Edmonton

Slutwalk marches down Whyte Avenue, decrying sexual violence

More than one hundred people marched along Whyte Avenue Saturday afternoon, brandishing signs and calling out chants, demanding more attention on the issue of sexual violence.

Annual event sparked by comments from Toronto police officer in 2011

Marni Paras, one of the speakers at Slutwalk, says people are quick to put blame on the victims of sexual violence. (Zoe Todd/CBC)

More than one hundred people marched along Whyte Avenue Saturday afternoon, brandishing signs and calling out chants, demanding more attention on the issue of sexual violence.

"Our bodies are not an open invitation," said Marni Panas, a transgender woman and speaker at this year's Slutwalk

"Just because of who we are and how we dress — cisgender, transgender —  doesn't give people a right to think that they can touch."

The first Slutwalk was held in Toronto five years ago, a reaction to remarks by a police officer who advised that women "avoid dressing like sluts" to prevent sexual assault.

This blaming the victim, on and on and on, is not right.- Marni Panas

The annual protest has since spread across North America, with marchers encouraged to wear whatever they wish to, as a way of defying victim-blaming when it comes to sexual assault.

Panas, who is transgender, was invited to speak as part of an emphasis on the sexual violence faced by the LGBTQ community.

The Slutwalk drew small crowd of counter-protesters Saturday. (Zoe Todd/CBC)
While she said her experiences were different than many of the others at Slutwalk, many victims of sexual assault are met with dismissal or outright hostility, with society blaming them for what happened.

"If we deviate from society's norms, then it's our fault for the punishment we're going to receive -- whether it is abuse, name calling, sexual assault or bullying," she said.

For many, like organizer Stephanie Chard, the event has been an invaluable way of dealing with their own experiences.

Chard first started participating in Slutwalk two years ago, after a sexual assault, which she said made her feel as if her body had been "turned into a crime scene."

At first, she was hesitant to take part in the walk. But, once it began, she was surprised at how it helped her.

"It was empowering," she said. "I found it was a really great way to give me back my own voice."

After two years as a participant, she started to help with organizing the walk this year.

As in previous years, the walk drew a handful of counter-protesters. One man, holding a sign that read "Women are programmed to ruin men's lives," accused the event of demonizing men. He declined to give his name.

However, Panas said the point of the Slutwalk was not to exclude people -- instead, she said it is to call attention to the challenges faced by all sexual assault victims, regardless of gender or identity.

That's not right. This blaming the victim, on and on and on, is not right," she said.

"How do we make it okay to talk about it and say 'that is not okay?'"