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No walking, just talking at latest SlutWalk

Sharing circles, discussions at Forks

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Kassiy Swan concedes the provocative SlutWalk name may be keeping people away from the event.

BORIS MINKEVICH / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Enlarge Image

Kassiy Swan concedes the provocative SlutWalk name may be keeping people away from the event. Photo Store

The first rule of SlutWalk? This year, it's talk about "SlutWalk."

At least, that's what's on the agenda Saturday when the third annual SlutWalk will be held in Winnipeg -- although on this occasion there's going to be more talking than walking.

For the first time, the event will not include a walk. Instead, it will take place at Festival Park in The Forks, beginning at 1 p.m., and will feature a series of sharing circles and panel-like discussions. Topics will include tackling rape culture in the community, survivors sharing stories and possible steps available to work with both the medical and justice systems, along with the media, to provide more support to victims.

Perhaps the most eye-catching discussion scheduled is posing the question of "rebranding" the SlutWalk name, which has from the outset been a provocative title. The name has direct roots in the movement, which was sparked in 2011 when Toronto police Const. Michael Sanguinetti made national headlines after telling a personal-security class at York University that women should "avoid dressing like sluts in order not to be victimized."

The original SlutWalk march in Winnipeg two years ago drew about 300 to 400 protesters. Last year's event drew closer to 200.

'A lot of people don't understand why we're walking and what our goals are. The name was a big controversy when we started. It's so much more than that'

-- SlutWalk organizer Kayla McMillan

Winnipeg co-organizer Nila Cottrell believes the SlutWalk title was both valid and served its purpose.

"It could be a lot more inclusive," said Cotterill, who leans toward changing the title. "We could be reaching a lot more people. There's a lot of judgment and stigma that comes with that name. Even I wince sometimes when I have to explain it to people."

Organizer Kayla McMillan said the "shock value" of "SlutWalk" as a name, is beginning to wear off.

"It's definitely something we'd consider, but if we change our name, then we're going to be back at stage one, which is a big problem," McMillan said. "People mostly get offended because of the word 'slut.' It could have been called anything.

"A lot of people don't understand why we're walking and what our goals are. The name was a big controversy when we started. It's so much more than that."

The intention, at first, was to take back ownership of the word "slut," organizers noted. But the title should not come at the expense of involvement.

"It's an important event and people should be aware of it and come to it (the event)," said co-organizer Kassiy Swan. "If we're losing people because of the name that's not good."

Asked if she felt the name affected involvement, Swan replied: "Definitely."

Marches in other cities and countries have already altered or adopted new titles, including "SlutWalk presents: The Walk of No Shame."

Although the title will be under discussion, McMillan said the overall purpose of the interaction will be to develop future strategies.

"We wanted everybody to share their opinions, tell us things," Swan said. "How about we just let everyone talk and just have a sharing discussion, where everyone has a chance to say what they think. Maybe we'll get some new ideas for next year."

Added McMillan: "I think we raised awareness the past two years, but people didn't understand what we were talking about exactly. We want to talk about the system and what we can change. Where society needs to move forward, and where we can personally improve ourselves as individuals in day-to-day life."

Awareness aside, the issue of attitudes toward rape victimization remain in the news. Just last week, a Montana judge, in sentencing a convicted rapist for acts committed on his then-14-year-old student, said the student was in "as much control of the situation" as the rapist.

The teacher was sentenced to 30 days in prison. The judge apologized after an avalanche of outrage and demand for his resignation. The sentence is now being reviewed.

The Montana ruling only underlines the need for awareness, no matter what title an event is under, McMillan said.

"It's tough and it's tiring. I've been doing this for three years now and we definitely wish we could be doing more still."

randy.turner@freepress.mb.ca

Should organizers change the name of Slut Walk? Or does the event benefit from the shock value? Join the discussion in the comments below.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition September 6, 2013 B2

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Updated on Friday, September 6, 2013 at 7:13 AM CDT: Adds photo, adds question for discussion

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