Creating a Safer Community with SlutWalk Guelph

Tuesday, October 7, 2014


Written by Caroline Elworthy

“Yes means yes, and no means no- whatever we wear, wherever we go!” a passionately lively crowd of close to 150 chanted this past Saturday at Guelph’s second annual Slutwalk, which began in front of the City Hall at 1pm.The event began with a general rally and poster making stations and opening remarks made by SlutWalk volunteers and Sarah Scanlon of OPRIG.

The march began soon after and winded throughout the downtown core of Guelph with energetic chants and posters. “My dress doesn’t mean yes,” and “No Doesn’t Mean Convince Me,” their posters said. The march eventually winded back to Market Square and for a highly informative and passionate presentation by several speakers such as Karen Chan of Sex Education for Toronto, Lisa B from Guelph Spoken Word and Ron Couchman from the White Ribbon Campaign.

The Slutwalk movement was started in Toronto in 2011, when various accounts of hateful language, “slut shaming” and wrongful victim blaming had been made within the Toronto Police Force. 

Today, the grassroots movement has ignited across over 200 countries worldwide, organized by passionate community members who want to collectively reshape our modern culture’s approach to the treatment of those survivors of sexual assault. While each community can tailor the event to target community-specific issues, SlutWalk events collectively work against victim-blaming and empowering those who feel silenced.

SlutWalk Guelph works to publicly challenge the sexual violence and educate a culture that places blame on the victim , seeking to create a community that teaches “don’t rape” instead of “don’t get raped."  About 97 cases of sexual assault were reported in the City of Guelph last year, yet statistically only 10 per cent of all sexual assault cases are reported at all. In 2012 Guelph was awarded the safest city in Canada, yet SlutWalk Guelph continues to challenge this notion vocally calling upon the city to cultivate a community that is safer.

“We have had enough of being shamed because of our sexuality, enough of hearing how only the survivors are asked what they were wearing,"SlutWalk volunteer Elsa Bagg shouted in sent-off to the energetic crowd on Saturday. "Enough of dress codes for young girls because they are deemed too distracting!”  The walk progressed in a 1.7km loop around Guelph’s core downtown streets from many supportive waves and honks from passerby’s as the walkers marched up Carden to Macdonell,  through to Woolwich on to Wyndham Street.  

"There is an indescribable strength in our unity and in the act of marching together," said Karen B Chan, a Sex Educator from Toronto, as she addressed the crowd arriving back from their empowering walk. “We are saying yes to the things we want to say yes to- we are saying yes to a world that we desire.”  

"The greatest act we can do in life is to love- and to cultivate love for each other even when it is most difficult. In this way we have to humanize the perpetrators so that we speak to each other with full humanity," Chan continued.

Ron Couchman was a representative from the White Ribbion which is an international organization which works throughout 65 countries worldwide to educate and generate community involvement against various issues such as human trafficking , sexual assault and victim blaming. "It is so important for the men of Guelph to show their support and to be present at women-led initiatives such as SlutWalk," says Couchmen. "The overall turnout here today happily surprises me today. It is as about as big as the SlutWalk event in Ottawa."

Like the previous speakers before him, Ron Couchman began by recognizing the various indigenous groups whose territory Guelph primarily encroaches upon. Couchman also vocally acknowled the continuing effects of colonization and how his own societal position benefits from the ongoing colonization.

“What men fear most about going to prison is what women fear coming home from the grocery store,” says Couchman. “Masculinity allows us to pretend that it is not our problem to not get involved, but not cat calling and abusing is the absolute minimum we can do as a human being.”

Anyone looking for more information on SlutWalk can contact the Guelph chapter directly through their Facebook page at www.facebook.com/guelphslutwalk. For those looking for resources in dealing with various forms of sexism are encouraged and always welcome at the University’s Wellness Centre in the J.T Powell building, which offers free counselling services on a weekly basis.

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