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After criticism, Slutwalk Vancouver opts to talk, not walk

When a Toronto police officer told York University students that they should "avoid dressing like sluts in order not to be victimized" last year, it sparked the protest march "Slutwalk," which took place in a number of cities across North America. But not everyone thought the name was empowering.

After hearing criticisms about the Slutwalk name from feminists, local activists and other marginalized groups, the Vancouver chapter -- Slutwalk Vancouver -- has elected not to march this year.

"We obviously heard a lot of criticisms about our name and we wanted to provide a space to acknowledge and address those criticisms," said Slutwalk Vancouver organizer Natasha Sanders-Kay.

Critics of Slutwalk mainly focused on the name and questioned whether the word "slut" is empowering for women. Women of colour argued that the event alienated them and others said that Slutwalk was a banner that only women with privilege could march under.

In response, this year Vancouver organizers opted to skip the walk and go for a more interactive, discussion-based approach to addressing sexual violence and what they see as a culture that often trivializes rape or blames the victims of assault, known as rape culture. Sanders-Kay said that a walk wouldn't allow for the kind of open discussion organizers felt was important to have.

Two events are planned for Vancouver. "Clip-Hop: An evening of film clips and discussion" takes place tonight at The Rio Theatre. The main event, an "(un)conference" called "SlutTALK: Conversations one year after the march" is scheduled for Saturday, May 26 at The Wise Hall. The event is intended to be "a participant-driven community discussion."

Sanders-Kay says that Slutwalk Vancouver organizers anticipated a lower turn out this year.

"The moment has kind of passed," she said, adding that "in a march of 1,000 plus people, you can't easily facilitate in-depth round-table type discussions, whereas with the smaller scale format you can."

She hopes that critics and supporters alike will have a productive discussion about sexual violence, rape culture and ways to address them, and that participants use this as an opportunity to discuss whether or not the name "Slutwalk" is effective, or what better alternatives would be.

"We felt it was a good opportunity to push people to talk a bit more critically about the issues that they were marching for," she said.

Meghan Murphy is completing a practicum at The Tyee.

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