10 June 2011

Why We Need a "Slut Walk"

“Women should avoid dressing like sluts in order not to be victimized.”

This statement was issued by a representative of the Toronto Police Department earlier this year. As a result, a group of people in Toronto began a movement to combat this kind of wrong-headed thinking and the first “Slut Walk” was born.

Had this been a single statement issued by a single representative or even a single police department with an offensive stance, I would have applauded the Toronto group for taking action, standing against the blaming of victims and that would be that.

But, of course, we know better than that. This statement reflections a widely held view, not only by some law enforcement officials, but by people all around us that choose to blame the victims for the violent crime of rape.

Why, more than with any other crime, do people feel the need to blame the victims of rape? The reason seems fairly transparent: People want to assure themselves that this couldn’t happen to them (or their loved ones). ‘I don’t dress like that therefore I won’t be raped.’ ‘I can protect my wife and daughters from being raped if I make sure they dress modestly.’ These are the kinds of things we say to ourselves, consciously or unconsciously, to make ourselves feel better, to make ourselves feel safe.

But, of course, we know better than that. There is the pesky little issue of facts that easily subvert this kind of thinking. The statistics on the victims of rape make it all too clear that the victim’s attire is not, should not and cannot be considered a factor.

The facts are these: Every 45 seconds someone is sexually assaulted in the United States. Over a quarter of all rape victims are raped by their husbands, over a third by an acquaintance and over 15% by a relative. In total, 74% of all sexual assaults are perpetrated by people well known to the victim. Almost 6 out of every 10 sexual assaults occur in the victim’s home or the home of someone they know well. Less than 5% of all rapes are committed by strangers. 15 out of 16 rapists never sees the inside of a jail cell for their crime. And of course, these are only the cases of rape that are reported to law enforcement. It is believed that more than 60% of all rapes are never reported. And what types of rape are least likely to be reported? Rape committed by a spouse, acquaintance or family member.

Given those statistics, does it seem reasonable to consider the way a woman was dressed as a factor in her being raped? Does a husband rape his wife because she is dressed “like a slut”? Is the 1 out of every 7 women who is raped in college also guilty of being the 1 out of 7 women in college who dresses immodestly? Moreover, is the 1 out of every 10 males who is raped guilty of looking like a slut? How about the 61% of rape victims who are females under the age of 18? Are they dressing so provocatively that strangers, acquaintances or, worse yet, family members are unable to control themselves? The truth is, rape has little to do with sex and everything to do with power. Women are not raped because their clothes is too revealing. People are raped because rapists want or need to feel power. They want to victimize – why would we want to make their job easier by helping shame their victims?

The message shouldn’t be: don’t dress like a slut. The message needs to be: don’t rape.

The message is painfully simple and yet, so many people miss it. So many people want to give themselves and their families a false sense of safety by making something the victim did or said or wore the reason for their rape. That needs to stop.

We need to change that kind of thinking. We need to make people more comfortable with coming forward about having been sexually assaulted. We need to let them know that we don’t judge them. We need to put the blame on the perpetrators. We need to make sure that more than 1 out of every 16 rapists does prison time. We need our wives and daughters, mothers and sisters to feel free to dress however they feel comfortable. We need to show our support for victims of sexual assault. We need to tell them that their victimization ends when they come forward and ask for help. We need a “Slut Walk.”

For the statistics used in the above article and further resources and information: