South African women and men took to the streets this weekend dressed in sexually provocative clothes to participate in a unique protest dubbed “SlutWalk” in efforts to change public ideas about rape and blame.
Marchers carried bold signs and wore risqué outfits that they hoped would challenge people to think twice about commonly held perceptions about rape. Wearing a black lace bra and panties, photos showed one woman carrying a sign saying, “This is what I wore when I was raped. I still did not ask for it.”
“Because we have a rape culture in this country that is perpetuated by the shroud of silence which surrounds it […] I think the importance of the 'SlutWalks' is that we are getting people to engage in important conversations, conversations about choice and consent and respect,” said Sandi Schultz, co-organizer of the Cape Town "SlutWalk."
South Africa is known for its rape problem. A 2009 survey showed that one in four men in South Africa have admitted to committing a rape at least once before. It is estimated that a woman born in South Africa has a greater chance of being raped than learning how to read; an especially startling statistic considering that a woman raped by a man over the age of 25 has a one in four chance of her attacker being HIV-positive. The country is also struggling to curb instances of “corrective rape,” which is directed toward lesbian and transgender women.
South Africa’s so called culture of rape came under international scrutiny in 2006 when President Jacob Zuma was on trial for rape after a woman claimed he sexually assaulted her. Zuma famously commented that he believed the woman was sending him sexual signals because she arrived at his house wearing a skirt.
"SlutWalks" have become an international movement and have been held in several U.S. cities, Canada and Europe.
The concept began in Canada after Toronto police constable Michael Sanguinetti told a group of students at a safety forum held at a law school to “avoid dressing like sl--s” to prevent being sexually assaulted.
His comments ignited outrage around the country and inspired two young women to organized the first "SlutWalk" in Toronto to counter a culture that they say blames the victims of sexual assault.
“The idea that there is some aesthetic that attracts sexual assault or even keeps you safe from sexual assault is inaccurate, ineffective and even dangerous,” said "SlutWalk" co-founder Heather Jarvis.
Although more "SlutWalks" are planned for other cities in South Africa, one blogger lamented that too much of the focus was on the shock value of the event instead of the issues it represents. “In other countries the debate has revolved around the point at hand: how dress prevents or provokes or has no baring on the matter of rape,” wrote South African blogger Dorothy Black.
(Photo: AP Photo/Schalk van Zuydam)