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SlutWalk looking for new direction

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SlutWalk is a movement in transition.

That was the underlying sense from those participating in the annual gathering at The Forks Saturday afternoon. No longer a march recognizing mistreatment and sexual violence against women, the this year's event in Winnipeg contained no walk at all, and no vocalized phrases of protest.

Instead, organizers pressed pause on things and opened up the conversation: How can they further address the rape culture in society and how can the SlutWalk mandate focus its effectiveness within the community?

These are not easy questions to answer.

"There are so many elements to this, it can be confusing to people," said Kayla McMillan, one of the members of the Winnipeg SlutWalk organization team. "You have all sorts of victims, from female to male to transgender, plus the different cultures of each. They all can be included under the same topic, but they're all different conversations.

"Throw in the role of the justice system and how the issues are portrayed in the media, and there are too many conversations going on at once."

And this moving target, this confusing aspect of discussion, seems to be derailing the movement, at least at the local level. There were only a handful of people in attendance at the start of the event Saturday. Ninety minutes later, the number of people grew to approximately 50.

That's a far cry from the 200 people who walked in 2012 and the nearly 400 people the first year of the event. This is why organizers are toying with the idea of changing the SlutWalk name. Language is important, they feel, and they're finding the current handle a little too polarizing within the public domain.

The door is wide open to new ideas for a new direction.

"We recognize that SlutWalk is a very individual thing for people, and not everyone is equipped to talk openly about the subject," said Deanna England. "That's why this dialogue is important: We need to talk with people, not talk at them."

Along with examining the potential for a rebranding, SlutWalk is also looking to put more value back into the word "rape" -- a word they feel has been softened through overuse by those who feel they were unfairly billed at the local autobody shop or charged too much for a pair of shoes.

"That diminishes the impact of the word," England said. "It's a very important term. People have been traumatized by rape. It stays with them for life. Now, we just throw it around like it means nothing. We need to change that."

Organizers say they weren't discouraged by the turnout and said they'll continue efforts to broaden their reach. Discussions have taken place with officials from Take Back the Night and the Women's Memorial March to "combine forces" for a louder voice of awareness regarding gender respect and abusive behaviour.

"I just wish there was more progress being made," McMillan added. "I see progress in my circle of friends, because we have the conversation all the time. That's not the case for others, though."

adam.wazny@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition September 8, 2013 A7

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Updated on Sunday, September 8, 2013 at 8:56 AM CDT: Removed nonsense subheadline

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