Commentary: Blame for rape belongs on the rapist, not the victim

Kansas City Star columnist Mary Sanchez
Kansas City Star columnist Mary Sanchez MCT

Kansas City’s “SlutWalk” will fail if it draws swiveling heads but minds stay shut.

By design, SlutWalks are visually provocative. That’s the easy part.

Expect fishnet stockings, micro-mini skirts, stilettos — a range of outfits to be worn at 1 p.m. July 30 at the J.C Nichols fountain.

The gatherings are a global campaign to counter blaming the way women dress for sexual assaults. The walks began after a Toronto cop thoughtlessly commented that if women want to avoid being raped, they shouldn’t dress like sluts.

Thanks, dude. As if men can’t help themselves. And it’s not the attacker who should be blamed for the violence, but the victim.

Before Kansas City can address this broader topic, it needs to realize the walk’s value. Maybe it’s Midwest conservative gone awry. But local SlutWalk organizers believe they are receiving only limited interest from some local media and several domestic violence organizations.

More likely it’s a hesitancy to align with a campaign that could easily be misunderstood. That’s a missed opportunity to help correct attitudes so damaging to women.

Pointing out risks that women take with their safety is one thing. Yes, it’s stupid for a woman to leave a bar with a man she has just met. And drinking too much liquor can make a woman vulnerable. And wearing scanty clothing might not engender high levels of respect.

But none of these examples are the equivalent of giving the OK to be sexually assaulted.

SlutWalk organizer Caleb-Michael Files pinpointed the disconnect: “Society teaches don’t get raped, instead of don’t rape.”

Detective Catherine Johnson of the Kansas City Police Department’s sex crimes unit agrees, and she sees the twisted attitudes that can dissuade women from reporting rape.

About 4 percent of men are rapists. But each will rape as many as six times.

“If we fail with one victim, we are opening up five more to rape,” Johnson said.

So she is on board with the impact the SlutWalk will attempt to achieve.

“The message is very clear. We’ve got to start holding offenders accountable.”

I have zero interest in “reclaiming” the word slut, another stated goal of the walk. It’s a label, and not even the worst one women are called.

Sluttiness will remain in the eye of the beholder. Too tight, too short, too cheap to me is another woman’s favorite outfit. What I consider dowdy might be deemed appropriate, even sophisticated by someone else.

Besides, the word is a tangent. What a woman wears, or doesn’t, has nothing to do with an invitation to attack her.

The crazy part is that society is so mixed up, women find it necessary to march down the street inviting a spectacle just to make that simple point.

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