If you haven’t been hiding under a rock for the last couple of months, you will have heard about the Slutwalk movement – marches organised by women in cities across the globe to protest against the huge problem of victim-blaming culture relating to rape and sexual assault, provoked by a Toronto policeman’s comment that “women should avoid dressing like sluts” in order to avoid being raped. After the original Slutwalk Toronto, satellite marches quickly sprang up across the world, under the slogan: “We’ve Had Enough”. On 4 June, Slutwalk came to Cardiff.
Unfortunately, victim-blaming attitudes are far from constrained to the Toronto police officer. Polls have found that over a quarter of people in the UK believe that a woman is to blame for being raped or sexually assaulted if she is wearing revealing clothing, and 30% of male students in Wales hold this view.
It seems likely that victim-blaming attitudes also permeate the criminal justice system, given the appallingly low conviction rate for rape of under 7%.
Rape itself is far more prevalent than people realise. Welsh police forces recorded 2,367 sexual offences in 2010, but given that only 11% of victims report to the police, there may have actually been nearly 22,000 offences in Wales (and half a million in England and Wales put together). Widespread victim-blaming attitudes in society contribute to victims’ reluctance to report rape: 38% of victims tell nobody at all, often internalising these attitudes and blaming themselves. If we really want to improve responses to rape victims and to reduce the prevalence of rape and victim-blaming, we need to be working at all levels.
On a national level, we need the Welsh government to continue with its innovative new campaigns, developed with the anti-violence against women sector in Wales, to challenge attitudes (such as “Stop Blame”, www.stopblame.org).
We need vast improvements in the criminal justice system to bring perpetrators to justice. We need to provide adequate, secure funding to rape crisis services. And we need a long-term, preventative approach, educating children from an early age on consent, healthy relationships and respect. Slutwalk might not change the world, but it’s sure to challenge some attitudes and is creating a space in the mainstream media to talk about sexual assault and rape, which affects one in three women at some point in their lives.
What needs to happen next is for links to be built between the Slutwalkers and local feminist networks, national women’s organisations, and the feminist movement more broadly, to work towards ending the gross human rights violation that is violence against women and girls.