On Saturday, Boston joins the national SlutWalk movement, demonstrating solidarity to fight "slut shaming," a common response to sexual violence. The march follows April's SlutWalk Toronto, launched after a police officer told York University students to "avoid dressing like sluts in order not to be victimized."
There is a false conception that "If a girl is considered 'slutty,' then sexual violence against her does not get taken seriously," says Jaclyn Friedman, feminist co-editor of Yes Means Yes: Visions of Female Sexual Power and a World Without Rape (Friedman speaks on Saturday after the march). "What gets said is, 'Oh, she wanted it, and then she regretted it after' or 'Well, what'd she expect to happen if she went back to his room?' Removing that shame is a huge part of combating sexual violence."
"It's not about saying we should all identify as sluts all the time," says Friedman. "It's a political act of solidarity. We are standing with women who have been accused of sluthood and told that it makes the violence done to them not matter."
Not all feminists support the wording. "I think it's a cool idea if that makes you feel empowered," says Sarah Merriman, a BU junior and activist with BU's Women's Resource Center. "For me personally, I don't like re-appropriating pejoratives. Like 'bitch' . . . I ask people to not say it around me. But some people get power from that."
Merriman was one of the very few students who spoke at an April 26 City Hall hearing discussing campus sexual assaults, called by City Councilors Felix G. Arroyo and Ayanna Pressley. "My freshman year, someone tried to assault me," Merriman told the city councilors. Some of the councilors had similar experiences to draw on: Pressley disclosed she was sexually assaulted as a BU undergrad, while recently elected Councilor Tito Jackson said his biological mother was a victim of sexual assault by two strangers.
The hearing was a "step in the right direction," Merriman tells the Phoenix. Many who spoke brought up the gray area of law enforcement on campuses with private police forces. That system is "broken" and "not serving our population at all," says Merriman. "I think the disconnect is palpable when you see such a small number [of assaults] reported to our BUPD and you know more is going on."
Fewer than five percent of rapes and attempted rapes on campus are reported, according to a study released in February 2010 by the Center for Public Integrity, a nonprofit journalism organization. One in five college women are victims of rape or attempted rape by graduation, according to the same study — but school-provided data rarely reflects this.
According to Merriman, a key step for city councilors is mandating sexual-violence education on campuses. "People don't understand the consequences of their actions, or what rape culture is, and just say, 'You wore a short skirt so you deserved it.' . . . There are so many things that we need to dispel."
Boston SlutWalk 2011 starts at noon at Government Center, end at Boston Commons. Free workshops will be held and Friedman will speak at Encuentro 5, 33 Harrison Avenue, 5th floor, Chinatown. Visit bostonslutwalk2k11.tumblr.com.