This article first appeared in Sin on October 10 2011. All photos by Tanja Goldbecher, 2011.
Ireland’s first ever Slutwalk took place in NUI Galway on Wednesday 5 October. Despite the bad weather, there was an impressive turnout. The group made their way from the College Bar at 1pm towards the city centre, finishing up in Shop Street before turning back towards the university.
The Slutwalk movement began in April this year in Toronto, Canada, following remarks made by a police constable at a university talk. Constable Michael Sanguinetti told female students at York University that “women should avoid dressing like sluts in order not to be victimized”. The ensuing storm launched the first SlutWalk in Canada. It involved over 3,000 women marching to Toronto’s police headquarters in scanty clothing.
Since then Slutwalks have taken off around the world, in diverse locations like Perth, Berlin and Buenos Aires. However, the march organised by NUI Galway Students Union and the Feminist Society NUI Galway is a first for Ireland.
Chanting “No Means No, Yes Means Yes” and carrying placards reading “Real Men Ask First” and “Rapists Rape People, Not Outfits” the brightly dressed, if warmly-wrapped, protestors drew stares from shoppers in Galway city centre. Car horns blasted in support of the march, and the Slutwalk brought a festival air to a gloomy Wednesday afternoon.
“It’s important for both genders,” Rachael Dardis, a participant in the Slutwalk, told Sin. “Rape is not caused by what you wear. Victim blaming is wrong when it comes to sexual assault.”
The Slutwalk attracted a strong media presence and was marshalled by the Students Union and local gardai. Representatives from both the Rape Crisis Network and Rape Crisis Centre were both in attendance.
“We support Slutwalk because we need to put focus back on the perpetrators of these crimes,” says Eva McCann of the Rape Crisis Centre. “Although it’s controversial, we hope it brings about debate.” She added that there was no evidence that women in short skirts get raped more often than others.
It was not just women at the Slutwalk. Nicholas Fitzgerald, in between leading some chants of “A dress is not a yes”, told Sin how important it is to educate young men on the subject of sexual violence.
“It’s incredibly important,” he said “This is an issue not just for women, but for humans. Everybody needs to know what’s right and what’s wrong. You can never blame the victim. It’s just as important for men to stand up for this as women.”
Ireland’s rates for reporting sexual assault are low. Only 38% of those attending the Rape Crisis Centre in 2009 went on to report their ordeal to the gardai. The issue of sexual violence has become prevalent in NUI Galway recently with a female student being assaulted in Dun na Coiribe at the beginning of the semester. The student was walking home alone at 2am and managed to fight off her attacker, before passersby came to her assistance. College authorities are warning students to be vigilant and never walk home alone late at night.
Slutwalks have brought back echoes of an older feminist movement; the Take Back the Night marches began in Philadelphia in 1975. These were candlelit marches intended to highlight the dangers women faced while walking alone at night.
Further Slutwalks are believed to be planned in Ireland, with Dublin being the most likely venue for the next event. However, no dates have been confirmed as of yet.
Some Useful Contacts:
Galway Rape Crisis Centre, 7 Claddagh Quay, Galway. 1890355355
Rape Crisis Network Ireland, The Halls, Quay Street, Galway. 091563676
One in Four, 016624070.