SlutWalk Bristol was held last Saturday, and it was a fantastic day! We had a great turnout and a very successful march through the sunny city centre, with the majority of people responding very positively to us and some even joining in!
Afterwards there was a rally on College Green (in the disapproving, no doubt, shade of Bristol Cathedral) and yours truly was tremendously excited and proud to give a speech at it! Below, what I said in full.
Rape is wrong. Rape is a terrible, devastating thing to happen to anyone, and an evil, cruel thing to do to anyone.
Everybody agrees about this - even the Daily Mail.
And yet, in the UK today and in much of the Western world, rape is basically legal.
Based on a 6-year average of the most reliable data, there are 94 thousand rapes in the UK every year. 94 thousand. Taking repeat victimisation into account - that is, women who suffer rape more than once in a given year - each year 55 thousand women are raped in the UK. That's one every six minutes.
In 2008, the last year for which I could get statistics, 922 people were convicted of rape. Think about that for a minute: 55 thousand raped. 922 convicted.
If someone rapes a woman, getting away with it is not a problem they even need to worry about.
They know she won't tell. About half of all rapes remain a secret forever because the women are too afraid or ashamed to tell anyone at all.
They know if she does tell, she very likely won't be believed, or will be dismissed or blamed.
So you have to be really unlucky to be punished for raping a woman in this country. Getting away with it is the default.
Frankly rapists should be more worried about getting cancer or being hit by a bus, because that is more likely than being put away for something that’s technically illegal, and supposedly a crime.
And we know it. We know rape is basically legal. We'd like to think it's not true, but deep down we all know.
We've all heard about the Dominique Strauss Khan case; a powerful, well connected white man accused of sexually assaulting a poor black working class immigrant. How many of us were surprised when the case against him was abandoned? We all knew in our heart of hearts that Nafissatou Diallo was not going to get justice.
We know that Diallo is being denied justice because her attacker is powerful. But is that what we are told? No. We're told by the very people whose job it is to uphold the law, and by the press and media, that it's her own fault for being allegedly a liar, or a criminal. More damningly, she has been ‘accused’ of having multiple sexual partners, and of being a sex worker. A slut.
Nafissatou Diallo, and thousands of other women, are being systematically denied justice because they are sluts. They get accused of being to blame for what happened to them. Of bringing it on themselves, or lying about it, or wearing the wrong clothes, or walking on the wrong street, or drinking the wrong type of drink.
A third of people in the UK think that a woman is partially or entirely to blame for being raped if she has been drinking, did you know that? That's a third. One out of every three people you live and work with would accuse you of being a slut if you were raped, and think it was your fault.
And why wouldn't they? From where they're sitting, it's obviously not the rapist's fault, right? It’s reasonable to expect crime to be punished, but with only 922 people of convicted of rape in one year, and still so many women raped? Well it has to be someone's fault, doesn't it? And so, they blame the victim.
What that means for the lives of women - for our lives - is that we are all sluts in waiting. As soon as something bad happens to us, there will be those people - amongst ourselves first of all, then among our nearest confidantes, then among the police, the crown prosecution service, and finally, if we ever get to court, the jury - who will see being raped as evidence for the fact that we are sluts.
Rape can happen to anyone - whatever we wear, wherever we walk, however we act. We no longer believe the fiction that rape only happens to bad girls as punishment for promiscuity.
We know that most women are raped by someone they know - someone they trust. Are we really expected to believe that someone we trust would rape us just because we wore the wrong length skirt?
No. Rapists rape because they want to rape. They rape because they enjoy the power of humiliating a woman and bending her to their will. They rape because they think they are entitled to women’s bodies and no one has a right to say no to them. They rape because they don’t respect women’s autonomy, and they rape because they believe – correctly – that they are invulnerable, and that there is little to no risk to them.
Because of course it’s the women they rape who get blamed for it. It's a pretty cosy set up, if you're a rapist. From a rapist's point of view, the world is a sweet shop full of women who will magically turn into sluts the minute he rapes them. Handy!
A culture in which people turn a blind eye to rape being legal is a Rape Culture. A culture in which people blame the victim of a crime rather than the perpetrator is a rape culture.
A culture that condemns women’s natural sexuality by calling them sluts,
that seeks to limit their contraceptive freedom to punish them for having sex,
that seeks to withhold the life saving HPV vaccine from young girls because it might lead to them having safe enjoyable sex
that wants sex education to be suppressed or at best limited to discussion the negative consequences of free, consensual, pleasurable sex
that culture is a rape culture.
It is a culture in which a man forcing a woman to have sex against her will is less of a crime than a woman choosing to have sex freely and for pleasure – because doing so would turn her into a slut, and mean she will lose the right to protection if she is ever raped.
The bad news is that if women never have sex with anyone, if they’re raped they’ll still get blamed for it. The good news is that you might as well go out and have as much safe and pleasurable sex as you like, since it makes no difference in the end anyway.
The other good news is that rape culture is a culture we're not prepared to live in anymore!
That’s why Slutwalk has been such an infectious and successful idea: that is why we are here today. We are here to say, to ourselves if to nobody else: bullshit! The whole concept of slut is bullshit.
The idea that only sluts get raped is bullshit. The idea that men can't control themselves around women dressed in a certain way is bullshit.
Calling women names because of what they wear or who they sleep with is double and triple bullshit!
We're watching you, rape culture. We're on to you, and we're calling out your bullshit. And if you want to call us sluts for doing that? Well, that's bullshit too.