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Ottawans strut through the capital in third annual SlutWalk

Marchers pay tribute to Rehtaeh Parsons

Walkers marched past Parliament Hill and finished their walk at the Women's Monument. Credit: Adrienne Ascah

The dress code for SlutWalk is wear whatever you damn well please.

Dress like a superhero, march in your undies, bundle up in an oversized sweatshirt or anything in between and you’ll fit right in.

About 150 people gathered at the Human Rights Monument in downtown Ottawa on Sept 7 for the city’s third annual SlutWalk.

The diversity of clothing choices underscored the participants’ message — no matter what women wear, they are often blamed when they are harassed on the street or sexually assaulted, but perpetrators, not clothing, are to blame for violence against women.

“People are sexually assaulted regardless of what they’re wearing,” says Fateema Ghani, addressing the crowd before the march. “Men are sexually assaulted, children. You can’t really go up to a kid and say, ‘Yo, you were dressed like a slut.’”

Ghani, who helped to organize the event and served as the emcee, called for an end to victim blaming. “By definition, no one can ask to be raped,” she says. “It’s not about sex; it’s about power and violence, and nothing can take away your right to consent.”

Attendees included Planned Parenthood, anti-street harassment organization Hollaback Ottawa and a group representing Rae of Light, an organization founded to honour the memory of Rehtaeh Parsons, a 17-year-old Nova Scotia student who died in April. She was taken off life support after trying to take her life.

According to her parents, four boys sexually assaulted Parsons when she was 15, and afterward she was subjected to relentless harassment. In August, two 18-year-old men appeared in court to face child pornography charges in connection to a photo that Parsons’ parents say was taken of the attack and circulated online.

Shari Canning, Parsons’s aunt, was one of the family members who attended SlutWalk in her memory.

“Rehtaeh personally faced her own challenges with that word thrown around at her,” Canning said. “It’s important for us to reclaim it on her behalf because she can’t now.”

Speakers included representatives from the Sexual Assault Support Centre of Ottawa, Jer’s Vision and the Ottawa Rape Crisis Centre, with a musical performance by the Raging Grannies. Wearing their trademark long dresses, shawls and flowered hats, they sang songs calling out misogyny and slut-shaming with lyrics like “Wife, granny, whore — we all deserve respect . . . It’s time to change old attitudes we really must reject.”

SlutWalk originated in 2011 after a Toronto police officer told law students at a safety forum that women should avoid dressing like sluts in order not to be victimized. Since the inaugural SlutWalk in Toronto, the event has spread to other cities across the world.

Sexual assault support workers credit events like SlutWalk with bringing concepts like slut-shaming, victim-blaming and rape culture into mainstream culture.

Many participants in SlutWalk were male, including Jer’s Vision educator Cameron Aitken. “It’s important to me to come out to show my support to this cause and to be an ally as a man,” he says.