BOSTON – This social movement really gets around. An international series of protests known as SlutWalks, sparked by a Toronto police officer's flippant comment that women should avoid dressing like "sluts" to avoid being raped or victimized, is taking root in the United States.
Some women and men who protest dress in nothing more remarkable than jeans and T-shirts, while others wear provocative or revealing outfits to bring attention to "slut-shaming," or shaming women for being sexual, and the treatment of sexual assault victims.
"It was taking the blame off the rapist and on the victim," said Nicole Sullivan, 21, a student at the University of Massachusetts-Boston and an organizer of the SlutWalk planned Saturday in that city. "So we are using these efforts to reclaim the word 'slut.'"
The police officer made his comments in January to a group of York University students at a safety forum. He later apologized, but his comments were publicized widely on Facebook and Twitter. They inspired a march in Toronto last month that drew more than 3,000 people, as well as SlutWalks since then in Dallas, Asheville, N.C., and Ottawa, Ontario.
In addition to Boston, marches are planned in cities including Seattle; Chicago; Philadelphia; Reno, Nev.; and Austin, Texas.
"The event is in protest of a culture that we think is too permissive when it comes to rape and sexual assault," said Siobhan Connors, 20, of Lynn, Mass., another Boston organizer. "It's to bring awareness to the shame and degradation women still face for expressing their sexuality ... essentially for behaving in a healthy and sexual way."
The events are similar to "Take Back the Night" rallies and other marches that aim to bring attention to sexual violence. But there are key differences.
SlutWalkers have danced to hip-hop, worn T-shirts with the word "slut" and held signs that read "sluts pay taxes." Some women have skated around on Rollerblades in lingerie, while their male supporters wore shirts reading, "I love sluts."
The rallies typically end with speakers and workshops on stopping sexual violence and calling on law enforcement agencies not to blame victims after sexual assaults.
In San Francisco, SlutWalk organizers want to make their protest a family event.
"Singles, couples, parents, sisters, brothers, children, friends," the SlutWalk SF BAY Facebook page announces. "Come walk or roll or strut or holler or stomp with us."
Connors said organizers had initially planned for about 100 people to attend the Boston event; by Thursday, more than 2,300 had responded to a Facebook shout-out. Another 2,000 people have similarly committed to attend the SlutWalk Seattle on June 19.
"Everything happened organically," Sullivan said.
The officer who made the comments, Constable Michael Sanguinetti, was disciplined but remains on duty, Toronto police spokesman Mark Pugash said Thursday.
"We said at the time that his comments were entirely unacceptable, that they didn't reflect in any way what we train and teach our people," Pugash said.
Pugash wouldn't comment on the movement the officer's comments have spawned.
The Boston SlutWalk group has had to delete several "inappropriate comments" about women and faced criticism from a group that promised to organize a counter "Pimp Walk" in Boston, Connors said.
"We think it was put there as a joke, but it's disturbing that a number of young people still feel that way," said Connors, referring to sexist comments left on the page.
Pages dedicated to other cities' SlutWalks also deleted inappropriate comments.
Connors said the Boston SlutWalk will proceed from the Government Center to the Boston Commons.
Associated Press writer Jeff McMillan in Philadelphia contributed to this report.
Russell Contreras can be reached at http://twitter.com/russcontreras.
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