By Meagan Casalino
Protesters with SlutWalk Ottawa took to the streets Sept. 18 to spark a conversation about rape culture in the capital.
“Blame the system, not the victim!” they shouted as they marched towards the Parliament buildings.
SlutWalk is an international movement geared “towards eliminating a culture of victim-blaming & sex-shaming in our society,” according to their Twitter page.
The campaign launched in 2011 after York University constable Michael Sanguinetti made a statement in response to a rape that had happened earlier on at the campus.
“Women should avoid dressing like sluts in order not to be victimized,” he said according to multiple news sources. He later apologized for the statement, but a movement had already begun — officially starting SlutWalk Toronto.
Ottawa’s march began at 2 p.m. on the Sunday, with opening announcements by multiple activists including Debbie Owusu-Akyeeah, a master’s student at Carleton University who’s involved on campus with survivors of sexual assault.
“I think it’s important that people take stances like this and show people in Ottawa that there is a collective group [that wants to] address rape culture here in the city,” she said. “Theses are the people that are working to build consent culture.”
She said she hopes her words can help victims, and her concerns extend to other issues such as racism, homophobia and Indigenous issues.
“Think about the time and money students are putting into the campus,” she said. “If students are paying almost $10,000 not only for the education, but for the services that come with it…those services must be up to par with what is happening.”
As the event circled around the downtown core, drivers and pedestrians honked and cheered as the over 200 protestors marched through the streets. The group also passed by important sites such as the Village in honour of queer victims of rape.
Kate Forman, co-ordinator for SlutWalk Ottawa, spoke out about well-known rape cases like Brock Turner and Bill Cosby.
“This is not the way survivors of sexual violence should be treated,” she said.
Forman—who prefers the pronouns they and them—said they hope the event will capture the attention of the city and the government to make a change the legal system. As a sexual assault survivor, Forman said SlutWalk it is an important symbol of support for survivors.
“Everyone heals in different ways,” they said. “There are resources out there and people like you. They should be easier to find and we are working towards [fixing that].”
Volunteer organizers wore bright yellow bandanas around their arms to help direct and console those in need. Counsellors and active listeners were available before, during and after the march.
The event also focused on other issues such as racism, homophobia, transphobia and ableism within Ottawa. Throughout the march they chanted phrases such as “Blacklives Matter”.
This is Foreman’s first year as coordinator of the event, and they said they’re already looking forward to next year.
“It’s been a really successful walk this year,” Foreman said. “As someone who attended the walk in the past and started running it, it’s really inspiring to people. This is probably one of the most rewarding experiences I’ve had in my life.”
See a photo gallery of the event here.