Utahns joined together in Downtown Salt Lake City Saturday for the sixth annual “SlutWalk,” a march aimed at raising awareness about sexual assault, victim blaming, slut-shaming, and rape culture. The concept was born in 2011 when a Toronto police officer was quoted as saying that “women should avoid dressing like sluts” to help avoid becoming victims of sexual assault. An international scandal erupted, and the walks have been held in various locations around the world ever since.
Rebranded this year as “The Walk of No Shame,” protesters met on the north steps of the Salt Lake City-County Building, where SlutWalk SLC director, Rachel Jensen, spoke. She was followed by comedian and podcaster, Melissa Merlot; slam poet, Kari Berry; comedian and anti-rape culture advocate, Levi Rounds; and Stephany Murguia, outreach and access coordinator at the Rape Recovery Center. The group then proceeded to march up State Street, passing by the Wallace F. Bennett Federal Building, Church Office Building, and other local landmarks.
Arriving at the Utah State Capitol approximately 30 minutes later, protesters first got to hear from Salt Lake City Mayor, Jackie Biskupski. “We walk today because we expect to be believed. We expect to be respected. We expect to be supported. We expect to experience justice. We expect to be safe in our communities and our homes. Survivors deserve all of these things, even if we wear a short skirt, even if we have too much to drink, even if we flirt, and even if we first say yes but then change our mind and say no,” Biskupski said. “Unfortunately, in my years of serving in office, I had the unpleasant experience of hearing an officer say ‘She just had buyer’s remorse.’ There is never an excuse for rape and it is never okay to blame the victim of sexual assault no matter what.” A victim of sexual assault, Biskupski urged the crowd to keep advocating. “I know what this is like, and I’m here to tell you we are in this together. We will not be ashamed. We will stand up and we will demand justice.”
Biskupski was followed by Representative Angela Romero. The Salt Lake City Democrat pointed to her work in the Utah Legislature. During her time on Capitol Hill, Romero has succeeded in passing two bills related to sexual assault: In 2014, the legislature approved HB 286 – Child Sexual Abuse Prevention, which provides child sexual abuse prevention and awareness training and instruction to school personnel, parents or guardians of elementary school students, and elementary school students. The program is being implemented during the 2016-2017 school year. In 2015, HB 74 – Consent Definition for Sexual Offense was approved; The bill amended Utah’s sexual consent law to state that an unconscious person cannot consent to sex.
“My goal as an elected official for all of you is to make sure that I represent your voice and that your voice is heard up here. Because so many times when it comes to women in vulnerable communities and even men — because men are raped as well. I would acknowledge that — we don’t want to talk about it. We don’t want to have those conversations. Rape is about power and control. Sexual violence is about power and control. Sexual assault is about power and control. It’s not about sex,” Romero said. During the upcoming 2017 General Session, Romero is planning to run a bill that mandates the testing of all rape kits.
The concluding speakers were the Utah Democratic Party’s nominees for Governor and Lieutenant Governor, Mike Weinholtz and Kim Bowman. Speaking first, Bowman stressed the importance of working together to solve issues surrounding sexual assault, pay equality, and paid parental leave. “We can’t do it alone. We cannot change a state. We cannot change a county, or a state, or a country unless we do it together,” Bowman said. “No one is equal and no one is free until everyone is equal and we are all free.”
“I want to run for causes that are important to the people, which is the opposite of what our current governor has been doing,” Weinholtz said. “I want Mayor Biskupski and Representative Romero to know that when I am governor they will have a partner on these [sexual assault] bills, not the usual good ol’ boy network that they have to compete with and try to educate.”
Weinholtz closed with an appeal to the protesters, urging them to be involved in the political process. “I hope you’ll get involved in the political season. Register to vote. Get out and vote. Because all of these issues, like sexual violence, can’t be addressed unless you have the right people in office doing it for you.”
Both in Utah and around the country, debate has recently flared up about how colleges and law enforcement handle cases involving sexual assault. More than 200 postsecondary institutions are under investigation by the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights. Last month, an inquiry into Brigham Young University was announced. The Provo-based school, which is owned by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, has come under fire for the way sexual assault cases are treated. Some students have alleged that they faced discipline under the school’s Honor Code, despite being victims themselves. Other Utah schools under investigation include the University of Utah and Westminster College.
Editorial Note: Utah Political Capitol Editor In Chief, Curtis Haring, is the policy advisor on the Mike Weinholtz for Governor Campaign – He did not contribute to this article.