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Marchers rail against sexual abuse at Detroit SlutWalk


Sarah Rahal   | The Detroit News

Detroit —  A crowd of provocatively dressed women took over Palmer Park Saturday as the Detroit SlutWalk gathered to take back the word “slut” and bring awareness to sexual and domestic violence.

The transnational march calls for an end to the “rape culture” of blaming victims for being raped or assaulted because of their appearance.

Nearly 80 people in masks attended the party in the park Saturday afternoon, doing yoga, dancing and listening to public speeches before marching down Woodward Avenue. The nonprofit Metro-Detroit Political Action Network and event co-organizers said they felt it was imperative to host another year despite the pandemic.

"I was a performer in the 2018 walk and as a survivor, I have felt empowered by the support I received by attending the SlutWalk and being a part of the network," said Chantel Watkins, chair of the event. "All communities have been affected by sexual assault, but particularly minority communities and communities with economic disparities are vulnerable and Detroit is both."

Watkins, 29, is one of seven children. She said while there has been an ongoing culture change, there's still work to be done.

"To young girls, know that you're never a victim, you're a survivor because you're still here," said Watkins from Detroit. "Use your voice and story to carry on."

The anti-rape movement quickly organized through social media in 2011 after a Toronto police officer told women to “avoid dressing like sluts in order not to be victimized.” The walks have taken place across the U.S. and in Canada.

The police officer’s comments were made in January 2011 to a group of York University students at a safety forum. Although he later apologized, his comments were widely criticized.

Cassy Jones-McBryde, the Black organizing program manager for Planned Parenthood, attended the event with an information table saying it's a celebration of a diverse movement. 

"For Black women, this is a familiar fight... people always demonize women's bodies and this is a space where people are free of society pressures, discrimination, and judgment," Jones-McBryde said. "It's also to provide and show support in our community during the movement for Black lives."

The SlutWalk meant a lot for survivors like Charlotte Muran who drove from Lake Orion to attend the event with friends. She held a sign saying, "I hear you and I believe you."

"As a fellow Me Too survivor, I come to show support to my other survivors while the problems we face are still very apparent," said Muran, 18. "Even school dress codes still tell us to cover up because we're a distraction. It's inappropriate that we're taught from a young age that our bodies are not to be seen."

Muran said there's also a stigma in believing victims, which is vital to the movement.

"It's not always the 'perfect rape' meaning, it doesn't always happen with a stranger in an alley. I was in a relationship and people think that stuff can't happen," she said. "We need to focus on teaching people what's right and wrong."

srahal@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @SarahRahal_