Portland takes on sexism

August 10, 2011

PORTLAND, Ore.--More than 600 people gathered to walk in Portland's SlutWalk march on July 31.

Organized by six women who took their inspiration from various SlutWalk mobilizations across the U.S. and elsewhere, three of the organizers shared their personal stories of sexual assault from the stage. Children, dogs, drag queens, women in hijabs and people wearing little more than short-shorts filled Terry Shrunk Plaza to listen to the speeches.

Signs read "Hijabs, hoodies, hotpants. My body, my choice!" and "Rape pre-dates minskirts!" Chants from the crowd included, "Whatever we wear, where ever we go: Yes means yes and no means no!" and "We will not be ashamed--sexual violence must be named!"

Sterling Clark spoke from the stage saying that "SlutWalk is for everyone" after explaining that sexual violence is not solely a women's issue but a societal problem driven by a culture that encourages rape and violence against women. She added, "Sexual abuse is a sign of sickness in the abuser...Too many of us are survivors, too many of us are ashamed to talk about our experiences. There is no reason for any of us to walk around feeling guilty or dirty about who we are and what we cannot control."

Like most of the participants in the SlutWalk, Sterling said her dream is to see "that the next generation will have no need for a march like this."

Ryan Basille, talked about her experience as a young woman being confused about her rape due to misunderstanding her own sexuality in combination with knowing her attacker. Ryan explained to the crowd, "Sexual justice is about giving all of us the right to say 'yes' to pleasure without shame or fear. It's also about giving all of us the right to say 'no'--and that no will be respected regardless of who we are, whom we have touched, what we are wearing or how we identify."

Ryan then spoke about how LGBT people, people of color and transwomen in particular are subject to a disproportionate number of sexual assaults. She commented, "Law enforcement [are] our perpetrators, not those who serve or protect us"--referencing the murder of eight sex workers in Long Island in the past year by someone who is suspected of being a member of law enforcement.

Ryan wrapped up her speech saying. "We are a wrench in your machine, proving that power is claimed and reclaimed...shared, multiplied, expressed through nonconformity and breaking silence--through resilience, beauty, all that is innately in our nature, not something that can be conquered or stolen."

Sophia St. James drew on some powerful statistics to make her point starting with "One in six women are assaulted or raped at some point in their life. One in thirty-three men will be assaulted or raped at some point in their lifetime. Fifty percent of transgendered individuals will be raped or assaulted at some point during their transition."

Continuing, she explained that these statistics are misleading because only one in ten sexual assaults and rapes are ever reported. "I'm not just a victim of sexual assault and rape, I am a victim of rape culture," she said.

She added:

We are parents, we are business professionals, we are students, we are transgendered individuals, we are cisgendered individuals, we are queer, we are heterosexual, we are under-educated, we are college educated, we are people of color, we are white, we are gender queer and we all share the same common goal--to end victim-blaming and victim-shaming and change the fucked-up rape culture that our society embraces.

Marches like this are a brilliant first step towards a better world in which no one has to endure living without full control over their bodies.

Sarah Levy contributed to this article.

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