upon myself to use my blog, twitter, facebook and word of mouth to get some ideas, opinions and feedback about SlutWalk in Toronto. I was able to reach Sonya Barnett a couple of weeks ago and she was happy to provide answers to these questions of mine.
"Once the slut comment came out, it was the straw that broke the camel's back. We had to say something."
Me: It was reported in several new articles that Toronto Police are apparently trained on this issue of displacing blame on women in regards to sexual violence. In one article, it was noted by the representative/spokes person of Toronto Police that, "This is not how we train our officiers". I question, how do they train their police officers exactly?... What do you suggest for specifically Toronto Police to do following the incident at York U in January?
SB: We have not been given, nor have been able to find, any specific info on how training takes place. The only thing we have been able to see in any kind of depth is Beverly Bain's and Nora Currie's Sexual Assault Steering Committee's 2006 review of the training program. This outlines obvious problems in the force that still need to be addressed. Our first suggestion is for the Force to follow through on the SASC's recommendations as a start, and then move forward with providing community outreach programs, like PSAs, to help spread word that victim-blaming is not just an institutional problem, but a public one.
Me: I understand that you and Heather Jarvis are co-founders of Slut Walk. Can you give us a little background on what events or causes you both may have been involved it and what initially got the ball rolling on "Slut Walk" in Toronto aside from the incident at York U? (Personal choices perhaps?)
SB: Stories like the Judge Dewar case in Manitoba, and the gang-rape of an 11 year old in Texas, plus news that the US was working on removing funding from Women's health programs and redefining the word "rape"… these were all happening right before the York U incident, and we were reeling from it all. Once the slut comment came out, it was the straw that broke the camel's back. We had to say something.
Me: I would personally like to address that this kind if issue impacts sex trade workers and the lack of attention on homicide cases on this specific population due to their line of work. I would assume that Slut Walk dedicates some of their mission to sex trade workers as well, given that they are exposed to risks and dangers as any other woman walking down the street. What is your take on this?
SB: We are inclusive all of people that are affected by sexual violence. Sex trade workers certainly see a high volume of violent incidents, and it needs to be said that this group deserves just as many rights as anyone else. Whether they are in the trade by choice or by circumstance, their voices matter just as much.
Me: What criticisms have you faced with "Slut Walk" especially after April 3rd's event? Who (Public figures, other organizations, corporations etc) has supported you?
SB: We've been given our fair share of opposition. There are those that oppose our stance on reclamation of the word slut, saying that it should only ever be used as a pejorative; and there are those that still carry the archaic notion that a person invites violence by the way they dress. We have been very lucky that most of our opponents appear to be simply people who are sending hate messages from the comfort of anonymity through Facebook or email. Those who have been the most vocal are our supporters, and we are backed by university scholars around the world, by organizations like the White Ribbon Campaign, YWCA, many women's groups and shelters, LGBTQ groups, etc.
Me: Where do you hope Slut Walk is in the next 5 years?
SB: We've been very lucky to have people around the world pick up our cause, creating Satellite SlutWalks in their own cities; so we're creating a network of supporters that will help spread our message against victim-blaming. What happens in five years is a bit tough to consider, but with the strength of the building network, we hope to have formal programs in place in schools and public venues to teach against the stereotypes, and about use/abuse of language.
Me: Slut Walk has caught a lot of attention especially because it's called "SLUT walk". I read on your page on the origin of the word SLUT and its uses in pretty much everyday life. I agree that sexualized language infiltrates our daily lives. There are suggestions (The Daily Telegraph Article on "Teach Feminism in High School") that Feminism classes should be taught in high school. What is your take on this? Would this benefit our young teens as we teach them about body image, sexualized language, binary thinking etc.? Or do you think it's more than that?
SB: Considering that these ideas are learned/taught during adolescence, it's only fitting that feminism be taught at the same time. Feminism isn't only about teaching gender equalities, but it gives an understanding of where society is today, and how language, identity and sexuality play a large part in it all. Otherwise, feminism and any gender study get relegated to a choice in post-secondary education, when I do believe that a basis of its teachings should be mandatory in secondary school.
What is interesting is that Barnett voices that most people that speak out AGAINST them are mostly through anonymity of facebook or e-mail.
On April 4th, I posted about SlutWalk and received some interesting emails in response to my posting and to SlutWalk.
One email read, "... These women who were protesting, dressed like that... seemed like they just wanted some attention, and are basically begging for men to 'look' at them"...
Clearly, this person did NOT read my blog carefully and has not really grasped the basic lesson in this. How a woman dresses is not an invitation for sexual assault.
A few direct messages via Twitter, random emails to my blog email account generated a similar message and the emails were all signed off in initials or signed, "ANONYMOUS" (no need, I won't be googling you or anything).
It seems that everyone is a braveheart behind the PC huh?
Special thanks to Sonya Barnett and all those involved with SlutWalk for getting the word out there.
These are the kinds of issues you need to really think about before you open your mouth to pass judgement on those actively participating in making change.
These are the kinds of issues where, even if you were never sexually assaulted, were never the rapist, and were never to cross paths with those involved, it WILL impacted you one way or another.
To all the people that think, "this has nothing to do with me": Everyone has a mother, aunt, sister, girlfriend, ... a woman in their lives they love, adore and will defend right? If you don't care of how they feel, think of how you would feel sitting there, a victim of sexual assault, and you hear your own police department (you know... the ones that protect and serve) tell you, "If you want to be safe from sexual assault... Don't dress like a slut". Oh! Was it THAT simple? Who knew?
And keep in mind that only 10% of sexual assaults are reported. Keep in mind that 60% of sexual assault victims are under 18 years old. Keep in mind that since the age of 16, 51% of women have reported to have been sexually assaulted at least once.
Many of these victims endure the aftermaths of sexual assault without social support, policy change, family support etc.