I should have published this ages ago—I didn’t, and I apologise. Behind the jump is my speech from SlutWalk Aotearoa… as close as I can remember it, as I did a bit of ad-libbing. If anyone took any audio/video recordings on the day, please flick them through to me! ♥
Kia Ora everybody, and welcome to the inaugural Wellington chapter of SlutWalk Aotearoa! My name is MJ and I am one of the organisers, along with the lovely Pollyanne, of the Wellington SlutWalk event. You all look so fucking amazing! It is a pleasure and a privilege to be standing here today, just ten weeks after deciding that it was time for the SlutWalk message to reach New Zealand. A message that was kicked off when a policeman in Toronto, Canada, stood up at a campus safety speech and said that “Women should avoid dressing like sluts if they don’t want to be victimised.”
In the course of organising this march, we have had a lot of people disagree with us for a variety of reasons. Some people have had some perfectly valid criticism; others less so. And I have heard a lot of comments along the lines of “If you dress provocatively, you should expect to get male attention.” And guess what? When I am dressed up and looking hot, I DO expect to get male attention. And female attention. But unless I have a thesaurus that is vastly different to everyone else’s, attention is not and never will be synonymous with sexual assault.
Another question we get frequently is the sometimes well-intentioned, but often not, “What are you hoping to achieve with this march?” Many people seem to be of the belief that we expect these protests to change the world overnight and eradicate sexual assault. And in a perfect world, of course that would be our goal! In a slightly more attainable world, there would be changes in journalism standards so that they refer to the details of the assault as ‘the alleged assault’ or ‘the alleged rape’, NOT like the article posted on Stuff recently that stated: “A bit actor who played a Las Vegas police officer on the TV series CSI faces charges of reprising that role to coerce a woman into sex”—or other common phrasing, such as the victim “engaging in sexual acts” with the perpetrator, that is heavily slanted towards the assumption of active consent. There would be changes to the treatment victims receive when first reporting their assault—no more interrogations where they are accused of lying, or being drunk, or changing their mind after the fact. When teenagers receive sexual education in high school, along with all the talks about birth control, they would also be taught about active consent, and to respect a lack thereof.
In New Zealand as of 1st April 2010, defence lawyers have to convince judges of the merit of trawling through a victim’s sexual history in order to discredit them. We would go a step further and say that there is NEVER any merit in bringing up a victim’s sexual history, as it is NEVER a mitigating factor in sexual assault. It doesn’t matter whether you’ve had sexual contact with the perpetrator before, or with all the perpetrator’s friends before, if you’ve cheated on a partner in the past, if you’re a swinger, or polyamorous, or queer—all that matters is that the victim said no to this person, at this time, and therefore THERE WAS NO CONSENT. Consent is not a one-time thing. Whether we’ve never said yes, or we’ve said it once, or we’ve said it a hundred times—once we say no, you no longer have carte blanche right to our bodies.
So to the spectators, and the media who are present, I would like to implore you: do not be so distracted by the ‘slutty’ outfits that you forget that this march is about rape and sexual assault. We would beg you to cover this march properly, and fairly—show the range of people, men and women, who are here today, not just close ups of tits and ass. When you report back about SlutWalk, try to avoid the tired old line that “women gathered to fight for their right to dress like sluts.” We are not a solely female crowd, and we are marching today because we are sick and tired of a culture that teaches “don’t get raped” instead of “don’t rape.” This is not just an excuse to get dressed up and carry some placards while shouting catchy rhymes—although many of you are looking particularly awesome dressed up and carrying your placards while shouting catchy rhymes!
But on the flipside of that, neither is this a walk of shame. Amongst today’s crowd, there are many survivors of sexual assault who, every day, feel the shame and the stigma of being the victim of a crime they had no control over. And that is not okay. We live in a culture that says, “A terrible thing happened to you, and you should feel guilty for it.” And that culture is everywhere. Rape culture is evident every time a newspaper headline puts the word rape in scare quotes. As I said before it is when the media, reporting on a case of sexual assault, will always say the victim ‘had sex with’ or ‘engaged in sexual acts with’ the perpetrator, because GOD KNOWS it’s more fair and balanced to say a victim ‘had sex with’ the perpetrator than to say the perpetrator ‘allegedly raped’ the victim.
