It all started with a Toronto policeman who told a small group of law students that women should "avoid dressing like sluts in order to not be victimized," according to NPR, which aired a story about the marches that have drawn thousands in Ottawa, Dallas, Boston, London, Seattle and several other cities. In NPR's coverage of the Seattle march, there was this story:
From afar, the protest could be mistaken for a Mardi Gras celebration, but behind the garter belts and bustiers are stories like Jessi Murray's.
"I was a nerd. Never been kissed," she said.
Murray is one of the organizers of the Seattle SlutWalk. She says on her 18th birthday, she visited MIT as an accepted student.
"I had recently lost some weight. ... I wasn't used to the idea of guys being into me. And it happened that I was assaulted that night. And I ended up blaming myself and I thought, 'I must be a slut,' " she said.
The NPR story goes into how everyone isn't comfortable with the term, but how it seems to be striking a chord. There are now 81 Slutwalk chapters around the world; the next march is scheduled for June 25 in Detroit.
How does this relate to health? Violence is a public health issue, and one of the seven major areas of prevention in the U.S. National Prevention Strategy. (The other six are tobacco-free living, preventing drug abuse and excessive alcohol use, healthy eating, active living, mental and emotional well-being, and reproductive and sexual health.)
Until diseases, intentional or unintentional injuries/deaths are understood, there's always, always, always a tendency to blame the victim. That attitude started way back in the 1800s with cholera. Before people learned that it was caused by a bacteria in drinking water, it was an understood "fact" that people came down with cholera because they weren't religious enough. Before we understood that injuries and deaths in vehicle crashes could be reduced by padded dashboards, collapsible steering columns, safety glass, anti-lock brakes, seat belts, safe intersections and roads, ALL crashes were blamed on "the nut behind the wheel." In the 1980s, the "accepted" reason people contracted HIV-AIDS was because they were living "immoral" lives.
Sexual assault isn't about what a woman wears, what she says or what she does. It's not about the victim -- it's about person who's doing the assault, through unmanageable anger and a misguided sense of power and entitlement. (And, let's not forget that a victim of sexual assault can be male.)
A list of past and future Slutwalks is here.