Holding signs that read, “I’m a proud slut,” and “Real men take no for an answer,” they traversed the campus, a long line of students strutting and shouting in support of a movement to end violence against women.
More than 300 students participated in the first-ever “SlutWalk” held at the university yesterday evening. The event, organized by the student group UMD Feminists for Sexual Health, was an offshoot of an international protest movement geared toward ending the practice of assigning blame to sexual assault victims.
The protests began about a year ago in Toronto after a Canadian police officer suggested women should “avoid dressing like sluts” if they do not want to be raped. It is that culture of victim-blaming that must be stopped, said Jill Santos, vice president of Feminists for Sexual Health.
“The whole movement is against saying women are asking for it just because they’re dressing provocatively,” she said. “No one puts on a skirt and is like, ‘Oh God, I hope this gets me raped tonight.'”
Over the last year, SlutWalk became an international movement, and members of the student group said they felt it was the perfect event to bring to the campus. According to the Justice Department, one in five women will be sexually assaulted in college and only 5 percent of them will report it, said incoming Feminists for Sexual Health president Lauren Redding, the outgoing Diamondback editor in chief.
“Being called a slut is very common in our society,” Feminists for Sexual Health President Mercedes Katis said. “If she is dressing like a slut, if she is acting like a slut, she still has the right to say no. We’re trying to reclaim the word and take back our sexual agency.”
As the group walked down McKeldin Mall, passed by the Main Administration Building and wound around North Campus dorms, they chanted, “Whatever we wear, wherever we go – yes means yes, and no means no.” Passersby stopped to take out their cell phones and snap photos, and some honked car horns and waved; one man playing tennis paused to lift his racket in support.
Several students who participated said the walk was an opportunity to connect with the community about an issue that pervades not just campus culture but society as well.
“I’m a feminist, and I think one of the most important things we do is advocate for a problem that reaches everyone,” freshman English major Sadie Echols said. “It’s not just about women; it’s not just about men.”
Katis said SlutWalk is consistent with her group’s mission of working for everyone’s right to access health care and reproductive services.
For many students, walking marked their participation in a movement to rebrand language that has been used to make victims feel responsible for their assault – as one sign said, “Tell me I asked for it. I dare you.”
“The whole idea of it is reclaiming the word, bringing awareness to victim blaming and bringing everyone together for the cause,” sophomore psychology major Miranda Demers said.