Rape culture is when there is a fire burning in the middle of our street, and our detractors, rather than putting the fire out, want us to don a fireproof suit and walk through it every single day for the rest of our lives—and hope like hell that that suit doesn’t become worn or torn, because then, we should have known that fire was going to burn us, and what did we think we were doing walking through the flames?
And let’s face it—we cannot win! If you’re a stereotypically attractive female, you’re pretty, and therefore asking for it. If you’re not a stereotypically attractive female, then you were probably desperate to get laid, therefore asking for it. If you’re a queer woman, then you just didn’t know what you were missing out on—so asking for it. If you’re trans*, complete strangers have a right to intimate knowledge of your genitalia at all times—therefore asking for it. If you’re a man assaulted by another man, your attacker probably saw something gay in you—you were asking for it! If you’re a man assaulted by a woman, then you must have wanted it at least a little bit—obviously you were asking for it! If you’re a woman assaulted by a woman… well who are you kidding, that doesn’t even count—but if it did, you were probably asking for it. If you’re a sex worker, your profession means you are, at all times, asking for it. If you’re in prison, you did something wrong—therefore, you are asking for it.
And that last one is really the rub, isn’t it? The idea that rape is a punishment, something to be inflicted on bad people—and the extension of that, of course, is that if you are sexually assaulted, you must be a bad person, or at least have done something to deserve it. You know, like the 11-year-old girl who was gang-raped in Texas this year. The New York Times found it pertinent to report on how much makeup she wore, and how she often dressed older than her age. It also featured such choice quotes as if the allegations are proved, how could their young men have been drawn into such an act? and “These boys have to live with this the rest of their lives.”
A transcript of a sentencing hearing for a convicted rapist shows the judge passing down a two-year home detention sentence as the victim “was dressed in a tube top without a bra and jeans… wore high heels in a parking lot outside a bar.” The judge also commented that “although the complainant had rebuffed his advances in the backseat of the car, her demonstrated willingness on the gravel road to hold onto him and kiss him and pretend to like him could surely leave an impression that the door was then not closed to further sexual activity.” He concluded that “although the accused was led by the circumstances to conclude that sex was in the air, he was insensitive to the fact the complainant was not a willing participant.”
In Sydney last year, a man was acquitted of a rape charge after the jury sent a note to the judge asking for more information about how exactly the alleged perpetrator took off her skinny jeans. The note read: “I doubt those kind of jeans can be removed without any sort of collaboration.”
Now, it’s easy to listen to stories like this and think, Yes, but that doesn’t happen in New Zealand. This is a problem in Other Places, not here. So, how about we get a little closer to home? At the end of 2008, the victim of a gang rape was horrified when a police officer—the brother of one of the men who abducted her—was caught looking up her details, including her address, and was allowed to resign rather than facing disciplinary action or being fired.
In 2009, one of two men who raped a 19-year-old student after she asked to use the toilet in their workplace in Wellington had his sentence reduced by a year as the men had not planned the rape and sexual assault, and that he had only taken advantage of the situation the other man had presented to him.
In February of this year, one of the victims of sexual assault by a couple in Waikato stated that she didn’t report the attack for nearly a year, as she had made a previous rape complaint in May 2009 but withdrew it because of how police treated her complaint. Under cross-examination, she said that when she reported the first rape she felt interrogated and made to feel that she was in the wrong. She didn’t pursue her complaint because “it wasn’t worth the pain [the officer] was putting me through.”
And earlier this year, when a 14-year-old student at Newlands College was told by her dean that the length of her skirt made her “look like a slut”, the acting principal agreed that the comment may have been ‘inappropriate’, but still gave the teacher in question their “full support”.
