Changing the message from “don’t get raped” to “don’t rape” is at the heart of SlutWalk Minneapolis, an event that occurs next weekend, according to organizer Kimberia Sherva. On October 1, more than 600 people are expected to march across the Hennepin Avenue and Stone Arch bridges in solidarity against sexual violence, no matter what the victim happens to be wearing.
The Minneapolis event is one of dozens around the world, spurred on by an incident in Toronto, Canada where, on January 24, Constable Michael Sanguinetti said that “women should avoid dressing like sluts in order not to be victimized,” according to Wikipedia. The remarks spurred the first protest in Toronto, organized by Soyna Barnett and Heather Jarvis, and SlutWalks have since been seen around the world, including many in the United States, Canada, Europe, Australia, Latin America and more.
Last May, said Sherva, she saw an article about the original SlutWalk in Toronto on Facebook, “because that’s were see everything, right?” She thought the idea of the event was really bold and interesting, and checked out the organizers’ website to see which other cities were joining in. She found that Minneapolis wasn’t listed as hosting its own SlutWalk, and was shocked, especially since Minneapolis is known as such a progressive and open city.
She emailed the organizers and said that she would love to organize a SlutWalk here, and after agreeing to the criteria that the original organizers request for all SlutWalk satellites, she emailed them back with a resounding yes.
Sherva set up an email account, Twitter feed, Facebook page and event, and recruited her friends to help her organize. Originally, they planned to host the walk on August 6. They found out that was the same weekend as the Loring, Uptown and Powderhorn Art Fairs, which seemed like it would be a good weekend because there would be so many people in town. When they learned that it was also the opening weekend of the Fringe Festival, they decided to postpone to a later date, because they felt many people participating in the Fringe might be interested in supporting the walk. After some back and forth, the organizers settled on October 1.
Sherva says what really resonated with her about SlutWalk was the message to put an end to victim blaming and rape culture. “We’ve been socially conditioned, as one sociologist said — that society teaches ‘don’t get raped’ instead of ‘don’t rape,’” she said. “That turns a lightbulb in my head. They offer so many defense courses and safety courses, and it hasn’t lessened the rapes… It needs to be changed.” Sherva believes society needs to stop punishing the victim and put the blame where it belongs — on the rapists.
This is the first time Sherva has organized something on this scale. In the past, she’s been involved with the GLBT community, attending fundraisers for the AIDS Project, but this is the first time she’s done something on this scale. She recruited her friends to help out, but realized that she needed to expand beyond her own circle, and put out a call for volunteers. They’ve raised money through Facebook, Twitter, and word of mouth, and have gotten fiscal sponsorship from Minnesota’s chapter of the National Organization for Women (NOW).
On Minnesota NOW’s website, President Shannon Drury writes of the organizations’s decision to join SlutWalk: “We concluded that the SlutWalk movement was an important part of reframing the societal discussion around sexual violence.”
Sherva says its humbling to see how many people have stepped up to donate and register to walk in SlutWalk. Once they’ve raised enough to cover all of the expenses, Sherva says they plan to donate additional funds to Alexandra House (a nonprofit that aids battered women) and Minnesota NOW.
Of course, since SlutWalk began, it’s gotten its share of criticism, ranging from critics who say its focus is on upper class privileged white women to critics who feel the name in itself is damaging. As to the first criticism, Sherva says that it isn’t just white women that are being sexually assaulted, and that the problem of rape reaches all kinds of economic, social and ethnic populations. As for the second criticism, Sherva agrees that the word “slut” is a damaging “trigger” word meant to hurt, degrade and shame victims. She feels that by addressing the premise that a woman dressing like a “slut” somehow invites rape, the SlutWalk movement can challenge the rape culture that permeates our society.
According to the SlutWalk’s mission statement, marchers are not required to dress “slutty” or reclaim the word “slut.” “That is entirely up to individual,” according to the mission statement. The mission statement also states that SlutWalk allies itself with people in the sex industry as well as people of all socioeconomic backgrounds, ethnicities, and religious and non religious beliefs. “There is no ticky box involved,” according to the mission statement. “All respectful beliefs are valid.”