“I think we’re beating around the bush here. I’ve been told I shouldn’t say this, but if women don’t want to be victimised, they should stop dressing like sluts.”
When he spoke these words at a student safety workshop, Constable Michael Sanguinetti of the Toronto Police had no idea what he had started. Outraged at the police force’s attitude toward rape victims, Heather Jarvis organised Toronto SlutWalk, a protest that would go on to inspire a global anti-rape movement.
On the day of London’s second annual SlutWalk, Heather, a 26 year old PhD student at the University of Guelph, looks back on last year’s protest.
I read the story in a student newspaper article online and I wanted to march down to Toronto police headquarters right away. When my friends started telling me that, actually, that was a good idea, I thought – why shouldn’t I?
I mentioned the idea of a march to a colleague and he said: “What are you going to call it? A slut walk?”
Perfect. That police officer was not the first to throw this degrading word at rape survivors, and I wanted to throw it right back.
We gave ourselves just six weeks to organise some kind of rally before people lost interest.
I remember watching the numbers climb on the Facebook event. I couldn’t believe it when it we reached 200 attendees, then 500 and then past 1,000. “Wouldn’t it be amazing if a hundred people attended?” I said to Sonia, my co-founder. I had no idea more than 4,000 would turn up.
When the day came, the weather was on our side. It was early April but I still got sunburnt. About a dozen of us gathered in a public square in Toronto and watched as streams and streams of people started arriving.
There were all kinds of groups carrying different banners – some serious, some playful. One woman dressed as a cop carried a sign saying: “To uniform fetishists, cops look like sluts.”
I shuddered as I watched women in odd, outdated outfits carrying signs saying: “This is what I was wearing when I was raped. Tell me I asked for it.”
Other women had decided: “I’m going to wear my highest heels and my fishnets and my underwear and I’m going to show my bra, because it doesn’t matter what I wear. When I was assaulted by my partner I was wearing pyjamas.”
There were so many people we shut down an entire street in front of the police headquarters. I got up onto a raised sidewalk to give my speech and I was looking out onto thousands of crying, cheering faces. Not for the first time that day, I found myself on the verge of tears.
I was assaulted several times when I was younger and I never dealt with it. I didn’t tell anyone; I just closed myself off and tried to forget. I had lots of serious blame and shame problems which were hard to get away from. I don’t even think I’m done yet. I still need to keep telling myself: “I didn’t do anything wrong.”
I never intended it but through SlutWalk I was able to start dealing with my own assault history. Now anyone anywhere in the world can Google my name and find out that I was sexually assaulted, which is weird but a huge step for me. Even though I know better, I sometimes still blame myself for my assault but SlutWalk has helped me to start healing.
As told to Maria Hannah Bass
Hannah is the online intern for
@pulsetoday and co-editor of @wannabehacks. She writes about health, relationships, culture and feminism. You can find her on Twitter at @mhd_bass or on you can find more about her on her website.