By: CAITLIN HART
“There is no such thing as a slut. It’s a made up word to tell me I’m not allowed to feel good about my body, about having sex, or who I want to have it with,” says Sunny Marriner, executive director of the Ottawa Rape Crisis Centre. Such was the message at Ottawa’s third annual SlutWalk on Sept. 7, which started at the Human Rights Monument on Elgin Street and ended at Minto Park.
SlutWalk began in Toronto in 2011 after a police officer told York University students they needed to avoid dressing like sluts if they wanted to avoid rape. The event is now hosted annually in cities across Canada, with the purpose of dispelling the myth that women get raped on account of what they are wearing. Another goal is that police officers will understand what it means to be a survivor of sexual assault, according to SlutWalk Toronto’s website.
Fateema Ghani, one of the event organizers and a third year political science student at the University of Ottawa, says women should be “allowed to enjoy having sex and wear whatever [they] want and not get attacked for it.”
Instead of telling people not to get raped, society should be saying “don’t rape people,” Ghani says.
Participants had their own stories and reasons for attending. Shari Canning and Kim De Angelis wanted to be there for someone who was not able to attend the walk herself; their 17-year-old niece Rehtaeh Parsons, who died in April.
Parsons, a Nova Scotia teen who was allegedly photographed while being gang-raped by a group of teenagers, was taken off life support earlier this year after excessive bullying pushed her to attempt suicide. Classmates harassed and bullied Parsons because she was sexually assaulted, according to her family.
Parsons’ aunts and other family members attended the walk in order to speak for someone who was silenced, Canning says.
In response to Parsons’ experience, Canning and De Angelis have started a non-profit charity called Rae of Light in the hopes of setting up a cottage exchange to provide a safe haven for victims of abuse.
SlutWalk represents a seldom talked about issue and aims to give a voice to victims of sexual violence.
“I believe SlutWalk gives a voice to women who normally don’t speak about rape because they blame themselves,” says Jennifer Chisholm, a rape survivor and one of the organizers of the Ottawa Slut Walk.
Kayla Spagnoli, an Ottawa native and another organizer for the event, aims to help other victims by sharing her personal story of sexual assault through mediums such as Tumblr. It is through sharing her experience with others, in particular her friends, that she has discovered how common sexual assault is.
“This is my story and sadly enough, statistically saying, 50 per cent of my friends have probably gone through something similar and a quarter of those people have never told anyone,” Spagnoli says.
“When I do tell people, their reaction isn’t of shame. It’s usually ‘That happened to me too.'”