What began as a reaction to one comment, a reaction that we had originally imagined only to include a handful of our closest friends and parts of our communities, exploded into a kind of movement that we never could have expected.
SlutWalk began in Toronto in February of 2011. It began because a few people had had ENOUGH of victim-blaming, of slut-shaming and sexual profiling and policing. We had enough of being angry, of facing violence and harassment, of wanting better education, awareness and treatment and not seeing more about it. Our protective services in Toronto, among many people, had put the responsibility of sexual assault where it didn’t belong and were continuing to spread myths and stereotypes about who is sexually assaulted and why, and this was nothing new – it was in a long line of violence, ingrained into institutions and our culture. SlutWalk Toronto brought together thousands of people across gender, sex, race, age, ability, class, education, profession, experience, background and interest to fight these damaging ideas. We also got together to say ‘slut’ did not have to be accepted as a word used against us to harm us but that we have a stake in the language used to describe us, it could be something we could challenge, it could be re-appropriated to be something different. We’ve always encouraged people to be comfortable in how they approach things, respond to things, how they dress and in who they are. There is no prescription on what someone involved in SlutWalk needs to look like, be like, say, do or identify as. We don’t all look alike, we don’t all act alike, we don’t all come from the same experiences or identities but we can fight together and make things change. Before we knew it people were doing just what we hoped for and were talking about these things and coming together to challenge the damaging things they wanted to see change. Then other people in other cities contacted us wanting to take up this cause, take up the conversations in the approach we’ve taken and get into action in some of the ways we are acting. This wasn’t a goal we aimed for in other places but it was something we wanted to encourage once it began.
Now, more than a year later ‘Sibling’ SlutWalks are happening across many different communities, different cities, different countries, in different languages and with different people. We do not create or organize other SlutWalks – these are founded by people in their own cities who feel the need to publicly challenge sexual violence and issues specific to where they are. SlutWalks around the world are volunteer run with people wanting to get into action.
In organizing SlutWalk Toronto we worked on uniting people across diverse communities and populations, contacted several organizations that we felt could we might be able to collaborate with, and could help us with their knowledge and experience. We contacted supports and some media to get attention and spread the word, we asked for volunteers and worked on gathering resources and funds to help our event happen, like making t-shirts, buttons, patches and posters. To say the least we planned ahead for our April 3rd, 2011 event in the six weeks we had.
We don’t believe you need to come from an activist background or know everything about these issues. We don’t believe you have to have a university education to participate in conversations and actions about sexual violence in our communities. We believe you just need to be inspired by your own passion to do something, be willing to work hard at it and be open to listening, learning and being accountable. SlutWalk is about expressing our unity, fighting to shed the stereotypes and myths of sexual assault and supporting a better understanding of why sexual violence happens; we are here to support victims and survivors, and to put the blame where it belongs: on those who perpetrate it.
Our plan was to call foul on the comment made by a representative of our Toronto Police and speak to the bigger picture of common, persistent and documented victim-blaming within Police Services, the justice system and social spheres around us. We planned to demand accountability, not apologies. We wanted to make sure that the issue was kept fresh in people’s minds, which is why we aimed at April 3rd for the Walk date.
Leading up to our rally, we had contacted Toronto Police Services asking for public accountability and a commitment to do better. We asked for the Toronto Chief of Police, Bill Blair, to respond to us. He never did. In some communication with the Toronto Police we sent the following 3 requests (before our SlutWalk on April 3rd, 2011), but sadly they didn’t respond to a single one of them.
1. Restructure police training and education (training for staff and outreach education for community) within the next 2 years to include non-discriminatory language, increased understanding of experiences of marginalization and oppression, and practices and protocols that support victims and survivors of sexual assault.
- include education about blaming ideas and actions and how to not engage in victim-blaming and slut-shaming for both police and outreach communities
- enforce respectful and non-discriminatory training environments where oppressive jokes, ideas and behaviours are challenged.
2. Using existing third party reviews and recommendations of police training/education for police,
- create a feasible timeline for recommendations to be put into place
- have a third party organization monitor and manage the implementation of these recommendations in a timely fashion.
- similar to the work Jane Doe, Beverly Bain and the Sexual Assault Steering Committee did in 2006
- support transparency with recommendations that may be offered and with efforts that will be taken towards implementing constructive changes towards better non-discriminatory training and education of officers.
3. Increased outreach and educational programs for the public in the next 2 years around sexual assault and informed consent, focusing on ‘rape myths’ and stereotypes (around perceived understandings of how assault/rape happens).
- develop a Toronto Police PSA campaign against victim-blaming and supporting the survivors of sexual assault in accessing protective services
- increased outreach programs in high schools and on university and college campuses around problematic blaming ideas and language, how to get consent, and what constitutes sexual assault (for example, consent cannot be given under the influence)
- utilizing existing initiatives and programs, incorporating and tailoring their materials towards the community/group in question, e.g. The White Ribbon Campaign for groups geared toward men.
To see the email response we received from a Constable in Corporate Communications of Toronto Police Services please go here.
