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Thursday, Sept. 20, 2012

SlutWalk Milwaukee 2012: Why Should You Walk?

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 Last year, SlutWalk started as a grassroots response to a remark made by a Toronto police officer and quickly became an international movement whose goal was to stop the blaming of victims for being sexually assaulted—by suggesting, for instance, that if women didn’t “dress like sluts,” rape wouldn’t happen. The first SlutWalk Milwaukee took place in August 2011 (you can read my interview with one of the organizers here). Since the original march, there has been much discussion and critique of the SlutWalk concept, especially from women of color (you can check out one link roundup here). In 2012, many cities around the world continue to hold SlutWalks; Milwaukee’s will take place noon-3 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 29, starting at Pere Marquette Park (see the SlutWalk Milwaukee Facebook event for more details). I talked to one of this year’s organizers, Katie Jesse, about why people in Milwaukee feel it’s important to hold a second walk.

LAS: The worldwide SlutWalks that were organized in 2011 were in response to a specific event in Toronto. What is driving the organizers of SlutWalk Milwaukee to continue the march this year?

KJ: When we were planning last year’s SlutWalk in Milwaukee, we learned a lot of things about how the city handles victim advocacy. For instance, last year, Marquette University came out with a statement that they will now be referring all reports of sexual assaults to the Milwaukee Police Department (MPD) whether the student wants to talk to police or not. Also, we were able to bring to light the fact that Aurora Sinai is the only hospital in the city to provide 24-hour rape crisis services. [T]hese are all still issues. We still don’t have a citywide advocacy program. We still don’t have a policy that requires all sexual assault victims to have an advocate in the room when they are reporting a rape to MPD. We still blame victims by assuming that what you wear or when you are walking down the street has anything to do with why you get raped. And, most troubling, there is still only ONE Milwaukee hospital that staffs Sexual Assault Nurse Examiners (SANE) 24 hours, which means that you could be raped, go to the wrong hospital and be turned away. It could also mean that if you go to the wrong hospital with injuries that require immediate attention, that a rape kit could be administered to you by a person who is untrained. Until these issues are addressed, SlutWalk Milwaukee will still be relevant. [For more information about what a rape kit is, visit the RAINN website. –LAS]

LAS: What did the organizers learn from last year's SlutWalk that is informing the 2012 effort?

KJ: We learned that even though this issue is universal, in this city, race still plays a role. As a group of mostly white women, we have had many conversations with advocacy groups working with specific minority populations about how [the word] “slut” affects them. In our attempt to reclaim, even in some small way, the use of the word “slut,” we have had to recognize that different populations are affected by that word in different ways, and this year’s lineup of speakers will attempt to address some of those issues. We’ve also changed locations, moving into Milwaukee’s Downtown neighborhood. We realize that neighborhood division is a big problem, and we felt as though Downtown is about as neutral a neighborhood as you can get.

LAS: What lasting impact do you hope SlutWalk Milwaukee 2012 will have?

KJ: For too long our society has preached, “Don’t get raped,” instead of, “Don’t rape.” We have used words like “slut” to dehumanize, delegitimize, and isolate victims, shaping a cultural conception that only people like “them” get sexually assaulted. This is why SlutWalk Milwaukee is instrumental to our society and its diverse communities. It is our mission to end victim-blaming and to end the domination of the “slut” label. And finally, we have several initiatives to improve victim advocacy in the city. We have a petition on change.org to require all area hospitals to staff 24-hour SANE responders, and we are working with a newly formed group called Never Alone Milwaukee, which is attempting to put together a network of volunteer SANE responders. [For information about SANE responders, the RAINN website is once again a great resource. –LAS]

Laura Anne Stuart owns the
Tool Shed, an erotic boutique on Milwaukee’s East Side. She has a master’s degree in public health and has worked as a sexuality educator for more than 15 years. Want Laura to answer your questions in SEXpress? Send them to laura@shepex.com. Not all questions received will be answered in the column, and Laura cannot provide personal answers to questions that do not appear here. Questions sent to this address may be reproduced in this column, both in print and online, and may be edited for clarity and content.

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