SlutWalk participants emphasize importance of consent

By Phoebe Barghouty, For the Daily
Published October 23, 2011

The FBI’s new proposed definition of rape begins with, “Penetration, no matter how slight” — a definition participants of Ann Arbor’s SlutWalk endorse.

On Saturday, LSA junior Megan Pfeiffer and LSA sophomore Nicole Corrigan, co-organizers of Ann Arbor’s SlutWalk, took to the streets of downtown Ann Arbor for a walk, which aimed to raise awareness about sexual violence toward women. Pfeiffer and Corrigan were joined by about 75 people for the walk, which started on the Diag and ended at Beta Theta Pi fraternity house on South State Street.

The FBI’s current definition of rape — which has been in place since 1929 — is “the carnal knowledge of a female forcibly and against her will.” The new proposed definition reads, “Penetration, no matter how slight, of the vagina or anus with any body part or object, or oral penetration by a sex organ of another person, without the consent of the victim.”

Pfeiffer said the FBI’s proposed definition is much more “inclusive,” pointing out that the new definition of rape includes men, transgender people and people under the influence of alcohol or drugs.

While Pfeiffer and Corrigan said supporting the new definition was one of the purposes of the walk, the main goal was to raise awareness about the broader issues of rape and the exploitation of women. SlutWalk is a national movement with walks taking place in other cities including New York and Paris.

Pfeiffer and Corrigan said they hoped the event would put more focus on preventing rape and less on blaming the survivors.

“Our biggest issue is with victim blaming,” Pfeiffer said.

Only a fraction of the 1,014 confirmed Facebook attendees showed up at the Diag on Saturday morning, but participants were enthusiastic and vocal. During the walk, the demonstrators, mostly women and a few men, sported signs with slogans like “My dress is not a yes” and “A short skirt is not an invitation.”

Pfeiffer said that despite the relatively low attendance, the event occurring on campus was important.

“I think just that fact that we are doing it makes a world of difference,” Pfeiffer said.

LSA freshman Chavon Taylor, an event participant, said she attended to make the voices of women heard.

“Just because we dress a certain way does not mean that we are asking for it, or asking to get raped,” Taylor said. “There is no excuse for it.”

She added that she hopes the movement will change the way people view sexual violence and will put more blame on rapists instead of on survivors.

“Instead of telling women how to dress, they need to tell men that it’s not OK to rape, period,” Taylor said.

Ann Arbor resident Jenny Hansen said she participated in the walk because she hasn’t seen enough excitement or energy in Ann Arbor to end violence — sexual or otherwise.

“I think that every college wants to pretend that it’s not happening,” Hansen said. “But it happens everywhere.”

As the walk ended at the Beta Theta Pi house, participants signed a letter to FBI Director Robert Mueller supporting the new definition of rape. Corrigan and Pfeiffer initially approached the fraternity brothers about getting involved with the movement. They said the brothers’ involvement exceeded their expectations and they’re pleased with the fraternity’s support of the cause.

Beta Theta Pi President Chris Dietzel, an LSA senior, said the fraternity chose to participate in the SlutWalk because it wants to take a stance against sexual violence on behalf of the Greek community.

“Women deserve respect, and we just want to make sure that we are doing our part to make sure that they feel safe and welcome in our community,” Dietzel said.

An FBI panel with criminal justice and national security experts voted to change the definition of rape last Tuesday. The FBI will reach a decision regarding the proposed definition in December. Regardless of the outcome, Hansen said the walk drew important attention to the issue of consent.

“Consent is a clear and freely given ‘yes,’ not the absence of a ‘no,’ ” Hansen said.