Ottawa SlutWalk continues fight against sexual assault and victim blaming

In an effort to put an end to issues such as rape culture, sexual violence and victim-blaming, hundreds rallied at the Human Rights Monument on Sunday, Sept. 9 before marching through the streets of Centretown for the seventh annual Ottawa SlutWalk.

This year’s event was organized by the Purple Sisters Youth Advisory Committee, a group that highlights the needs of young women in the community by addressing abuse or inequalities in the workplace, the education system and in the legal system.

“As a committee, we wanted to put a focus on racial minorities for this year, as well as for sex workers,” said Athourina David, the co-coordinator of the Purple Sisters Youth Advisory Committee.

David added that the group is also protesting the Ontario court ruling that was announced last month, which allows those accused of sexual assault to use excessive intoxication as a defence against criminal charges.

“That is something that we want to bring to light today and for the next few weeks,” she said.

Another topic of debate at the rally was the Ford Government’s controversial decision to repeal the province’s 2015 sex-ed curriculum and replace it with a version from 1998, with topics such as consent, cyber bullying and same-sex marriage absent in the latter.

“It’s exceptionally important to continue talking about (consent)…You’re putting your youth in danger by not educating them,” David said.

Marnie Wellar, an activist who came dressed in a giant binder representing the 2015 curriculum, echoed David’s comments, arguing that many adults don’t realize how dangerous it can be for for youth if they aren’t given the proper education.

“We have to talk to kids about consent. We can’t leave it to parents to do that. Not every parent does. Not every parent knows when it’s the right time,” Wellar said. “It’s important that kids have lots of resources in their lives that they can go to where they can get good information on how to live in the world and keep themselves safe.”

The rally kicked off at 1 p.m. as various guest speakers took to the podium to share their own personal experiences with identity and healing.

Grantha Wadud, a 16-year-old who spoke before the crowd, said she decided to get involved so that she could influence other youth to follow.

“Just to aware them more about what the problem is and become more ‘woke’ I guess about what’s going on today and try to get involved themselves,” Wadud said.

The group took to the streets at around 2 p.m., heading down Elgin towards Wellington. Some came equipped with megaphones while most carried signs with a variety of messages including “Yes = Yes. No = No.”

A number of chants—such as “silence is violence,” “the way we dress does not mean yes,” and “blame yourself for your misuse, being drunk is not an excuse”—were repeated as the group made their way past Parliament towards Bank and Somerset, before heading back to the Human Rights Monument at 3 p.m.

Wellar said that she’s been a regular attendee at Ottawa’s SlutWalk for years now, and only keeps coming back because issues of sexual violence continues to persist.

“If it went away, this march wouldn’t happen. But every year, some new outrage occurs. There’s always still a need for it sadly,” she said.