As our message grew, SWTO turned into a massive movement, and we were forced to bring on added help. We feel that our hard work over that initial 6 weeks leading to the Walk and our work since then along with the help of our supporters, is an immense accomplishment. With an initial team of 5, who are already entrenched in lives as students or fultime work, we worked ’round the clock, keeping up with demands, working on our social media messages, creation and maintenance of the website, a multitude of interviews, working on what turned into formal requests to Police, logistics of the Walk itself including paperwork and meetings, sobbing over heartfelt stories of thanks and accounts of survivors, dealing with messages of hate, finding the right Speakers to help spread our word, delving into research about sexual assault, police and public policies, answering a million questions and requests, setting up support for other SlutWalks as they began to emerge, adding Allies to our own support system, setting up PrepDay and volunteer coordination, liaising with campuses, working on donations and sponsors, etc, etc, etc.
With just the initial 5 of us, we tried to be as inclusive as we could, reaching out to as many communities as possible. We wanted to have a diverse group of voices join our conversation, and with some perseverance, we welcomed many Allies. We were thrilled to see banners and representation from many groups at the Walk. Some groups who we reached out to either did not respond to our requests, or did not want to be part of our movement. This is their choice or is still within their hands as we don’t know why we haven’t received some responses. There are many causes that work toward education and eradication of violence, and while we all work toward some common goals, people can choose which group serves them best. We’re still dedicated to being inclusive, learning more and connecting more with allies and others doing this work. We’re in continued conversations of outreach and have plans to work with other organizations in Toronto and in parts of Canada.
We want to acknowledge that sexual violence is ingrained in a system of inequality that marginalizes some over others. Different communities can have different experiences of sexual violence in higher rates of assaults, more discrimination from services, a perception of unequal worth, and lacking protection and respect. Some of our Speakers at SlutWalk Toronto were able to comment on some of these issues acknowledging that aboriginal women and women of with disabilities experience sexual assault at 2-3 times the rate of others and that sex workers are people who have long been told that they were not deserving of protection. There are many who experience oppression and discrimination unequally. While it has to be acknowledged that sexual assault and victim-blaming is a global issue affecting people from all walks of life, we want to continue welcoming as many communities as possible, having their voices heard in this conversation. For those who would like to discuss what these issues can mean for others, please feel free to contact us.
We’ve managed to spread the word that victim-blaming is a problem that needs to be addressed – within our protective services and in society as a whole. We’ve sparked thousands of conversations, as well as other initiatives, and while we are not everyone’s cup of tea, we are confident that in this short amount of time we’ve done something important and joined a movement that’s been fighting these blaming ideas for decades. We’re thrilled to have sparked others into action who feel the need to share our message under the SlutWalk banner. We’re grateful to say this cause and this message has spread globally with rallies taking place across Canada, into the US, Latin America, Europe, the UK, parts of Africa, parts of Asia and into Australia and we fully support other SlutWalks.
We never expected the immense conversations that were started, the attention these issues received, and the thousands of people that showed up to SlutWalk Toronto on April 3rd. We never expected thousands of people across the world to be galvanized into continued and often new action around sexual violence. After our Walk many urged us to keep going and we’ve decided we will. We now look to the future of SlutWalk Toronto and what we can do to continue the conversations. We will continue to reach out to more groups and communities to both discuss and understand what the experiences are for different people, and to increase the strength of our message. We will continue to support those who need it, whether as a SlutWalk in another city, or simply as a safer forum for those who don’t have one. While we acknowledge that we are far from perfect, we are proud that we did not simply huff and move on; we made a stand. We learned a lot along the way, and will continue to do so, willingly accepting constructive criticism, advice and knowledge. We will grow and mature as “SlutWalk became the little rally that could”.If you would like to help and join the SWTO team, please contact us and tell how just how you feel you can add to our strength. Please be patient if you have not heard from us as we’re all volunteers in this and frequently get many emails a day.
Who we are and how others can get into action…
We’ve been asked this question by a lot of people who want to get involved with SlutWalk or start up SlutWalk action where they are. We encourage people to reach out to rape support centres, gender violence support services and organizations that are already supporting marginalized people. We encourage people to listen, always learn and work with each other, to connect with the diverse communities in your cities and to decide what is best for you and the many people impacted where you are. We encourage you to find ways to have conversations and get into action to stop sexual assault and rape in two important and interconnected ways: victim-blaming and sex-shaming. Directing our efforts initially in 2011 at the Toronto Police Services and our wider city culture, in bringing together communities to fight these things and challenge how words like ‘slut’ are often used to degrade and demean, worked for us here, but language and efforts are contextual. Our approach to challenge slut-shaming language and may not work for your city, and that’s okay. Perhaps other language needs to be discussed and it can be done to denounce it or utilize it. Many cities have picked up slut-shaming words in local languages and city cultures like: salope, puta, slet, vadia, thevadiya, rundi, sharmuta, sundal, slampa, schlampe, lutka and others. Some cities have had different titles and labels for their events. This is each city’s choice and we can’t know what will work for another city and another community, only people within their cities can with outreach and involvement with a variety of voices.
These are our values and guidelines and work to guide us here in Toronto. They may work for your area as well or they may not. Please feel free to edit them to suit your needs if you choose to use them:
- SlutWalk is impassioned and angry but not about hate, and we try not use hateful language.
