A PARADE of Portlanders in their silky drawers marched through downtown streets last Sunday, July 31, for an eye-catching cause: Portland's Slutwalk. The 1,000-strong rally against sexual violence mixed tearful stories with outrageous costumes for a unique protest.
The march down SW 4th and Burnside was the local version of a surprising international movement of Slutwalks. The rallies started in Toronto last April, sparked by a police officer's comment that women could avoid rape by "not dressing like sluts." In response, over 1,000 Canadians took to the streets in "slutty" attire to protest the idea that rape victims bring the crime upon themselves. Since the Toronto march, dozens of cities around the world have held Slutwalks—Portland's was the same day as the Slutwalk in New Delhi, India.
For co-organizer Sophia St. James, the focus of the protest was less on what people wore, and more on the overarching message about the culture surrounding rape.
"It's not about dressing slutty and walking down the street," says St. James, who encouraged people to wear whatever they felt comfortable in. "It's about saying no matter what we wear, where we go, what we look like, we have a right to be safe."
St. James started off the event by telling the crowd the difficult, emotional story of her experience with sexual assault and resulting isolation from even Portland's sex-positive communities of sex workers and burlesque dancers. Several other speakers related sobering statistics to the crowd. Portland, for all its progressiveness, has a serious problem with sex- and gender-based violence: Local domestic violence deaths doubled from 2009 to 2010 in Multnomah County.
Following serious speeches, the Slutwalk started walking. Spanning a little over a city block, the walkers surprised unsuspecting passersby with chants like, "Whatever we wear, wherever we go, yes means yes, no mean no."
Many people painted anti-rape messages on signs or on their own bodies, broadcasting messages such as, "No Consent? Get Bent!" and "Slut Power!" Supportive pets—including a snake and a pit bull wearing an anti-sexist shirt—also dotted the pack. Many others also joined the march, but skipped the slutty costumes.
"I didn't think going topless was really supportive of the idea," says participant Alli Bratt, who marched in her regular clothes. "But the signs and messages definitely got across—it was overall a heartfelt event."
According to organizers and police, who escorted the march, the rally was devoid of any counter protests or the zoom lens-wielding detractors that some participants feared would turn out.
Looking to the future, St. James says the Slutwalk group plans to host more events, including perhaps "dance parties, craft nights, and bake sales."
"The Slutwalk proved that this is an important issue, and with this kind of support, who knows what we'll come up with next," says St. James.
—Sarah Mirk contributed reporting