SlutWalk: is it right?

Will Hamilton casts his critical eye over the ‘SlutWalk’ movement.

So here’s the incident: about a year ago a Toronto Police Officer, when talking to women about ways in which to avoid attacks, said women should avoid ‘dressing like sluts’ in order to avoid being sexually assaulted.

Here’s the consequence: a worldwide campaign against what the organizers of the movement called ‘Slut Shaming.’ SlutWalks have taken place in over 20 countries this year as women took to the streets in intentionally provocative clothing in order to defy the advice of the aforementioned Police officer.

Here’s the issue: are women more likely to be attacked if dressed provocatively? Or does this kind of comment appropriate some of the blame to the victims of sexual assault as well as the criminals?

The Toronto Police Force were in no doubt as to what needed to be done. The responsible police officer was promptly and publicly condemned and they emphasised that his comments were in no way representative of the police force as a whole. Other commentators, however, have suggested that this was simply a thoughtless comment and that the subsequent marches weren’t warranted by a such an isolated event.

On the other side of the fence, the SlutWalk founders argue that this is an articulation of a characteristically male opinion. Others have argued that this represents police and other officials starting to rationalise something as inexcusable as rape or sexual assault. They argue that this has created an air of hostility towards victims which is discouraging women from coming forward.

So there you have it, the biggest backlash to a single comment so far this century. I know I’ve gone on about the comment myself but what I really want to know is this: was he wrong?

Its something which people have largely glossed over, preferring to focus on the comment itself as opposed to the wider issue. The wider issue is that to what extent can argue that attacks on women are the consequences of their own behaviour? This is a view which has been articulated in response to the SlutWalks.

Without meaning to suggest that girls in ‘slutty’ clothes somehow are more deserving of rape, some people have suggested that the issue of girls wearing less clothes is a basic safety issue. Consider that young people, and in particular girls, are constantly given advice on how to avoid danger. This advice is largely common sense like don’t walk home alone at night, or don’t go through certain areas. Isn’t there the possibility that girls wearing less clothing are putting themselves more at risk of attack?

In my opinion though, the clothes which girls wear aren’t nearly as big a factor on this issue as all the others. Factors such as: girls being younger, more vulnerable, the psychology of the attacker, girls being out at night, sobriety etc. We can’t possibly say that a girl walking home alone from a night out would be better off if dressed more immoderately. As far as protecting women from sexual assault goes, it is easier to find safety in numbers than in dressing modestly.

Editors’ note: As is always the case with our opinion section, we’re more than happy to publish an alternative perspective on this topic providing the piece is legible and interesting. Do get in contact if you would like to add to the debate.