Protesters march in Toronto ‘Slutwalk’

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Women and men – dressed however they want, thank you – came out in force Sunday in Toronto to protest what they perceive as a callous attitude toward sexual assault by Toronto police.

Tongue-in-cheek and defiant in name, Slutwalk attracted about 1,000 people in Queen’s Park and went off without a hitch, police said.

“It was very peaceful, and they got the message out that they wanted,” constable spokeswoman Wendy Drummond told CNN on Monday morning.

“We feel it was a huge success,” Slutwalk organizer Sonya Barnett said in an e-mail to CNN. She said the crowd numbered closer to 4,000. “It was great to see that most people came out ‘as they were,’ not in the stereotypical idea of slut,” she said. “Our definition is about attitude, not appearance. Just like sexual assault is not about appearance.”

The demonstrators, some dressed in miniskirts and holding provocative slogans, clearly wanted to rouse Toronto residents and raise awareness about a very serious topic: sexual assault. In doing so, protesters staked their claim to take a derogatory term and wrestle it back.

“Just ’cause I’m a slut doesn’t mean I want to be raped,” said one female protester, according to CNN affiliate CTV.

“We should be beyond the myths of people ‘asking’ or ‘deserving’ to be assaulted due to their behaviour or appearance,” Heather Jarvis, a movement co-founder, wrote to CTV.

The Slutwalk protest was organized in part in response to comments made in January by police Constable Michael Sanguinetti. Speaking to students at York University about community safety tips, Sanguinetti said, “Women should avoid dressing like sluts in order not to be victimized,” according to media reports.

Faculty and students at the university had been on guard since a wave of sexual assaults on the campus in 2008. But the police officers’ visit in January, part of a community awareness initiative, was overshadowed by the constable’s widely reported remarks.

Students expressed outrage that it took Toronto police nearly a month to issue an apology, written by Sanguinetti and addressed to York students and staff. “These comments were entirely inappropriate and I can assure you, the officer understands that clearly,” Toronto police spokesman Mark Pugash said in media reports.

But by then, the anger had reached a boiling point.

Barnett, who left a comment on an article about the incident on the York University school newspaper’s website, called for a demonstration and linked a Facebook page. The page had more than 4,500 likes as of Monday morning.

On Monday, Drummond said Toronto police have continually addressed the issue since the January incident and are seeking to move on.

Barnett said this is not the end of Slutwalk.

“In looking to the future, we will be working on initiatives to continue spreading the word,” she said. “As SlutWalk Toronto was initially conceived to be a one-time event, the response has been so incredible that we are considering this to be an annual event.”

 

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