Marchers aim to debunk sexual assault stereotypes

BOSTON Sat May 7, 2011 2:51am IST

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BOSTON (Reuters) - The dress code is casual, but the message is serious: no matter what you are wearing, no one invites sexual assault.

Thousands of marchers are expected on Saturday in Boston for "Slutwalk" the provocative name for a movement begun after a Toronto policeman suggested in January that women could avoid sexual assault by not dressing like a "slut."

The inaugural SlutWalk Toronto, held in April, inspired similar gatherings across the globe from Hartford, Connecticut to Dallas, Texas to Australia and Amsterdam.

SlutWalk Chicago, on the calendar for June 4, had 1,300 marchers commit in one week via its Facebook invitation.

"We live in a culture that blames the victim instead of the perpetrator for sexual assaults," said SlutWalk Chicago co-organizer Jessica Skolnik.

She said the movement can help dispel attitudes and double standards about sexual assault that many believe are fundamentally rooted in American culture.

The name, Skolnik said, is a quick way to break the ice and open a dialogue about issues surrounding sexual assault.

Skolnik said she was particularly struck by an image of Toronto walker holding a sign with a message, 'I was wearing pants and a sweatshirt, did I deserve it?'

"As a survivor, I can say from my own experience, when you encounter a culture and people in positions of authority who disbelieve you, who intimate it was your fault, it can be as violating as the initial assault," said Skolnik.

On the eve of the Boston walk, two men on the street randomly interviewed by Reuters said the effort was a good way to draw attention to misconceptions about sexual assault.

"I don't think the way a woman or a man dresses has any relation on the probability of them being sexually assaulted," said Rich Jerrido, 29, of Philadelphia.

Mike Donovan, 49, of Canton, Massachusetts called the Toronto officer's comments "ridiculous."

"Every man has a daughter, sister, mother or wife -- no one wants to see that happen," said Donovan.

SlutWalk, in both name and concept, is an opportunity for both men and women to stand together against sexual violence, said Dawna Thomas, assistant professor of women's and gender studies at Simmons College in Boston.

"How you dress and how you look has nothing to do with sexual assault," said Thomas. "It's a crime. It is about power and control."

Many of the events also include speakers and educational workshops focusing on a range of issues, from anti-violence to survivor support.

In Toronto, the police department said its consistent message is that the victim is never to blame.

Comments made by one officer "did not and do not reflect the service as a whole," said spokeswoman Constable Wendy Drummond.

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