Gloucester Slutwalk: women are never to blame for sexual violence

A slutwalk led by the leader of the local Labour group is taking place in Gloucester this Thursday after comments urging women to reduce their risk of being raped by wearing more clothes.

Kate Haigh is leader of the Gloucester city council Labour group

I am organising a slutwalk on Thursday in Gloucester.

I had been working towards the One Billion Rising event (scheduled for Valentines Day) for some time, but when I heard comments about girls in high heels and short skirts from Joanna Lumley – not to mention our local MP Richard Graham chiming in about risk management – I felt I had to do more.

Blaming the victim, accepting a culture where women are not taken seriously is unacceptable. As is male entitlement.

No woman puts herself at risk of rape intentionally; most rapes occur when women think they are safe.

They are also perpetrated by men who women believe they are safe with. More than 80% of rapes are perpetrated by known men and only 9% are committed by strangers.

The facts of rape and violence against women show that even when women are raped by a stranger it is not the woman’s behaviour but the man’s desire to rape that is key.

Rape is an act of violence not sex.

A few days after I read the comments about women’s dress they reported that a teenage girl had been raped in Gloucester – she was dragged away from a bus stop in the early hours of the morning by two men.

And yet our MP, many of the local taxi drivers and even the police still seem to think it is reasonable to talk about ‘managing risk’ and it being akin to ‘leaving your car windows open’.

Some people may of course wonder why I have used the term ‘slutwalk’.

The movement started in Toronto after  a police officer told women students that they should avoid ‘dressing like sluts’ – and slutwalks have taken place all over the world since then.

It is a word that grabs attention and makes some uncomfortable. But just as our gay friends have reclaimed and celebrated the word ‘queer’, women can use the word slut to turn it against our attackers.

I wanted to join with those voices and say that gay, straight, trans or bi, high heels and short skirts or converse and jeans, we are who we are and violence is not what we invite in return for expressing ourselves.

Since I started to organise I have been privileged that many women and men have shared their experiences with me. Talking to me about the time they were assaulted or their sisters, mothers or daughters. Telling me how it feels to be told that they are to blame for what happened to them.

They are glad of the opportunity to speak out and rise up.

So on Thursday we will stand up for women and all people to protest against blaming rape on how a woman looks.

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