Don’t drink too much alcohol. Use the “buddy system.” Dress modestly.
In a culture that teaches women not to get raped instead of teaching men not to rape, Women in Learning and Leadership (WILL) took a stance against sexual assault with the annual March to End Rape Culture: SlutWalk on Tuesday, Sept. 15.
“Rapists aren’t the monsters we imagine in our heads,” said political analyst and key speaker Zerlina Maxwell. “Rapists are just regular people who chose to violate consent.”
Maxwell, who has written about the subject for outlets such as CNNand Marie Claire, denounced the idea that victims of rape are responsible for the attack.
“Rape is not a side effect of drinking too much,” she said. “Wearing a certain outfit is not an invitation to be violated.”
Students who attended the march wore a wide array of outfits, many of which might be considered “revealing,” in order to fight the stigma that an outfit is an excuse to take advantage of someone else.
Jennie Sekanics, co-executive chair of WILL and senior English and women’s and gender studies double major, dressed in a Catwoman costume for this year’s event.
“I’m Catwoman against catcalls,” she said.
Katie Yorke, co-programming chair of WILL and senior Spanish and international relations double major, opted for long sleeves and pants.
“I was going to dress in a crazy outfit,” she said, “but just this morning, I was catcalled wearing this outfit.”
Maxwell places catcalling in the category of “unhealthy masculinity.”
“Why are you looking at me like I’m a piece of meat?” she asked. “I’m not here for you to look at. I’m a person.”
According to statistics Maxwell shared before the march, one in five women will be the victim of an attempted or completed rape at some point in her lifetime. For women in college, one in four will be victims.
Maxwell encouraged students to help reframe the conversation surrounding sexual assault by asking different questions.
“We should be asking why the rapist didn’t ask for consent,” she said. “We should ask why he didn’t stop when she said ‘no.’ We should never ask her what she was wearing. We should never ask her why she drank so much.”
Maxwell shared parts of an article she wrote for ebony.com entitled “5 Ways We Can Teach Men Not to Rape.” In her list, she encourages everybody to teach young people about legal consent, how to express healthy masculinity and to believe survivors who come forward.
“When a friend tells you that they have been the victim of a rape, you shouldn’t ask, ‘Are you sure?’” she said. “You should ask, “Are you OK?”
Maxwell also delved into the rumor that a large percentage of rape accusations are false or made up.
“The idea that people make it up (being raped) all the time is just not true,” Maxwell said. “It mirrors other crimes in the sense that the number of people who falsely claim their car was stolen is the same number of people who falsely claim to be raped.”
According to Maxwell, research and reports show that only about two percent of alleged rapes are deemed false.
She went on to explain that many rape cases are labeled false because there was not enough evidence for a conviction, which does not necessarily mean that no rape occurred.
“Having Zerlina speak here on our own campus was so surreal,” Sekanics said. “I remember freshman year when my friend and I would just watch videos of her on the ‘Hannity Report’ and ‘O’Reilly Factor.’ I remember us being in my dorm together saying, “How amazing would it be to meet her?’”
After Maxwell’s presentation, students marched around campus in solidarity against sexual assault, rape and other acts of gender-based violence.
“There’s just an incredible feeling that comes with demanding justice and doing it in a way that demands your attention, such as through our chanting and marching,” Sekanics said. “SlutWalk is so important to have each and every year because rape culture is alive and present.”
About 200 students attended the march, along with Maxwell and her mother.
“However we dress, wherever we go, yes means yes and no means no,” students chanted. “Yes means fuck me, no means fuck you.”
At the end of the evening, the students gathered together and shouted out the last few chants, a powerful display against sexual assault.
“This is one of my favorite events of the year,” said Mary Burns, a senior sociology and women’s and gender studies double major and a SAVE peer educator for Anti-Violence Initiatives. “There’s nothing better than walking around campus cursing about challenging rape culture. I’m so proud to go to a school where so many people are so unabashedly enthusiastic about ending sexual violence.”
*This story was originally published in The Signal.