In the past three months, people across the world have united in a global protest against stereotypical ideas that the victims of sexual assault are somehow to blame for the attack. From the U.S. to India, SlutWalkers have gathered on the streets bearing with posters that read: “Don’t tell me how to dress, tell men not to rape!”, “It’s my hot body, I do what I want!” and “My short skirt has nothing to do with you!”
The message is simple: A person’s outfit doesn’t matter—rape is never, ever ‘justifiable’! The movement has hit Iceland and the country’s first SlutWalk will take place in downtown Reykjavík on July 23, where attendees are encouraged to join hands and protest the way sexual assault victims are frequently treated and portrayed by society.
A slutty dress is NOT an invitation!
The first SlutWalk was held in Toronto this April as a response to comments by an officer in the local police force, who remarked at a law school’s safety forum: “[…] women should avoid dressing like sluts in order not to be victimized.” The protest quickly turned into a worldwide movement and rallies have been staged in cities across the globe.
Controversial remarks in the Icelandic media, on blogs and in community forums have caused similar outrage. Inspired by the Toronto SlutWalk, the organisers of SlutWalk Reykjavík were fed up with the common view that victims of sexual assault bear responsibility by putting themselves in dangerous situations because they are too drunk or dressed in revealing clothes. What started as an invite-only Facebook group now counts almost 4.000 members and has sparked a heated discussion on the issue.
Helga Þórey Jónsdóttir, Rósa Björk Bergþórsdóttir and María Lilja Þrastardóttir are part of the SlutWalk organisational team. Over beers, they tell me that victim-blaming is still very real in Icelandic society, and an emphasis is often put on the way the victim is dressed or how much alcohol or drugs he or she has purportedly consumed. They are therefore planning to hit the streets and demand a change in the discourse.
“Our main goal is to transfer the responsibility from the victim to the perpetrator. We want people to erase these prejudices within themselves [of victim responsibility],” says María, emphasising that victims should never have to feel ashamed or blame themselves. The way a victim chose or chooses to dress should not be relevant. “I saw a very strong image from one of the walks that really struck me. There was a woman, dressed in a casual outfit, holding up a poster that read: ‘This is how I was dressed when I was raped. Was I asking for it?’ Rapists don’t think about the way their victim is dressed and I don’t think they would even remember afterwards.”
Victim-blaming is never OK
Helga Þórey, María and Rósa say they are tired of the common perspective that women should learn to be more careful when going out, and the way sexual assaults have often be defended by attacking the victim’s character. “Women are taught how to avoid being raped. Not to dress like a slut. Avoid getting too drunk, and so on,” says Rósa. She refers to an ad campaign by The Public Health Institute of Iceland where people are advised not to consume alcohol in order to avoid being assaulted or raped. “It’s remarkable that these ads never say ‘if you drink too much, you might rape your friend.’ That’s somehow taboo,” she adds. “Rape is a serious problem in our society. One third of Icelandic women are sexually assaulted in their lifetime! What is with that?” says Helga Þórey and continues: “Women are more likely to be raped by someone they know, inside of a marriage for example, than attacked by a stranger while drunk at a party.”
With the July 23 march, the organisers hope to eradicate victim-shaming in Icelandic society, and they hope everyone out there will join them to walk for the cause. The march is set to start at Skólavörðuholt at 2pm and will head down Skólavörðustígur, down to Ingólfstorg where people can gather and listen to speeches and live music. Asked what they want to achieve with the SlutWalk María says: “If we can change some views, we will be happy. I look forward to reading the news after Verslunarmannahelgin this year [Iceland’s annual bank holiday, set in the first weekend of August, marked by numerous outdoor festivals around the country]. It’s been terrible to read comments in the press in the past, like ‘the festival was successful this year. Only two rapes have been reported.’ ONLY two rapes? I mean, what needs to happen for a festival to have ‘gone badly’? Someone getting killed? If we can change the way media reports about this, then we have achieved something,” concludes María.
SlutWalks around the globe have been widely covered, and images of women dressed down to their underwear with the word ‘Slut’ scribbled on their bosom published in the international media. However, the three women emphasise that there is no dress-code and anyone should wear what they want. “I think we will see people from all walks of life, not just twenty girls dressed in slutty outfits. Icelanders can be very unified when they want to be,” says María. “You should wear whatever you want, or not wear anything even. That doesn’t give anyone the right to rape you. I think we can all agree on that. That’s the whole point,” says Rósa.
Until victims are no longer blamed or shamed, they plan on making SlutWalk Reykjavík an annual event and continue the protest, one step at a time.
If a woman is drunk, don’t rape her.
If a woman is walking alone at night, don’t rape her.
If a woman is drugged and unconscious, don’t rape her.
If a woman is wearing a short skirt, don’t rape her.
If a woman is jogging in a park at 5 am, don’t rape her.
If a woman looks like the ex-girlfriend you’re still hung up on, don’t rape her.
If a woman is asleep in her bed, don’t rape her.
If a woman is asleep in your bed, don’t rape her.
If a woman is doing her laundry, don’t rape her.
If a woman is in a coma, don’t rape her.
If a woman changes her mind in the middle of/about a particular sexual act, don’t rape her.
If a woman has repeatedly refused a certain sexual act, don’t rape her.
If a woman is not yet a woman, but a child, don’t rape her.
If your girlfriend or wife is not in the mood, don’t rape her.
If your step-daughter is watching TV, don’t rape her.
If you happen to break into a house and find a woman there, don’t rape her.
If your friend thinks it’s okay to rape someone, tell him it’s not, and that he’s not your friend.
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