- We continuously root our efforts in an anti-oppression framework with commitments to continue to make our efforts better. We have constructed the following definition of anti-oppression to help guide us:
An umbrella term that includes practices and perspectives that actively recognize and challenge the many ways injustices manifest on a daily basis in our communities, cultures and institutions. This term can typically include actively challenging the interconnecting functions of racism, sexism, classism, ableism, heterosexism, cissexism and ongoing colonization. Our anti-oppressive framework is anti-racist, feminist, activist, critical, accountable and fiercely committed to engaging in ongoing self-reflection and staying implicated in our critiques.
Generally, we believe anti-oppression includes a commitment to critically examining how power dynamics and privileges impact individuals, communities and larger systems, and a commitment to deconstructing the systemic, institutional and personal experiences of oppression. For SlutWalk, understanding anti-oppression enables us to engage in moving forward with change. We view this as an on-going process of becoming more accountable to our allies, to our supporters, to our own beliefs, and to our communities.
- We refer to sexual assault, not solely rape, as many are not included in the ideas and definitions of “rape”.
- We do not frame sexual assault as something solely done by men to women.
- SlutWalk aims to challenge the word ‘slut’ and other degrading words around sexuality and sexual assault in their current mainstream use. We see language as an integral part of victim-blaming and slut- and sex-shaming and something that needs to be discussed. SlutWalk Toronto recognizes that many people – including many people before us – aim to reappropriate the word “slut” (and other similar words, like ho, bitch, cunt, whore, etc.) to use it in a subversive, self-defining, positive, empowering and respectful way.
- Sexual violence is discussed as gendered crime because women and girls are most often the targets of sexual violence, harassment and hateful language around it and men are most often the perpetrators, but all genders are affected. SlutWalk recognizes all gender expressions and identities as those that have been and can be negatively impacted. All genders are welcomed to SlutWalk.
- Some communities and people are at a higher risk of sexual assault than others based on their race, status, work, ability, access, gender expression, identity, and a variety of other factors. We aim to recognize this and work to vocalize that many issues of discrimination, oppression, privilege and barriers to support exist simultaneously and must be understood together. We aim to come together, in all our diversity, as people who are all impacted by sexual violence and unite to fight against it. Not everyone’s experience of sexual violence is the same and many factors could be involved in how people experience sexual violence and how they are treated in the world, and this should be recognized. We engage in dialogue with groups and communities that will help include many diverse voices in our efforts.
- Use inclusive and respectful language when discussing the diversity of people affected like: men/women and all gender expressions, racialized communities, people of colour, sex workers, people with disabilities, etc. (Note: We originally used the phrase “people with different abilities” having experienced this as a more respectful phrase, however we recently heard that many communities, including those in and around Toronto, use “disability” and “disabled” for themselves in these experiences so we will now do our best to pick up this language as requested and continue to do our best to listen, learn and offer respect.)
- SlutWalk is an impassioned and peaceful stance that aims to engage others in dialogue.
Information for Sibling SlutWalks
We’re thousands strong…
SlutWalk will continue in Toronto and the values we used will remain the ideas that guide us here. You can find a way to make it work for you. Ask your communities if one has been started there, look online, connect with each other, and if SlutWalk is not the method for the change you want to see we hope you find something else and ultimately work to create change. We hope to keep the network that has been established across all these SlutWalks going. We hope to have a collective of SlutWalks, in all their different forms and ideas, to keep this energy and these people going in solidarity. We are now thousands of people across the world with different identities and experience who can work together. We can learn from each other and we can share the information that needs to be heard, and demand the change that needs to be seen. We’re working on changing our Satellite page on our website www.slutwalktoronto.com, with our list of recognized SlutWalks and guidelines into an area of collective SlutWalk. We’re not sure what this will look like yet but please keep in touch.
Want support and to stay connected?
Things to remember and know from our side:
- With so many different cities, communities and voices there will be times we don’t all agree, therefore SlutWalk Toronto (and we hope everyone) will continue to engage in constructive criticism as learning is a part of the process.
- We welcome contact with Sibling SlutWalks and will actively engage in communication and support if wanted, however please make the first contact because we don’t always know where you are.
- Any request for support will be answered with a reminder of what we are doing here in Toronto, for ourselves and our communities, and can be used as suggestions and advice or you can find different approaches that work for where you are.
- If another SlutWalk or another event wishes to be included on our webpage, we ask that they request it of us. We will likely not post any Sibling SlutWalks on our list on our website that haven’t been in contact with us first. We hear about a lot of different SlutWalks and some end up happening and some don’t.
Thank you for everyone who is willing to speak up when they can and fight for better.Yours in solidarity, Heather Jarvis, Co-Founder Colleen Westendorf, Communications Coordinator
Raisa Bhuiyan, Outreach Coordinator
Previous SWTO Organizers Sonya JF Barnett, Co-Founder
Alyssa Teekah, York University Liaison
Erika Jane Scholz, Volunteers Coordinator Laura McLean, Volunteers Coordinator Jeanette Janzen, Assistant to Events Coordination
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