Slutwalks - The real benefit of them...

I'm sure if you search for "Slutwalk" on any blog site, you'll get your share of blogs both in support of, and against, them.  It seems almost everyone has an opinion on them.  The day after participating in the Des Moines Slutwalk for the second year in a row, I've been reflecting on what occurred yesterday. There were fewer people there this year than last year and the media didn't cover the event this year.  At first, I was really annoyed that the local media didn't feel the need to cover the event this year.  But after thinking about it, I have some mixed feelings on it.

This year's slutwalk rally after the march was a little different from last year's.  Last year, there were two speakers who had agreed to speak.  They came up, gave amazingly wonderful speeches sharing their stories and providing inspiration for the rest of us listening.  Then the organizer said the mic was open for anyone else who wanted to speak to come up and share their story.  No one approached.  Heather (the organizer) gave some more very supportive an inspirational words, and the group started to break apart to head to the after parties, or home.

This year: again, there were two people who had agreed to speak.  Both of us got up there and said what we had prepared.  But then, Heather mentioned that another participant had just told her that she wanted to speak.  She went up to the mic and admitted that she hadn't really planned to speak until she got to the walk that day.  She told an amazingly heartbreaking and inspiring story of how sexual assault had affected her life.  Then she sat down.  Then another young woman tentatively approached the mic and asked if she could share.  When she was done, another approached.  I lost count, but for almost an hour, survivors stepped forward and shared heartbreaking stories of how sexual assault and victim blaming had affected their lives, many sharing for the first time.  They were met with hugs when they got done speaking, and often throughout the rest of the evening other survivors would walk up to them and offer them hugs for sharing their stories.  There were a lot of hugs, and a lot of tears... But most of all, there was a lot of healing.

We've all heard the negative comments about the name Slutwalk.  That the name should be changed because it is derogatory.  The name "Slutwalk" comes from a specific event.  And yes, that incident involved a completely inappropriate and derogatory use of the term Slut.  But if you had been at the Des Moines Slutwalk yesterday, you would have seen that the point of this event has moved far beyond the term slut.  It is about supporting victims, providing hope, providing inspiration, reminding us that it is not their fault.  That they did not deserve what happened to them.  Generally, that they are AWESOME just for being survivors.

I was amazed and inspired each time a woman (or man) came forward and said "I wasn't planning on sharing this.  It isn't like me to be this open, but all you girls before me have inspired me to share what happened to me."  For each of these survivors, I believe that they healed just a little bit more when they spoke out, and especially when they were met with support after doing so.

The other amazing thing was the VARIETY of assaults represented by the survivors who spoke:

Spousal rape, child rape/molestation, male survivors, rape in the military, alcohol/drug facilitated rape, pregnancy as a result of rape, dating violence/date rape - and those are just the ones I remember off the top of my head.

But, this leads me to the mixed feelings part about the media.  I would have liked to see the media be there because 1) this IS a cause worth covering.  Awareness needs to be raised about how prevalent sexual assault is.  2) If they had been there - they would have seen the true benefit of slutwalks - the support it provides to survivors.  BUT... If the media had been there, many of these survivors would not have spoken out.  It's one thing to come up to a mic when you know that a few fellow survivors/supporters may have cameras taping, it's another thing when there is a media camera facing you.  I know the media cameras were one reason I didn't share last year - the thought of ending up on TV terrified me - I just wasn't ready for that step in speaking out yet.  (I believe that both media stations present last year asked the survivors who spoke for permission to use the video on the air - but that camera is still intimidating).  So, as much as I would have liked to see the media cover the event, in a lot of ways, I'm glad they didn't.  Because I believe a lot more healing occurred because they were not there.  And after all, healing is the best benefit of any event like this.

So, the next time you hear about a Slutwalk event in your area, instead of focusing on the word "Slut" in the name, focus on the fact that it is an incredible opportunity to show up and show your support for sexual assault survivors.  Don't judge an event by its name.  The name has a purpose, but it may not be near as important as the event itself.