St. John’s Slutwalk Tells Us What They’re Really Asking For

The march began as a response to a police officer facilitating a personal safety session at York University ... [who] told his class, “women should avoid dressing like sluts in order to not be victimized.”

The second annual St. John’s Slutwalk is happening this Saturday, September 24th. The march will begin at 2:00pm at Harbourside Park, and will conclude with a celebration in the Foran Room in City Hall.

Slutwalk was founded in Toronto in 2011 as a rally against rape culture. The march began as a response to a police officer facilitating a personal safety session at York University. The officer vocalized one of the underlying misconceptions and foundational tenets of rape culture when he told his class, “women should avoid dressing like sluts in order to not be victimized.”

Organizers of the first Slutwalk were enraged that a police officer would imply that survivors carry the blame for being harassed or assaulted.

The first Slutwalk was organized in under six weeks and brought over a thousand people to the streets to speak out against victim blaming. Within a couple of months, Slutwalks became a transnational phenomenon, with similar marches happening all across Canada and in several different countries.

This Year’s Theme is Justice

The theme of the 2016 St. John’s Slutwalk is justice. Organizers want this year’s march to open up conversations about what justice for survivors of sexual violence means for different communities.

“We really want to explore what justice looks like for different people, how one gets justice after assault if one is in an indigenous community or if someone is a sex worker,” Jenny Wright, Executive Director of the St. John’s Status of Women’s Council (SJSOWC) explained. “Justice looks very different for different communities and we need to address that as we move forward.”

Jenelle Duval, Program Facilitator at the SJSOWC will begin the march with drumming and a speech about justice for indigenous women.

Members of SJSOWC have visited the Women’s Correctional Centre in Clarenville to talk to the incarcerated women there about the Slutwalk and what justice means for them. The march will be led by a group of people representing the incarcerated women in Clarenville by holding placards they made during SJSOWC’s visit.

Wright explained that organizers of the march decided to include George Street in this year’s route because the street has been a focus of the discussion about drug facilitated sexual assault in St. John’s for a long time.

“We’re starting to hear about maybe bringing the safer bar program to St. John’s. We’re starting to look at how victims are blamed for drug facilitated sexual assault,” Wright explained.  “We’re just saying we want to keep that conversation going, we want to be at the table for that conversation.”

The march will finish with dancing at the Foran Room at City Hall, where there will be DJs and a series of speakers including Heather Jarvis, Lynn Moore, TJ Jones, Dane Woodland, and slam poet Emily Carrigan.

There will be blank canvases set up in the Foran Room and marchers will be invited to create works of art that represent what justice means to them. SJSOWC plan to find a venue to publicly hang the exhibit.

“There’s a lot to learn from our community,” says Wright. “We want to look at ways we can exhibit those messages publicly over the year as we tackle some big issues,” she continues, speaking about the community exhibit.

Wright says organizers strive to make the march as accessible as possible and there will be Wheelway available to those who need it. Anyone who does not feel comfortable or safe marching in the streets is welcome to go straight to the Foran Room where they can enjoy coffee and tea as they wait for the Slutwalk to arrive.

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