Slutwalk Johannesburg 2012: Consent is non-negotiable

Slutwalk Johannesburg has turned into a family day, with children walking alongside adults to express outrage at the scourge of sexual violence in SA. (Gallo)

Slutwalk Johannesburg has turned into a family day, with children walking alongside adults to express outrage at the scourge of sexual violence in SA. (Gallo)

Donning hot pants, neon shirts, fish-net stockings and floppy hats, some of this year's walkers carried placards reading "Consent is non-negotiable" and chanted "It's a dress, not a yes" as the crowd marched from Zoo Lake through the streets of Parkview and Rosebank on Saturday.

The Slutwalk campaign began in January 2011 after a police officer in Toronto warned a group of students against "dressing like sluts" to avoid victimisation. Since then, the torch has been carried by scores of cities around the world; its signature style being that of barely clad women asserting their freedom to dress as they wish without fear of sexual assault.

Slutwalk Johannesburg, founded by actress Sandi Schultz, took place this year for the second time. There was a big male turnout, and one of the co-organisers Storm Cartwright said he was motivated to participate after two of his female friends were brutally raped while at school.

But questions have been raised about the relevance of the Slutwalk in South Africa, where sexual violence is so rampant that what women wear makes little difference to their chances of being assaulted.

But Schultz, herself a survivor of rape, said the Slutwalk resonated with South Africa's culture of rape and sexual violence, where too many cases of sexual assault go unreported and unspoken of. Schultz described the situation as "war-like", in which "men seem to have declared war on their sisters and mothers".

Slutwalk Johannesburg participant 30-year-old Rozanne Mackenzie agreed that no matter their attire, women were still vulnerable. 

"Even if you are wearing a long skirt," she said, "You will still be raped."

The blame game
Mackenzie said dress was used to blame survivors of sexual assault.

"People's first reaction is 'Was she asking for it? Was she wearing a short skirt?'," Mackenzie said.

Those who related their tales of sexual abuse spoke of their shame and self-blame after being attacked, which often took years to throw off.

Mackenzie said she was abused at the age of six and only came to terms with the incident while in her 20s. In the interim she got involved in a series of "bad" relationships. 

"I used to have an 'at least' mentality and tell myself at least they weren't abusing me," she said.

Other participants complained of harassment when using public transport. "It's 2012. In South Africa ... women, especially black women, when you go to a taxi rank, you hear all these comments," said 37-year-old Connie Tsita. "It's like we haven't really [evolved]."

Twenty-four-year-old Nontoto Dlamini said that women's body images are formed by male comments and reactions.

"When you go out, especially in town, they call you names for being fat and try to cause a scene," she said.

One walker, 58-year-old teacher Shireen Norman considered the onus was on women to resist abusive relationships. 

"Women are suckers for punishment," she said. "It's a vicious cycle, they come from abusive homes and they get used to it."

But actress Schultz said the female story need not be one of despair.

"I want to say to other rape survivors that it is possible to heal," she said.



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