On the night she was raped in a University of Washington dorm room, Lissa Cunneen was wearing Levi's, a red sweatshirt, boots, an Arab scarf, and pearl earrings gifted to her by her grandparents. "It doesn't matter that I wasn't dressed provocatively," Cunneen says nearly 30 years later. "I was slut-shamed afterward by other girls on the dorm floor." She says women called her a slut and even insisted she'd somehow invited the attack.
But Cunneen's experience—wearing ordinary clothes the night she was attacked by a knife-wielding assailant—clashes with the oft-repeated sentiment, sometimes by police, that a woman's revealing clothes or suggestive behavior provoked sexual assault. "People always try to find excuses for why it's the victim's fault," she says.
So on June 19, Cunneen plans to wear that same outfit again. But this time she'll wear her decisively unslutty outfit to make a point at SlutWalk Seattle: Women are never—no matter what they're wearing—asking for it. Even if they are dressed provocatively, even if they've had a drink, even if they flirt, even if they're walking alone.
Founded in Canada this year to protest a Toronto policeman's remark that crime prevention meant "women should avoid dressing like sluts in order not to be victimized," SlutWalks encourage women to march together, wearing whatever they feel comfortable wearing—from sweaters to bikinis—to protest the idea that any aspect of a woman's wardrobe might explain or excuse rape. The organizers of the Seattle event—18-year-old high school student Robin Sacks, Western Washington freshman Samuel Schimmel, and Microsoft employee Jessi Murray—also want to reappropriate the pejorative word "slut."
"'Slut' is an insult," says Schimmel. "It's disfavorable to be labeled a woman who has a lot of sex. It's dehumanizing."
But there's a backlash.
The Westboro Baptist Church, a fringe band of Christian zealots who gained national attention for picketing the funerals of soldiers and gay people with their signature "God Hates Fags" signs, announced plans to picket the event. Megan Phelps, granddaughter of Westboro founder Fred Phelps, announced the protest in a tweet, adding "#GodHatesSluts."
Schimmel's worry, though, isn't the handful of loony religious agitators, but that people will take them too seriously. "There's going to be thousands of us and dozens of them," he says. "The big concern is the possibility of counterprotesters countering them. We think that would detract from our message."
SlutWalk Seattle is on Sun June 19 beginning at noon in Bobby Morris Playfield at Cal Anderson Park. Sluts and allies will march to Westlake Park for a rally.