Why there will be a SlutWalk in Palmer Park this weekend

Those driving along Woodward Saturday afternoon may get an eyeful of scantily clad women as the Detroit SlutWalk marches around Palmer Park.

The SlutWalk is part of a worldwide movement of protest marches aimed at ending rape culture and victim-blaming experienced by survivors of sexual assault. The protests, which center around women dressed in sexy attire or in some instances nothing at all, intend to send the message that no matter what a woman is wearing, it does not imply sexual consent. SlutWalk participants also aspire to take ownership of the word "slut," redefining it from a slur used to blame victims of sexual assault to a word of empowerment.

The event is hosted by the Metro-Detroit Political Action Network. Co-founder Adriene Avripas says she decided to host the event — the first in the city since 2012 — to confront the misogyny she has felt in her career, her dating life, and in society at large.

"It doesn't matter what someone is wearing — consent is mandatory," Avripas says. "With sexual assault, there is a lot of victim-blaming. The Brock Turner case, for instance. He got a three-month sentence because, 'Well, she was drunk, and if she had been dressed more appropriately she wouldn't have gotten raped.' The point of the SlutWalk is, 'Well, we're all going to be sluts. It still doesn't mean you can rape us.'"

Avripas says she plans to dress like a handmaid "because I feel like no matter what you wear, you're going to get labeled or blamed just for being a female," she says. "And that's what we're trying to emphasize."

The event will feature speakers including the Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network (GLSEN), Refuse Fascism, and Michigan for Revolution, among others. HAVEN, a nonprofit organization for survivors of sexual assault and domestic violence, will provide resources and referrals for counseling.

Palmer Park, with its notoriety as Detroit's original "gayborhood" and strong LGBT community today, was chosen as the site for the SlutWalk because transgender sex worker Amber Monroe was murdered there in August 2015.

"Palmer Park has a long history of being an LGBT safe space, but it's also been the place that's an easy target," says Brianna Dee Kingsley, chair of transgender engagement for MDPAN. "I think the impact will be felt that day on the people who don't know we're coming, and an impact on the people that participate because it's taking back ownership of that slur that's used against us to make us feel like we deserve assault."

SlutWalks began in April 3, 2011 in Toronto, Ontario after a Toronto police officer commented "women should avoid dressing like sluts in order to not be victimized" during a talk about campus rape.

The outrage over the statement inspired the first Toronto SlutWalk, followed by similar protests cropping up around the world in cities including London, Melbourne, Rio de Janeiro, Seoul, and New York City.

MDPAN is a nonpartisan group, though it protests to directly oppose the Trump administration and decidedly progressive. Avripas, a registered nurse, was not involved in political protests until last November's presidential election. She said the video of Royal Oak middle school students chanting "build a wall" is what moved her to organize a rally in Mexicantown to support the Latino community. "We didn't plan on being an activist group, but we found that there was such a need for leadership that we just kept organizing events," she says.

Their biggest event to date has been the January protest against Trump's immigration ban in January which drew around 2,500 people to Hamtramck City Hall and Detroit Metropolitan Airport, which she organized with MDPAN co-founder Ahmed Ghanim and members of the Women's March Michigan, among others.

The upcoming SlutWalk, however, has its fair share of critics. The rallies have been accused of being an example of white privilege and white feminism, due to the history and meaning behind the word "slut" for black women in particular.

Kerlyne Alexis-Pinkins, who lives in a neighborhood adjacent to Palmer Park, says that while she understands and supports the intentions of SlutWalk organizers, she does not see it having a positive outcome for the black community. "The word 'slut' has a deep-rooted negative history for black women," she says. "Black women were the sluts, the homewreckers; they were viciously sexualized and abused. So when a black woman is called a slut it digs up our dark history."

And white women, she says, have the privilege of living in a society that will understand when they use the word "slut" to describe themselves, it's meant as a political statement. "Whereas when black women use the term to describe themselves, they fall victim to a society that believes they are in fact sluts," she adds.

Samantha Rogers — founder of TG Detroit, a group that calls itself a "guide to transgender life in Detroit" — supports the SlutWalk, however, in particular for its focus on reclaiming a word that has been used to diminish and victim-blame.

"Words hurt. But they only hurt if you let them," she says. "People use words to define you. And in doing so, they use words to diminish you. And for too long words like 'slut' have been used the same way as 'fairy' or 'dyke' — to define and diminish people. And the objective is to redefine the words so that we take ownership of them, the same way that the queer community has redefined the word 'queer,' which if you recall, used to be a derogative. And we now own it proudly."

The SlutWalk starts at 1 p.m. on Saturday, Aug. 12 at Palmer Park; 19021 Woodward Ave., Detroit; free.

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