As a group of about 150 people marched from East Tennessee State University to downtown Johnson City, screaming chants like, “A dress, a dress, a dress is not a yes” and “Hey! Hey! Ho! Ho! Victim blame has got to go,” a 17-year-old girl from East Tennessee joined in as she carried a sign that read “My dress is not a yes.”
It was a moment of strength for the teenager, which is something she hasn’t felt much of since she was raped about a year ago.
But walking down the street during Johnson City’s first SlutWalk was one of the most empowering things she has felt since the incident.
“It kind of gives me back a little bit of the power that was taken from me,” she said before the event began Saturday evening on the ETSU campus.
SlutWalks began in Toronto earlier this year to protest the notion that some rapes occur because the rapist thought the victim dressed like a “slut,” or provocatively, a view reportedly publicly espoused by a Toronto police officer in January. The first SlutWalk happened in April in Toronto in response to the officer’s comments connecting rape and revealing attire. Since that time these events have spread across the United States.
The event in Johnson City held even more meaning for the girl because people close to her told others she was raped because she was a “slut.” Joining in the chants helped her realize she wasn’t alone as the protest made its way toward downtown.
“I think the biggest thing for me is that there are other people here, so I feel like I’m not alone and that there are people supporting me, cause there was a time when I thought that I should’ve been raped because I look different or I dressed like a slut,” she said.
Giving victims of sex crimes a chance to feel like it wasn’t their fault was one of the reasons ETSU students Kristina Bogue and Valerie Treece wanted to organize a SlutWalk in Johnson City.
“It’s just about being able to wear whatever you want to wear and not being blamed for that, like you’re not asking for it if you were to get raped,” Treece said.
Bogue agreed, quickly saying, “You shouldn’t be worried to go out in public dressed any certain way and be worried that you’ll be raped. It should be the other way around.”
The idea for a Johnson City SlutWalk began when Bogue came across a picture of a girl holding a sign that read, “Teach men not to rape. Don’t tell us what to wear.” After reading more about SlutWalks and the message they were spreading, Bogue took the idea to Treece, who thought it would be a good fit for the local community.
Treece then got ETSU’s Student Social Work Association involved and the event page on Facebook began receiving a lot of attention.
Chad Carr, vice president of SSWA, didn’t know about the SlutWalks before Treece approached him, but after reading about it, he said it was the perfect event for the association to support.
“When people come out and they start blaming these girls because of what they’re wearing or how many guys they’ve been with or vice versa, you have this event that just comes out and shows that this is not right to blame them just because of what they do and what they wear,” he said.
While response to the event has been mostly positive, both Bogue and Treece said they have had some opposition, mostly from people that don’t fully understand what the event is about.
Bogue said SlutWalks and other protests like them, are breaking down misconceptions people have about rape and the victims of sex crimes.
“It just shows the ignorance that we still have in society, but it’s events like this that’s really going to change that,” she said.
While there are no plans right now for another SlutWalk, Bogue and Treece said there’s a possibility to form a campus group once school is back in session.