SlutWalk in Salt Lake City aims to change the way society views sexual assault

Posted at 5:45 PM, Aug 02, 2014
and last updated 2014-08-02 23:25:37-04

SALT LAKE CITY -- Hundreds of Utahns got scantily clad for a cause and took to the streets of downtown Salt Lake City for this year’s Slut Walk.

The festival and march were established four years ago in Canada when a police officer suggested women stop dressing like sluts to avoid sexual violence.

The march was at 3 p.m. and went for several blocks around city hall and passed the public safety building. It ended back at Washington Square, where a festival was held from noon to 5 p.m. It’s a movement of survivors and allies working to shift the many stigmas so often attached with sexual violence.

“I love that people say, ‘Oh she was in a dress. She deserved it.’ Um, I was in my own home in pajama bottoms and a T-shirt: No I didn’t deserve it,” said Shawndell Hoyt, who is the event director for SlutWalk SLC 2014.

Hoyt is a survivor of rape and domestic violence who found that sharing her story helps with healing.

“Here you’re with other survivors, and you are able to tell your story and be in the company of them and it gives people so much empowerment,” Hoyt said.

SlutWalk is a global event that started in Toronto back in 2011 when a police officer said women should stop dressing like sluts as a precaution against unwanted sexual attention.

“They took the world’s top 80 offenders and asked what their victims were wearing and not one of them could say,” Hoyt said. “So when that officer made that statement, a global movement started. There’s one in Australia, Bangladesh.”

The goal of the festival of speakers, vendors, and a march is to bring light to the many misconceptions attached to rape and sexual violence. Misconceptions like the idea that only women are rape victims.

“Rape and sexual assault, domestic violence is not just a feminine issue,” said Braxton Dutson, the director of the Clothesline Project. “It’s not just for women specifically. It’s a problem for men as well. Men need to stand up and tell their story.”

The Clothesline Project brings out T-shirts that have been decorated by victims to help them share their stories and help raise awareness of the violence that’s occurring every day in our community.

“Anyone can make a shirt,” Dutson said. “They can put their experience, what happened to them, messages of hope from their experience or something similar. They are supposed to help everyone understand that it is occurring.”

Janet Wagner’s daughter Heidy died a victim of domestic violence when she was murdered in 2012. Since then, Janet makes a point to come to as many events, rallies, and walks as possible--hoping some change will come of it.

“That’s how you do it: power in numbers and voices,” Wagner said. “It causes people to stand up take notice.”

Chief Chris Burbank, Salt Lake City Police Department, brought some news to the festival when he announced that Salt Lake City was selected for a national study that looks at and evaluates how police departments handle sexual assaults.

Burbank said: “And in a study that we would be one in four cities to look at how we handle things, develop best practices, make changes as necessary and then to go out to the nation and say, ‘This is how we should be doing business.’ So, extremely proud of that.”

The chief said the study will strengthen the police department as a whole, which is always the goal.

For more information about SlutWalk SLC, visit their website.