And the list goes on, and on—the instances that are reported in the media, and those that aren’t. It pays to remember that there are far more of the latter than the former. Statistically, at least one in four of the women and one in eight of the men in the crowd today will have their own story to share; the nature of SlutWalk means that that number is, in actuality, probably much higher. And when I sat down to write this speech, I warred with myself for a long time as to whether or not I wanted, or had the spoons, to talk about my own experiences with rape and sexual assault. Even here—at SlutWalk, an event that is ALL ABOUT the idea that the victim is never, ever at fault—there was still a nagging doubt that I would not be believed. That I would be told that what I experienced wasn’t “really” rape. That I would be asked what I had done to bring it upon myself. And wouldn’t you know it, but the experience that I wanted to talk about, the one that really encapsulates what SlutWalk is all about—is the experience that I have never told anyone, for all the reasons I listed before.
So here are the words I have never said out loud: when I was sixteen years old, my boyfriend raped me.
I was not dressed “slutty”—unless trackpants and a hoodie are somehow considered irresistibly alluring and I missed the memo—although he certainly called me a slut. Before, afterwards… and during. And because he was my boyfriend, because I stopped struggling and just lay there, because I have never been known for my abstinence when it comes to sex—I said nothing. For five years, I said nothing. Because I thought I was probably making a big deal out of nothing. Because I wasn’t the typical rape victim portrayed in the media—you know, young woman, alone at night, attacked, brutally beaten and raped by a total stranger.
It’s an attitude that is frighteningly common. Which isn’t actually all that surprising—after all, over 90% of rape victims know their attacker. Sexual assault is no less real because the perpetrator is someone the victim knows—in fact, it can arguably be worse for those who are faced with their attacker in social situations on a regular basis. Who may even be subjected to teasing comments, from their attacker or from friends, under the assumption of a consensual experience.
And at its essence, that is what SlutWalk is all about. On one end of the scale are those attacks that spring to mind when somebody mentions the word ‘rape’: young, usually attractive girl, alone at night, caught by a stranger (or two) in a dark alley, beaten and raped. On the other end of the scale, there are those who are attacked by someone they thought they could trust implicitly: husbands, wives, partners, family members. And there is miles and miles of space in between the two extremes. Most of the survivors here today will fall somewhere between the two. None of your experiences are more, or less, legitimate than anyone else’s. No one should ever be made to feel that they weren’t “really” assaulted, that “others have had it worse.” No one should ever be made to feel that they could have prevented it.
Because you couldn’t have. Rapists rape. That’s what it all boils down to. Rapists rape. Your dress code doesn’t send out some kind of homing signal. RAPISTS RAPE. We will keep screaming this until someone fucking listens. RAPISTS RAPE.
I want to thank every single one of you for standing here today. For supporting us through the sometimes difficult, often stressful, occasionally spoon-threatening, but ultimately rewarding job that organising an event of this magnitude has been. Thank you to those who have travelled to be here today—the extra effort you went to in order to march beside us is hugely appreciated! Thank you to the media outlets, the organisations, and the individuals who have lent their support in a multitude of ways—every single one of you has been deeply appreciated, from the bottom of our hearts. And a huge, huge thank you to Pollyanne, my wonderful co-co-ordinator, who has been a boon and a rock and I could not have pulled this off without her.
Finally, I would like to extend a special thank you to those of you who stand here today despite not wanting to, or not being able to, reclaim the word ‘slut’ as your own. There has been a lot of misunderstanding around the SlutWalk and what it is all about. We are not encouraging all women to be sluts, and we do not believe that you have to reclaim the word slut in order to empower yourself. The SlutWalk is for everyone—man, woman, straight, queer, slut or not—who believes that there is nothing we can do that will cause someone to rape us.
Today, we stand together in solidarity to say this: you can call us sluts. You can tell us that by dressing a certain way we are irresponsible, that we don’t respect ourselves, that we are inviting trouble. We stand together today to say that that is bullshit. And we do not stand alone. Today we are joined by the Auckland SlutWalkers marching simultaneously with us. We are joined in spirit by those who have marched in Toronto, Montreal, Los Angeles, Chicago, London, Scotland, Australia, Amsterdam, Sweden, Denmark, and by those who will march in the near future in Perth, New York City, Washington D.C., Dublin, Mexico, and South Africa. And following in the tradition of other SlutWalks, we will grow, we will expand, we will yell and scream until our voices are hoarse. We will be back here to march next year and we will keep marching, and keep shouting, until we see some change. However we dress, wherever we go.