Will Milwaukee's SlutWalk be an inclusive event?
The SlutWalk march takes place tomorrow, rain or shine, at noon at Beulah Brinton Park in Bay View. Participants will walk in a group – some of whom will dress in racy attire to demonstrate that fashion is never an excuse for rape – to the Humboldt Park band shell, 3000 S. Howell Ave. Live entertainment will take place from noon to 3 p.m.
The purpose of the SlutWalk is to raise awareness of sexual assault. There is confusion and frustration over the use of the word "slut," but organizers say they are reclaiming the previously harmful word.
SlutWalks, which have taken place all over the country, encountered criticism for not embracing women of color even thought they suffer higher rates of sexual abuse than white women.
"Most SlutWalks have been comprised primarily of white, college-aged women of priviledge," says Maya Schneider. "This is fine, they should be represented, but for the event to really be effective, it needs to feel inclusive to all women."
I interviewed co-organizer Michele Reimer a couple of ago about SlutWalk, and she was aware of other SlutWalk's inability to involve women of color. She said at that time she planned to change that in Milwaukee. This week, I checked in with her again, and asked her if she had accomplished her goal and included more women of color in the event.
Basically, Reimer says it's extremely complicated and the answer to the above question, in my opinion, is both yes and no. Attempts were made, but the event did not unify groups of people from a variety of backgrounds. Part of the issue is the contentious nature of the name, says Reimer.
Here is her entire response:
We have worked very hard to try and make the walk as inclusive as possible. There are some areas where we are successful and some areas where continued work needs to be done and some issues, particular to this initiative, that we may not overcome, but will not prevent us from creating fruitful relations with diverse groups in Milwaukee in the future.
The issue of diversity among sexual assault agencies in Milwaukee is a complicated one, and in many ways mirrors the existing segregation and discrepancies that are part of the Milwaukee area as a whole, and further problematized by the lack of funding for all organizations working on issues of sexual assault. I have been talking with leaders from Asha Family Services, which is open with men and women of all races, but primarily works with Black women, The American Indian Taskforce on Domestic Violence, Sexual Assault & Vulnerable Populations, UMOS, which houses The Latina Resource Center and I will be meeting this week with the Hmong American Women's Association. I have also outreached to the LGBT Community Center, who will have a member speaking at the rally, and have outreached to a couple of organization that work primarily with men, but have not received a response. These organizations, coupled with other organizations like The Healing Center (among many others), make available a wide-range of culturally competent care to women and men of different backgrounds, which is something that the Milwaukee area should be proud to support!
One of the problems is that, when it comes to higher positions in government that address sexual assault, there is virtually no representation of people of color. This is grossly problematic, and has created tension between organizations. Culturally competent care is essential to working with sexual assault. A sexual assault victim has been disempowered in one of the most personal ways possible, they need healers who understand their background and their needs, which are different based on race, ethnicity, gender and sexuality. If institutional systems are not in place to meet those needs, people fall through the cracks. Those are real people, who were really violated and ignored, which equates to very real tragic consequences. I think it is important to remember the humanity in every person who has been victimized. This level of disparity was something that we needed to address as SlutWalk Milwaukee, and something I think we have done successfully, in that we have made the case for a need for diversity in this initiative and have and will continue to promote sexual assault initiatives for all groups, impressing the need to support our often under-funded organizations for people of color.
That does not mean our work is totally successful. I am exceptionally proud to say that many organizations will have tables as SlutWalk, providing information to a diverse range of people with a diverse range of needs. But the work cannot stop there. The Latina Resource Center is hosting Brides' Walk to fight domestic abuse in September, Asha Family Services hosted "Somebody's Daughter" in May, an anti-victim-blaming initiative to remind us that all women are somebody's daughter, Denim Day, also an anti-victim-blaming initiative will be coming again in April. Those, in combination with many other events from many other organizations need to be attended by a diverse range of people, and we will support every one, reminding the over 2,000 people on our Facebook page the importance of community support for all groups.
In terms of speakers, Maryann Gorski, from the LGBT Community Center will be speaking, Dawn Helmrich, the lead organizer for Denim Day will be speaking, we may have speakers from other groups as well, things are changing on a daily basis, but if advocates from other sexual assault organizations don't speak, many will be in the crowd, offering support. Because the name SlutWalk is so contentious, many organizations are aware that they do take a very real risk to their funding by supporting us, as many granters will not look kindly on an endorsement to SlutWalk Milwaukee. Organizations that may be at-risk for this need to be careful, as many, especially those working with people of color, are very minimally resourced as is. Additionally, many women and men from communities of color are still unsure about the nature of the walk due to the name. Our promotion of this organization, as one not meant to claim slut, or meant to instill harm by use of the word, will be an ongoing project. I imagine we will continue to make headway in the coming year, and I imagine many who have been irreparably harmed by "slut" will still not feel comfortable with us, even as we promote the organization as one that examines the harm slut has caused. For those that cannot join, us fully understand, and will continue to also promote other organizations and events where people interested in this work may find a home.
So, the simple answer to the question, were my goals accomplished in terms of including people of color? We are moving in the right direction. This issue is so very complicated and very delicate, based on a history of exclusion and disparity, that it will take time to encourage all members of Milwaukee's diverse community to feel comfortable with us. I am proud of the work we have done so far, and the connections we have fostered, but there is still much more work to do, and with partners from these many wonderful organizations for sexual assault and domestic violence advocacy in Milwaukee, is it work I am looking forward to continuing.
I understand the reasoning behind SlutWalk, but I think the people you are trying to reach (those who violate the rights of women) may not understand the sarcasm behind the theme name and you may be adding fuel to the fire. These men have one thing on their minds...and the word Slut just gets them going...or maybe I'm way off base.
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