Slutwalk is returning to Johannesburg this month, continuing a seven-year movement protesting the blaming of survivors for being raped.
South Africa has one of the highest incidence of rape in the world — with police recording over 40,000 rapes in the year 2017-8, according to Africa Check.
And according to Rape Crisis, the belief that women are calling for men’s attention by the clothes they choose to wear — “victim blaming” — is one of the main drivers of “rape culture” in South Africa.
“Appearance and clothing have nothing to do with who gets raped and many rapes happen in the home,” says the organisation on its website. “Women are raped no matter what they wear: babies in nappies, old women in tracksuits, and nuns in habits also get raped. Rape is the rapist’s fault, not the survivor’s.”
Slutwalk first debuted in South Africa in 2011, supporting the movement that started in Canada in the same year — after a police officer told university students women could avoid being raped if they stopped dressing like “sluts.”
This year, Slutwalk will be held in Johannesburg on Sept. 29, and men, women, and children are expected to turn out in support of the event.
“There are now Slutwalks in more than 100 cities spreading the message that nobody deserves to be raped,” one of the event organisers, Karmilla Pillay-Siokos, told Global Citizen.
“Slutwalk is for everyone who stands against victim blaming,” she said. “It is time to change the way we think about rape and sexual abuse. It is time to hold criminals accountable for their choices. It is time to support survivors.”
Over the past three years, according to Pillay-Siokos, the number of people supporting the march has doubled every year.
As well as protesting victim-blaming, an important element of the march is giving survivors of rape and sexual assault the opportunity to speak about how they overcame their ordeals.
“Last year we had an open mic session where survivors were able to stand up and share their stories of how they healed and talked about the freedom that they have discovered in the safe space we provide,” added Pillay-Siokos.
And the team has also been running collection drives for care kits, with handbags filled with toiletries being given to rape survivors.
“We collect handbags and fill them with toiletries to give to rape crisis centres, police stations etc. so that people reporting rape can have something in that process to show them that there are humans out there who have been in similar situations and care enough to help,” Pillay-Siokos continued.
The care kits the group puts together also go to benefit more vulnerable members of the community and those at greater risk of victimisation, including people who are homeless and sex workers. The care kits are also distributed at shelters, community centres, and religious centres.
Pillay-Siokos and others on the team have also been doing public talks, and radio and TV interviews, to help change the perception of rape in society as a whole.
But it isn’t easy work, and Pillay-Siokos said that the emotion involved puts a lot of strain on the individuals in the team. Actress Sass Schultz, who initiated the first march in Johannesburg in 2011, has since decided to step down from her organising role.
“The emotional strain of doing this work became too much for Sass and she stepped down in 2013,” said Pillay-Siokos. “I have run it ever since. The cause means a lot to me personally as a survivor myself. I love the idea of being able to help other survivors realise that they were not to blame for being raped, regardless of the circumstances of the rape.”
“It is so important for survivors to have a safe space surrounded by people who understand why and how we end up blaming ourselves for somebody else's choice to violate our bodies,” she continued. “In that space, we learn to understand our doubts and fears and guilt. Being able to see how it is our social conditioning that causes these feelings makes it easier to let go of them and move forward.”
But while their work has been appreciated by many, others have called on organisers to change the name of the march because they take issue with the word “slut.”
“Many people over the years [have] questioned the name and gone so far as to ask us to change it,” she added. “In 2015, we gave in to that pressure and tried to run the march as S.T.A.R (Stand Together Against Rape) instead.”
“We only had 80 people at that march,” she said. “It was proof for us that conforming didn't work for us or our support base. Since then we have politely refused to change our name and found support from people who understand the cause for what it is.”
“We have also been criticised by some men's rights movements for being too feminist,” she added. “When we point out that victim blaming is also a problem when men are raped and explain that we also stand against toxic masculinity, they often see that they can work with us instead of against us.”
- If you’ve been affected by any of the issues addressed in this article, you can find resources for support here.
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