Hannah Austin recounts her reasons for attending Cardiff’s Slutwalk
If you haven’t been hiding under a rock for the last couple of months, you will have heard about the Slutwalk movement – marches organised by women in cities across the globe to protest against the huge problem of victim-blaming culture relating to rape and sexual assault, provoked by a Toronto policeman’s comment that “women should avoid dressing like sluts” in order to avoid being raped. After the original Slutwalk Toronto, satellite marches quickly sprang up across the world, under the slogan “We’ve Had Enough”. And yesterday, Saturday June the 4th, Slutwalk came to Cardiff.
Unfortunately, victim-blaming attitudes are far from constrained to the Toronto police officer. Polls have found that over a quarter of people in the UK believe that a woman is to blame for being raped or sexually assaulted if she is wearing revealing clothing,  and 30% of male students in Wales hold this view.  It seems likely that victim-blaming attitudes also permeate the criminal justice system, given the appallingly low conviction rate of under 7%.
Rape itself is far more prevalent than people realise. Welsh Police Forces recorded 2367 sexual offences in 2010,  but given that only 11% of victims report to the police, there may have actually been nearly 22,000 offences in Wales (and half a million in England and Wales put together).  Widespread victim-blaming attitudes in society contribute to victims’ reluctance to report rape; 38% of victims tell nobody at all, often internalising these attitudes and blaming themselves .
The idea that a woman is responsible for being raped not only makes no logical sense (how can you “ask” to be raped, when rape is by definition sex without consent?), but also really exposes our society’s view of women – and men. It paints a picture of women as evil temptresses, luring men in, wanting it even if they don’t know they want it. It strips women of their autonomy and bodily integrity – they can’t possibly be wearing a skirt because they like the skirt, it must be a symbol of sexual availability worn for the sole purpose of attracting men (non-heterosexual women included), and they should take the consequences.
It’s also hugely insulting to men to assume that they can’t control themselves sexually when faced with a woman wearing revealing clothing. One of the comments on the Slutwalk Cardiff Facebook group was: “You wouldn’t wear Lady Gaga’s meat dress to the lions enclave in Longleat” (I’m not making this up), as if all men are beasts with no self-control, no free will, acting purely instinctually like any wild, red-blooded animal. Other comments compare women’s bodies with inanimate objects or private property, such as: “If you leave your house open and decorate it nicely, you should expect to get burgled”.
At its heart, the myths that we have invented to blame women for their own rape reflect deep-seated (and denied) sexism within society. These myths – that a woman is “asking for it” if she is dressed in a certain way, has been behaving in a certain way, has had a drink, is out alone at night – both perpetuate and reflect wider gendered assumptions about men’s and women’s roles, value and place within society: man as active, sexually dominant, the aggressor; woman as passive, sexually submissive, perpetually available. Perhaps this is also a reason why it’s so much easier to blame the woman than to deal with the real issues behind rape and sexual assault – we would have to come face-to-face with the vehemently-denied reality that we’re not “all equal now”; our society remains riddled with old-fashioned gendered roles and assumptions, and it is only by challenging such assumptions that we will ever reduce the prevalence of rape.
Furthermore, the whole “dress” myth is a red herring anyway, reflecting a gross misunderstanding of the nature of rape, which is about power and control, not sexual desire or women’s clothing. Only 4% of rapists remember what their victim was wearing. 80% of women know their rapists – the pervasive “stranger rape” myth (that rapists are strangers lurking in dark alleys and unable to resist a scantily-clad woman) is rare, with most women raped by somebody they know, often a partner or ex-partner within the context an abusive relationship.  In this sense, we need to be reclaiming the home, not the night.
If we really want to improve responses to rape victims and reduce the prevalence of rape and victim-blaming, we need to be working at all levels. On a national level we need the Welsh Government to continue with its innovative new campaigns, developed with violence against women sector in Wales, to challenge attitudes (such as “Stop Blame”, www.stopblame.org). We need vast improvements in the criminal justice system to bring perpetrators to justice. We need to provide adequate, secure funding to rape crisis services. And we need a long-term, preventative approach, educating children from an early age on consent, healthy relationships and respect.
Slutwalk might not change the world, but it’s sure to challenge some attitudes and is creating a space in the mainstream media to talk about sexual assault and rape, which affects 1 in 3 women at some point in their lives. What needs to happen next is for links to be built between the Slutwalkers and local feminist networks, national women’s organisations, and the feminist movement more broadly, to work towards ending the gross human rights violation that is violence against women and girls.
Anybody affected by domestic abuse or sexual violence can call the Wales Domestic Abuse Helpline (freephone, 24-hour, bilingual and gender-neutral) on 0808 80 10 800.
[] Home Office, Violence against Women opinion polling (2009)
 Amnesty International & NUS Wales Women’s Campaign, Violence against Women: The Perspective of Students in Wales (2008)
 Rape Crisis (England and Wales) website: www.rapecrisis.org.uk
 British Crime Survey, Crime in England and Wales: Quarterly Update to December 2010 (published 20th April 2011)
 Povey et al., Homicides, Firearm Offences and Intimate Violence 2007/08 (Supplementary Volume 2 to ‘Crime in England and Wales 2007/8), Home Office Statistical Bulletin 02/09 (2009);
 Rape Crisis website
 The “Stop Blame” campaign focuses on challenging attitudes towards rape victims, with the tagline “Rape. Sexual Assault. Let’s STOP blaming the victim.” See: www.stopblame.org