“Quit blaming victims of sexual abuse” – SafeWalk marchers ask

Last year, SlutWalk rallies across the globe drew folks concerned about the practice of “blaming the victim” in cases of sexual assault. This year, organizers of the Kansas City event have changed the name to SafeWalk and hope to change its focus. Rachel Sweet (left) and Miranda Nichols (right) also hope to expand SafeWalk’s activities.

The SlutWalk movement began after a law enforcement officer in Toronto, speaking about crime prevention, said “women should avoid dressing like sluts in order not to be victimized.” Those words touched off a controversial series of demonstrations in Kansas City and elsewhere, with women and men protesting they were tired of the implication that victims were somehow to blame for rape or sexual abuse.

One of the Kansas City organizers, Miranda Nichols, says, “A lot of women have identified with the idea that they should be able to feel safe in their community. Maybe they have experienced sexual violence or harassment. Often survivors of sexual assault get blamed for their experiences.” She says both men and women, straight, gay and transgendered people have experienced similar criticism.

Nichols says she got involved in the movement after she was “blamed” by friends because a roommate sexually assaulted her. “I’ve had experience with slut shaming. I was blamed. People made comments like, ‘what were you doing being out late at night with a bunch of boys?’”

Co-organizer Rachel Sweet says the incident in Toronto tied into feelings she was having about the sexual double-standard, the perception that men experience more sexual freedom than women. “I realized there was this whole predominating culture where women were blamed for their own assaults and women were treated terribly if they were even remotely generous with their sexuality in any way. It doesn’t just have to do with rape; it has to do with the double standard. And I was just really frustrated about that for a long time, and I didn’t really know what to do about it.”

The Kansas City organizers have changed their focus from last year. For one thing, they’ve dropped the name SlutWalk and adopted the name SafeWalk. Nichols says that’s in part a response to criticism from black women about the use of the term slut.

Nichols and Sweet want to start a nonprofit to keep SafeWalk activities alive throughout the year. They want to educate people and create safe environments so that men or women who are sexually threatened will feel safe to ask for help and support.

“We want Kansas City area men and women to know they have advocates around them. It shouldn’t matter what you wear, what you do for a living, whatever your identity, you should feel comfortable in your community,” Nichols says. “Last year so many people came together. There’s a weird joy from knowing you are not alone.”

Visit SafeWalk KC’s Facebook page