For the sixth year in a row, thousands of Icelanders will take to the streets this Saturday to protest victim-blaming, slut-shaming and other social and legal issues that are part of rape culture. SlutWalk has become one the biggest events on the summer calendar in Reykjavík, and last year over 20,000 people of a range of ages, genders and backgrounds marched in an act of solidarity with victims of sexual assault.
SlutWalk began in Canada in 2011, after a Toronto police constable told an audience at York University that “women should avoid dressing like sluts” if they wanted to avoid being raped. This ignorant and inflammatory comment triggered an immediate and international response, prompting marches under the SlutWalk banner around the world, from Brazil to Singapore to, of course, Iceland.
At first it wasn’t easy to find support for SlutWalk in Iceland. “The first year it was hard to get people to come because of the stigma of the word,” SlutWalk organiser Sunna Ben Guðrúnardóttir told the Reykjavík Grapevine last year. But things change, and SlutWalk is now a family event in Reykjavík. In recent years, Sunna Ben says parents have begun bringing their children to the march, and it’s not uncommon to see prams next to protest signs.
Sunna Ben says she has also seen a lot of progress when it comes to women opening up about their experiences with sexual abuse, thanks in part to efforts by SlutWalk to bring these issues to the fore. In particular, hashtags such as #konurtala (“women speak”) and #þöggun (“silenced”) and other internet trends have been popular in Iceland. “I think the SlutWalk has done a lot for making space for people to talk,” Sunna Ben says.
SlutWalk organiser Ásdís María Viðarsdóttir agrees. “The burden of sexual violence shouldn’t be on the victim’s shoulders but rather society’s,” she says. “Having such a large group of Icelandic society participate in the SlutWalk makes people that have been through sexual violence feel safe and encourages them to come out with their stories.”
“I think we’ve come a long way since 2011,” says SlutWalk organiser Salvör Gullbrá Þórarinsdóttir. “We called for action from the government in 2014, and as a result the SlutWalk’s spokesperson María Rut Kristinsdóttir was hired by the Ministry of Internal Affairs to review how the system deals with cases of sexual violence from the moment a crime is committed.”
This year, Salvör says the goal of SlutWalk is to focus on what happens before crimes are committed. “More and more sexual offenders are under the age of 18,” she says. “We clearly have to educate our youth to prevent offenses from happening in the first place.”
This year’s SlutWalk will take place on July 23 at 14:00, and as in past years will begin at Hallgrímskirkja before making its way down Skólavörðustígur before ending at Austurvöllur. A pre-party will be held at Húrra on July 20 at 21:00 featuring music by AmabAdamA, Auður and DJ Sunna Ben.