This weekend brings the second annual SlutWalk Seattle, a purposefully provocative march and rally designed to shine a searing light on the cultural norms in our society that rationalize sexual assault and, oftentimes, blame the victims for its occurrence.
Evidence of this, Sacks says, can be found in the online reaction to this year's SlutWalk Seattle. In 2011 she says organizers spent a lot of time countering misinformation and negative perceptions; this year people seem more understanding and in tune.
On a national level, Sacks points to the torrent of disapproval comedian Daniel Tosh received after making a joke about rape earlier this year, and to the backlash created by Rep. Todd Akin's "legitimate rape" comments as proof the SlutWalk message is taking root.
Incited in 2011 by a Toronto police officer who issued advice to women recommending they avoid dressing like a "slut" as a rape-prevention measure, the movement has only blossomed from there - with SlutWalks much like Seattle's version now held all over the world. Sacks says one of the things SlutWalks accomplish - along with promoting the message that "slut shaming" and victim blaming are misguided and wrong - is creating a sense of community for those who've experienced sexual assault.
"Sexual assault is very isolating," says Sacks. SlutWalk Seattle helps victims feel "like they're not alone."
Perhaps it should come as no surprise, then, that while Sacks says most sexual assault activism is "very sad," SlutWalk has a far angrier, aggressive stance. Indeed, the first SlutWalk Seattle drew roughly 500 participants according to police estimates, with many of those involved carrying signs indicating they'd experienced sexual assault firsthand.
But they weren't just victims. They were pissed off victims - taking action.
"The idea that women invite sexual violence by looking like they enjoy sex, or that men's urges become so uncontrollable at the sight of a little extra skin that they can't hold themselves back from raping, is ludicrous," says the Seattle SlutWalk website in its "about" section. "People aren't assaulted because they invited it or enticed others to it by looking a certain way; they're assaulted because somebody chose to assault them. Saying that survivors could have protected themselves by not looking like 'sluts' implies that the survivors are at fault and creates a culture in which the heinous crime of sexual assault is seen as no big deal."
Fitting of the event's name and its purpose, a number of SlutWalk participants don purposefully racy clothing - a fact that undoubtedly piques the interest of many who might not otherwise take note. However, many participate in SlutWalk wearing very normal attire. Most powerful of all, still others participate wearing the clothes they were sexually assaulted in, giving a big finger to the notion that anyone dresses in a manner that's "asking" to be raped.
Kshama Sawant is scheduled to speak at SlutWalk Seattle on Sunday.
"We tell people to wear whatever they feel comfortable in," says Sacks. "I'm not worried about [those who focus on the participants' clothing]. Cleary they aren't even listening [to SlutWalk's message]."
Along with bringing an end to the culturally engrained practice of - consciously or unconsciously - blaming sexual assault on victims who were "asking for it" and shaming women for their sexuality, Sacks hopes SlutWalk Seattle and events like it can do more, including changing the way sexual assault is portrayed by the media.
While Sacks sees the societal dialogue being prodded in the right direction thanks to SlutWalk and similar events, she's also a realist, and admits there's a long way to go.
"We're starting to get closer," says Sacks, "but we're still very far away."
SlutWalk Seattle will be held Sunday, Sept. 9 from 12 to 4 p.m. Attendees will meet at Occidental Park before marching north on Fourth Avenue to a rally at Westlake Center. Eight speakers, including Kshama Sawant, Josie Venture, Sera Tucker and Kat McGhee, will address the crowd.
"Mainly, I want it to be a really empowering event," says Sacks of what to expect.
Previously on The Daily Weekly: