Thousands march to change outdated attitudes on sexuality

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

SlutWalk was formed after a Canadian policeman made ill-considered remarks about rape and women's appearance

Hannah Lanyon, a student, put it at its simplest. "It's society that needs to change, not the length of my skirt," proclaimed the board she held aloft. The red T-shirt the 14-year-old was wearing obscured the length of any skirt she might have been wearing but it succinctly made the point – clothing was not an invitation to anything, least of all rape.

She was one of thousands who turned out in central London yesterday in the latest "SlutWalk", an international phenomenon sparked by the ill-considered comments of a police officer who claimed women needing to stop dressing like "sluts" to avoid rape or victimisation.

The comments, made by a Canadian policeman, Michael Sanguinetti, ignited a furore and have spurred a new generation of women – and men – determined to challenge attitudes to sexual violence. Women such as Anastasia Richardson, 17, a sixth-form student from Oxfordshire, and one of principal organisers of the event, which attracted up to 3,000 people and thousands more as part of an online campaign.

She explained: "Some people have said the comments [by Sanguinetti] were very throwaway, about clothing rather than blaming the victims of sexual assault. This whole culture of wherever a woman was assaulted, whoever she was, somebody will always find a reason to say somehow she deserved it – maybe she didn't fight back hard enough, maybe she should have made better choices in terms of her boyfriend or husband – that's what we are trying to address today. It's never the victim's fault."

"A huge number of people are very happy to stand up for this issue. It's an incredibly powerful thing. I had no idea it would get this big and there would be this sort of turnout."

The account of a homeless woman who had been repeatedly sexually abused originally inspired Anastasia. "She said, 'If you let them get on with it, it will be over quicker, and they probably won't beat you up while they are doing it.' That really stuck with me because it's absolutely horrendous. It's just horrifying that the best way for her to deal with it was to just accept it. That's why this is so important."

It was a point echoed by Yvette Kershaw, 32, a teacher from Henley, who carried a placard emblazoned with the slogans, "My clothes are louder than my voice" and "Blame the rapist not me". "I want to get rid of the blame culture rather than reclaim the word 'slut'," she said. "It's about changing public perception."

The SlutWalk movement – largely led by a grassroots younger generation of feminists – has proved to be controversial because of its name and tactics. Launched in Toronto in April, the movement has spread rapidly across the world. Yesterday's march followed similar marches in Newcastle, Edinburgh, Cardiff and Manchester.

Some feminists have attacked the ambition of some protesters to reclaim the word "slut".

Student Bethany-May Phillips, 19, from Bristol, said everyone's motivations for joining the march was different. "I am here because anything that raises awareness about rape, its myths and the causes of it, is really important," she said. "It's great to create discussion about these things. I'm not one of the people that are here to reclaim the word 'slut' but I do want people to question it, and why we damn and demonise sexuality."

Many participants in the marches don revealing outfits to demonstrate that no one deserves to be raped, irrespective of their clothes.

It was a message equally pertinent to men, said Jon Patel, 24, a shop worker from London, who sported red hotpants. "SlutWalk is an important movement to bring attention to the travesty of justice that goes on in this country in regards to rape and the views around rape," he said.

Participants chanted, "Yes means yes, no means no", and carried placards above their heads. "It's my body, not an open invitation", read one. Two others proclaimed "Must I wear a chastity belt?" and "A dress is not a yes".

The march drew to a close with speeches: writer and sexual rights activist Jane Fae told of an epidemic of abuse and violence suffered by the transgender community; a speaker in a hijab spoke of rape atrocities in Iraq and stressed that her dress – like short skirts – was irrelevant.

As Hannah Lanyon was selling gingerbread to raise funds for future SlutWalk projects, she was clear: "I'm here because the idea that it's a girl's fault if they get raped has got to become extinct."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Glazier

£16500 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This specialist historic buildi...

Recruitment Genius: Office and Customer Services Manager

£18000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This small but very busy (and f...

Recruitment Genius: Portfolio Administrator

£14000 - £16000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company has become known a...

Recruitment Genius: Mechanical and Electrical Engineer - Midlands

£35000 - £38000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This leading provider of refrig...

Day In a Page

War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable
Living with Alzheimer's: What is it really like to be diagnosed with early-onset dementia?

What is it like to live with Alzheimer's?

Depicting early-onset Alzheimer's, the film 'Still Alice' had a profound effect on Joy Watson, who lives with the illness. She tells Kate Hilpern how she's coped with the diagnosis
The Internet of Things: Meet the British salesman who gave real-world items a virtual life

Setting in motion the Internet of Things

British salesman Kevin Ashton gave real-world items a virtual life
Election 2015: Latest polling reveals Tories and Labour on course to win the same number of seats - with the SNP holding the balance of power

Election 2015: A dead heat between Mr Bean and Dick Dastardly!

Lord Ashcroft reveals latest polling – and which character voters associate with each leader
Audiences queue up for 'true stories told live' as cult competition The Moth goes global

Cult competition The Moth goes global

The non-profit 'slam storytelling' competition was founded in 1997 by the novelist George Dawes Green and has seen Malcolm Gladwell, Salman Rushdie and Molly Ringwald all take their turn at the mic
Pakistani women come out fighting: A hard-hitting play focuses on female Muslim boxers

Pakistani women come out fighting

Hard-hitting new play 'No Guts, No Heart, No Glory' focuses on female Muslim boxers
Leonora Carrington transcended her stolid background to become an avant garde star

Surreal deal: Leonora Carrington

The artist transcended her stolid background to become an avant garde star
LGBT History Month: Pupils discuss topics from Sappho to same-sex marriage

Education: LGBT History Month

Pupils have been discussing topics from Sappho to same-sex marriage
11 best gel eyeliners

Go bold this season: 11 best gel eyeliners

Use an ink pot eyeliner to go bold on the eyes with this season's feline flicked winged liner
Cricket World Cup 2015: Tournament runs riot to make the event more hit than miss...

Cricket World Cup runs riot to make the event more hit than miss...

The tournament has reached its halfway mark and scores of 300 and amazing catches abound. One thing never changes, though – everyone loves beating England
Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Heptathlete ready to jump at first major title

Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Ready to jump at first major title

After her 2014 was ruined by injury, 21-year-old Briton is leading pentathlete going into this week’s European Indoors. Now she intends to turn form into gold
Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

Climate change key in Syrian conflict

And it will trigger more war in future
How I outwitted the Gestapo

How I outwitted the Gestapo

My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
The nation's favourite animal revealed

The nation's favourite animal revealed

Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
Is this the way to get young people to vote?

Getting young people to vote

From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot