Reykjavík Drusluganga: Mainstreaming The “Slut” - The Reykjavik Grapevine

Reykjavík Drusluganga: Mainstreaming The “Slut”

Reykjavík Drusluganga: Mainstreaming The “Slut”

Published July 27, 2017

Hannah Jane Cohen
Photos by
Art Bicnick

Have you ever drank too much? Worn stereotypically provocative clothes? Flirted? Well, according to one Canadian police officer in 2011, this was the reason women faced sexual violence, and if they wanted to avoid being victimized, he told a room full of university students, they should stop dressing like “sluts.”

“What people go through after being digitally sexually violated is the same as being physically sexually violated. The PTSD, anxiety, depression—it’s the same process.”

Naturally, a group of five women in Toronto were moved to stand up in response to this harmful and pervasive myth—that women bear the responsibility for whether or not they will be sexually assaulted or raped—and so, the SlutWalk was born. In only months it grew into a worldwide phenomenon, becoming, as the Washington Post’s Jessica Valenti called it, “the most successful feminist action of the past twenty years.”

Unfortunately, the Icelandic police were not immune from that dangerous delusion. A Reykjavík police officer—the head of the sexual crimes department, actually—expressed similarly distressing thoughts in an interview that same year, and only months later, the first Reykjavík SlutWalk, called Druslugangan, occurred. The event has since grown into the second largest outdoor gathering in the country. Last year, 20,000 people showed up—6.25% of Iceland’s population.

Digital sexual violence

“In a small society like this,” Helga Lind Mar, one of the organizers of the walk, tells me as we sit down for coffee, “it’s easier to get people to think about problems and change their minds, and so through the years, we’ve dived into heavier topics.” She pauses. “Of course, we still talk about how women are not responsible for violence perpetrated against them, but the walk is now an event for unity, to mainstream the conversation about sexual violence in all of its forms. Our specific focus this year is digital sexual violence.”   

Digital sexual violence refers to the distribution of sexually explicit images or videos without the consent of their subject—you might have heard the term “revenge porn” used for this. This is an incorrect and offensive label, though. The word “revenge” gives the implication that the victim did something wrong, that there is something to avenge. And, as Kólbrun Birna Hallgrímsdóttir, another organiser, puts it simply: “It’s also not porn. It’s a personal photo.”

“The thing is,” Helga continues, “research has shown that what people go through after being digitally sexually violated is the same as being physically sexually violated. The PTSD, anxiety, depression—it’s the same process.” And with the proliferation and ubiquity of apps and other technology, there’s a whole new host of problems. “Think about it, there’s a nude picture going around of your fifteen-year-old daughter. How do you react? There is no handbook for how to handle these things, and we want to make it clear that this is just as serious as physical sexual violence.”

“Even if you are just retweeting a link to someone’s nude photos with the caption, ‘This is terrible,’” Stella Briem Friðriksdóttir, another one of the organisers, adds, “you are still partaking in this violence, which people don’t often realise.” Helga nods.

“Another had seen her name on a Icelandicrevenge porn site, in a post asking for nude pictures of her. She was sixteen.”

“Think about when those nude pictures of Justin Bieber came online. People were laughing at it, acting like it was all right because he was famous. But even though he’s well-known, you do not have the right to see his genitals. He even said openly that he was not comfortable with that.” Stella shakes her head. “People joked about it with him in interviews though, but it isn’t funny, it’s violence.”

The girls repeatedly emphasis that they are just talking about violence—not nude photographs themselves. “There is no shame in taking nude pictures or videos,” Helga says. “It’s a way to celebrate your body and feel confident and really, nude pictures have existed since people began drawing. It’s your body, your right. The violation comes when they are sent onwards without your consent.”

“Feminist paradise”

Almost a year ago, I started working on a feature for the Grapevine about digital sexual violence. Every female I mentioned it to, even casually, started confiding in me—it had happened to them, a sister, a friend. Yes, even in the “feminist paradise” of Iceland, the phenomenon was terrifyingly ubiquitous.

“Last year the shirts said things like, ‘I am not the violence I went through.’ So for someone to buy this shirt, they can make a statement of their own without saying anything out loud.”

One girl told me about how an ex had secretly recorded her having phone sex with him and then posted it on a popular Icelandic forum. Another had seen her name on a Icelandic revenge porn site, in a post asking for nude pictures of her. She was sixteen. Another said that during a drunk hookup, a bystander had burst into the room and Snapchatted pictures to his friends. Many more had had exes share intimate material after they broke up. Tragically, all echoed that they often felt obligated to tell new partners about this in case someone showed them these photos or videos before they could. It was a perpetual cloud of shame that followed them around. Druslugangan could not pick a more pertinent and important topic. This is something we need to talk about.

A silent statement of support

But along with the focus on digital sexual violence, the walk will always be—first and foremost—a empowering forum for survivors and supporters. “It’s so often that people talk about the violence they have experience right after they walk, maybe even for the first time,” Helga says. “They feel comfortable and unified. To walk with 20,000 people, to see that all these people stand with you against sexual violence, it means something.” Stella nods. “The energy is electric. Last year the shirts said things like, ‘I am not the violence I went through.’ So for someone to buy this shirt, they can make a statement of their own without saying anything out loud. It’s powerful and it’s empowering.” The walk has also spread to many other cities in Iceland, in true grassroots style. “Girls there started it by themselves, just like we did,” Kolbrún says.

The walk starts at 14:00 at Hallgrímskirkja, but you can show up early to buy t-shirts, make signs, or just chat. After that, the walk travels down to Austurvöllur, where there will be speeches and musical acts. While in other cities, many dress up in the stereotypically “provocative” clothing that that Toronto police officer was so afraid of, attendees should wear whatever they feel comfortable with.

“We do still have a long way to go,” Stella adds. “But we have this platform to go further and we need to keep fighting everyday for women across the world who have it worse than us.” Helga smiles. “The most important thing is to make a statement. Be a statement. And be loud.”

Join the Facebook event here.


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