Sexual criminals are being regarded simply as men who can’t control themselves instead of sick human beings. Sexual predators are looking for females. Women are predisposed to be victims of sexual assault no matter what we wear. Case in point: recently, I was hollered at by two men in two separate cars within a six-second time frame while wearing jeans and a polo shirt, with no makeup. Totally asking for it, right? Every woman can recall a times when they have gotten unsavory comments while wearing winter coats, scarves over their faces, hats smushing their hair. Women get hollered at, attacked, and raped for being women.
Over the past several months, there have been several reported cases of sexual assault by the same attacker in South Park Slope, one neighborhood over from mine in Brooklyn. Women in the area have been abuzz about who sells pepper spray and how to hold keys between our knuckles in a menacing way. We always check with each other to make sure we are not walking home through secluded streets by ourselves. We are being smart, practical and safe. We hope that when there’s trouble, we can also count on the police to issue similar warnings and helpful advice.
Unfortunately, this has not been the case. Recently an NYPD officer advised several female South Slope residents not to wear shorts or short skirts, so as not to give the suspect “easy access.” I realize that not all cops have this attitude, and most are working hard to keep us safe, but this incident only fans the flames of women who feel that they are being asked to carry too much of a burden for their safety. It is also disturbing that an NYPD spokesman issued a jokey half-apology for the incident: “officers are not telling women what not to wear — there’s a TV series that does that,” going on to cite that the poor cop was trying to being helpful, as the attacker has “targeted women wearing short skirts.” It should be noted that the one time the attacker was caught on tape, the victim was wearing a hoodie and pants.
Enter SlutWalk NYC on October 1, 2011 held in Manhattan’s bustling Union Square. SlutWalks have been organized in dozens of cities around the world. They aim to empower women against victim-blaming in sexual assault cases by freely expressing sexuality and speaking out about their experiences with abuse. I attended the rally portion and felt a roundhouse kick of catharsis. Protestors carried signs with slogans such as “Still Not Asking For It” and “We Are Not Street Meat.” One brave woman named Kaitlin Archibald, pictured here, smiled as she displayed a sign about how she was raped while wearing sweatpants at home, following the “rules” of rape prevention.
There was a refreshing sense of solidarity amongst SlutWalk attendees. I have heard peers call the Walk self-involved for all of the underwear-clad women and negligible effect on would-be abusers, but that’s the point. It’s about women being comfortable and confident for themselves. The most important takeaway was that despite police indifference or outright unhelpfulness, women will stick together. Beyond the pepper spray and the keys between knuckles, and the walks home, we support each other by defending ourselves against blame. We are not ashamed to be women. We are not ashamed of our bodies. We do not mind if men enjoy our bodies as we enjoy theirs, but it has to be on both of our terms.