Your body is a battlegroundHundreds of people hit the streets of Hong Kong last Saturday as part of the SlutWalks campaign and similar demonstrations have been happening all over the world for the past year.

The on-going movement, organised largely through Facebook and Twitter, was sparked by a police officer in Toronto, who paid a visit three months ago to a School to advise students on how to stay safe. He told the students present: “I’ve been told I’m not supposed to say this – however, women should avoid dressing like sluts in order not to be victimised.”

The comments were posted online and have provoked outrage worldwide.

In Hong Kong some wore full-body fluorescent suits and held signs saying, “Oh sorry, does my dress make you feel like a rapist today?”

“We dressed up in ‘protective suits’ to highlight the absurdity of blaming the victims of sexual assault,” said Elene Lam Yee-ling, one of the instigators of the Hong Kong march.

Protesters dressed as power-rangers in Hong Kong

Protesters in Hong Kong.

The statistics

But the police officer from Toronto is not alone in his views. A 2009 Home Office report into violence against women in the UK found that 36% of people believed a woman should be held wholly or partly responsible for being sexually assaulted or raped if she was drunk, and 26% if she was in public wearing sexy or revealing clothes.

In Britain it is thought 90% of rapes go unreported, while the conviction rate is around 6%.

For Sarah Green, campaigns manager for End Violence Against Women, the debate about rape shouldn’t just be about criminal justice. It’s also about society.

“People always ask ‘what are your suggestions for the police?’ But a very small minority of victims report it to the police.”

SlutWalk London

The SlutWalk London Facebook page is riddled with comments pointing out that: “drivers lock their cars to prevent theft, ergo women dress conservatively to prevent rape.”

Women in London: "It's my hot body, I do what I want"

Hundreds come out in London
Photograph: Josh Reynolds/AP

“Women are constantly made to feel like they are to blame: told they should not look a certain way, should not go out at night, should not get drunk, should not wear high heels or make up or should not be alone with someone they don’t know.” Says the Facebook pages description. The protests hope to open society’s eyes to bias that it has against victims of sexual assaults.

SlutWalk say that the blame for rape and other assault’s is blamed on the victim and the way that they dress and act. Yes means yes and no means no.

“Our culture needs to change – teach people not to rape, not how not to be raped,” said 21-year-old student and London marcher Rhiannon Frame.

What can we do now?

For Dr Amy Russell at the University of Leeds, it’s more about attitudes towards rape itself.

“I think we constantly have the problem of people responding to talk of rape with the answer ‘but how do we really know [that it really happened]’,” she told The Huffington Post.

“It’s not often someone gets mugged and people say “how do we really know you didn’t want to give them your wallet – you’ve given gifts before,”

Dianne Whitfield, manager of the Coventry Rape and Sexual Abuse Centre, welcomed the widespread campaign. “This relights my faith,” she said. “Women have rights and they will stand up, speak up and fight for those rights.”

More protesters in Paris. These women walked the streets in their underwear.

Picture: Chris Beckett Flickr

So what happens now? For ‘End Violence Against Women’, there needs to be a public awareness campaign, similar to public health campaigns for road safety and against drunk driving.

“What we need is some public campaigning in this area. In the same way you have drink driving campaigns we should have a large national campaign on attitudes to rape.”

For more information about SlutWalks in your area visit their facebook pages here


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