Slutwalk Speech 2013

****Content warning: rape, rape culture, victim blaming***

I have been pretty busy over the last few weeks so haven’t managed to write anything new, I am hoping to put up something this weekend around prevention. I read and write rape prevention content all day at work and sometimes it’s hard to do it again in the evenings!  However, what’s on my mind today is the Select Committee Inquiry into Sexual Violence in New Zealand, the oral submission dates have been posted and I will have 5 minutes to speak to the personal submission I wrote as a sector worker. Whenever I need inspiration for speeches for work I always go to the writings of Andrea Dworkin and bell hooks as they have helped me many times before. For now I am posting the speech I gave fior Slutwalk last year which incorporates some of the teachings of these two great feminists.

Kia ora and thank you all for coming along today, and to those of you who turn up each year to make a stand against rape culture.

According to Rape Crisis tikanga, I would like to take a moment to acknowledge those women who have come before me, who have struggled and fought on our behalf so that we may be here today. For those of us in the now, for the mahi we all do in carrying on this legacy. And for those who are yet to come, partly for whom we stand here today in the hope that this mahi will no longer be necessary.

I would also like to acknowledge that the words I speak today are a compilation of the knowledge of Rape Crisis womyn and many other feminist womyn who have said all of these things before, and more elegantly than I.

As many of you will know the Slut Walk began in 2011 in Toronto when a male police officer told a group of women that they should avoid dressing like ‘sluts’ in order not to be victimised. Since then SlutWalk’s have taken place each year all over the world. Each of these marches has a different Kaupapa or ideology depending on where they are, so today I will speak to you about what this march means for us, the women of Rape Crisis.

Our aim for this march is not to call ourselves sluts, as we do not believe that such a thing exists. It is useful here to note that ‘reclaim’ has multiple meanings. Reclaim has its origins in the Latin reclamare: “to cry out” or “appeal” in protest. Our SlutWalk movement is about ‘crying out’ against a word that is used to police women’s sexualities according to sexist binaries. We want to highlight that ‘slut’ has no meaning beyond what patriarchy imbues it with. Our aim is to highlight the way slut is used against many women to police our sexuality and behaviour, to degrade and humiliate us. We want to draw attention to the way that slut is used to justify sexual violence, to wrongly blame survivors for sexual abuse and minimise the actions of perpetrators.

We want to highlight the way ‘slut’ contributes to a culture of victim blame. The way slut contributes to rape myth and the false belief that survivors are to blame for sexual violence because of:

the way she dresses; the way she walks; the way she talks; the way she sits; the ways she stands; she was out after dark; she invited a man into her house; she said hello to a male neighbour; she opened the door; she looked at a man; a man asked her what time it was and she told him; she sat on her father’s lap; she got into a car with a man; she got into a car with her best friends father or her uncle or her teacher; she flirted; she got married; she had sex once with a man and then said no the next time; she is not a virgin; she talks with men; she talks with her father; she went to a movie alone; she took a walk alone; she went shopping alone; she smiled; she is home alone; she is asleep… 

And so it goes on.

We are here today because we oppose this rape culture that blames survivors for the crimes of offenders. We oppose this rape culture that makes excuses for perpetrators and fails to hold them accountable for their choices. We are here because we oppose this rape culture that tells women what we should wear, where we should go, who we should socialise with, that our sexuality is equal to our worth and value as individuals. We oppose this rape culture that tells each of us that we are not valuable just as we are.

Rape culture teaches us to be afraid. A culture of domination relies on a cultivation of fear in order to ensure societies obedience. So as we come together today we do the work of challenging rape culture, we choose to move against fear, against the alienation and separation that rape culture encourages and we choose to love. The choice to love is the choice to connect and find ourselves in one another. As bell hooks has said we have to be courageous. When we learn to face our fears we embrace love, and while our fear may not go away it will not stand in the way. Love is a practice and when we act, as we do today, we do not feel inadequate or powerless, we foster light within ourselves and when we shine that light we draw to us, and are drawn to others with that light, and we are not alone.

I stand here today knowing that the way we are going about sending this message is for many people controversial. I acknowledge that for many people this march is not part of their pathway towards ending rape culture. But there are many feminist pathways towards this goal, and this is only one of them. Each of us can, do, and should, act in ways that support the multiple pathways of creating a world free from sexual violence.

When my colleague and I spoke of this day we imagined a festival full of families, music, dancing and colour. We talked about a celebration of our community, a practice run for the day when not one person is raped. Here today we practice for that day but we also help to create it. We walk towards that day where rape no longer exists and we will begin the real practice of equality. And on that day we will for the first time in our lives begin to experience freedom. Here today we help to make that day a reality, and I hope that each of us will be able to experience at least one day of freedom before we die

Creating a violence free future

**Content warning for discussions of rape, coercion and sexual violence**

Sometimes it feels very difficult to look forward and imagine a world free from sexual violence. As a crisis worker, and a person who has to live within rape culture, it is often very challenging to be surrounded by the stories of violence, trauma and sadness that are so commonplace in everyday life. When I first started to do this work, I faced a huge change in my perception of the world and the people in it. Hearing about the terrible things that some people do to others and being faced with the reality of the impact this has on so many survivors, was in many ways too difficult to comprehend. And while all the stories I have ever had the honour to hear from survivors have been courageous and inspiring it is, as i’m sure many supporters will tell you, extremely affecting.

In my lowest moments it is hard to think it is possible to change rape culture, to eliminate rape and, indeed, I have had many conversations with people who would argue that rape is inevitable and there is no way to create change. I can understand why people feel that way, when we are surrounded by rape and rape culture. And also because it is difficult for those of us who do rape prevention to show and quantify for people what is not happening-which is after all what we are trying to achieve. It is easy to feel that way when I read Australian National Crime Prevention Survey stats which show that 14% of men and 3% of women think ‘It’s okay for a boy to make a girl have sex with him if she has flirted with him or led him on, that 15% of men and 4% of women think ‘It is okay to put pressure on a girl to have sex but not to physically force her.’

But despite all of this, as Andrea Dworkin has said: “I came here today because I don’t believe that rape is inevitable or natural. If I did, I would have no reason to be here. If I did, my political practice would be different than it is.” Feminism is a hopeful politics and it has taught me that even when we are bombarded with the negative this does not mean that change is not possible. Sexual violence prevention work is for me, something that reflects the concepts of feminism more generally. It is about believing the world to be capable of being something other than it already is. And change is so achievable, I know it when I read things like ‘Where Men Stand: Men’s roles in ending violence against women’ by Michael Flood which states:

Compared to 14 years ago, men and women are now
more likely to:
• Agree that physical and sexual assault, and threats, are
domestic violence;
• Recognise the spectrum of domestic violence
behaviours as ‘very serious’;
• Agree that domestic violence is a crime;
• Agree that forced sex in an intimate relationship is a
crime;
• Reject the myth that women ‘ask’ to be raped;
• Support public rather than private ways of dealing
with violence and harassment;
• Report that they would intervene in some way in a
situation of domestic violence.

While the work of primary prevention takes time, there is a growing body of evidence that shows it is effective and we can change people’s behaviour in a way that operates in accordance with feminist norms of equality and respectful relating.

 

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