The March Against Monsters

How to Avoid Rape (A few helpful tips)

1) Don’t go out alone, especially at night.

2) Don’t flirt.

3) Don’t get drunk.

4) Don’t dress provocatively.

5) Don’t be a woman.

We all know this list, though it is almost never explicitly told to us. These rules have been set down by society through the years to ‘help’ victims prevent their own rape. Some of them are valid. It’s true, you probably shouldn’t walk down a dark alley by yourself. However, there is one major flaw with these rules: they all focus on the victim.

Each of these pieces of advice assumes it was the raped rather than the rapist that was in the wrong. They tell us the reason the victims were assaulted were that the girl’s skirt was too short, or that person was drunk, or those guys were making out earlier. The prey was “asking for it.” In short, these rules have become an excuse to blame the victims rather than a way to prevent sexual assault.. The rapist is no longer the monster: the victim is. Not only does this prevent many from stepping forward and telling their stories, it also takes away their credibility if they do. This stigma has become known, collectively, as rape culture.

Rape culture is manifested in many forms. Some are as simple as a sexist joke, a crude catcall, or an internet meme. We can see it in school dress codes where girls are told they need to cover their bodies because women are objects and boys have no control over their sexual desires. Rape culture has become so omnipresent most people don’t even realize its existence—and it’s working in predators’ favor. Each year, there are approximately 293,000 victims of sexual assault, and 98% of the monsters who committed these crimes will never spend a single day in jail.

This problem has not gone on without notice, though. The fight against rape culture has been going on for centuries, beginning in the 1800s with the women’s rights movement. One of the largest pushes to end these beliefs was during the 1970s. In recent years, rape culture has come onto center stage once more. The movement manifests itself in a myriad of nonprofit organizations, shelters, and protests.

One of these protests, The March to End Rape Culture, could be seen on the Philadelphia streets on October third. This march, originally named the SlutWalk, began in Toronto, Ontario when constable Michael Sanguinetti told students of York University they should “avoid dressing like sluts in order not to be victimized.”

This promotion of rape culture spurred students Heather Jarvis and Sonya Barnett into action. They decided to organize a march to the Toronto police station, and broadcasted their intentions via social media. The movement went viral, and thousands attended the first SlutWalk on April 3, 2011. Barnett and Jarvis originally requested for marchers to wear ordinary street clothes to demonstrate how rapists can target anyone, regardless of their outfit. However, many of the protesters chose to dress ‘provocatively’, some even stripping down to their underwear to make the statement that even if a person is dressed skimpily, they do not deserve to be assaulted.

This dress code (or lack thereof) has been continued in the months and years following the initial march as similar protests took place all over the world. Locations range from Rio de Janeiro to Johannesburg to Denver. The largest March to End Rape Culture on record took place in Reykjavik, Iceland. Approximately 11,000 protesters marched in the event.

Philadelphia hosted its first March to End Rape Culture on August 6, 2011. It has occurred annually since then. The protest has grown to include not only the march itself but also speakers, bands, poetry readings, and other antirape culture performances.

The morning of this year’s March to End Rape Culture dawned cold, rainy, and generally terrible. No promiscuous outfits today. Instead, my friends and I zipped up our jackets and donned gloves before heading out to challenge society.

The protesters met outside of City Hall. Despite the gloomy weather, the plaza was bursting with the energy of several hundred marchers. NOT YOUR BITCH, bold black letters screamed on an austere white sign. A different sign on bright yellow poster paper, gave a sickening statistic: 64% of all transgender people are sexually assaulted. Another plain black and white sign passed by, this one with an entire paragraph written on it. Curious, I followed the girl who was holding it through the crowd.

When I was close enough to read the sign, I realized it told the story of this girl’s sexual assault.

She noticed me reading her sign and smiled. Looking at her, you would never guess that she was a victim. Which, really, is what the March to End Rape Culture is about: anyone can be assaulted, regardless of race, sexual orientation, gender, or appearance.

A series of speakers took the stage before the march began. They ranged from a leader in Philadelphia’s government to a group of eight to twelve year old girls, all drawing attention the reasons why rape culture must end

The crowd grew restless as the speeches came to a close. Finally, it was time to march.

We walked the first block or so in relative silence as the protesters found their places in the crowd. Then, the chants began.

“Shatter the silence!” a  man to my right yelled.

The woman next to him echoed: “Stop the violence!”

They repeated this chant in rhythm, and other marchers slowly joined in. Soon, we were all yelling, filling the Philadelphia streets with the sound of our protest. Onlookers stopped and whipped out their smartphones to document the event. Some looked vaguely confused; others pumped their fists in the air, waved, smiled. Though these observers may not have been a part of the march, they recognized the importance of it.

Two young men stepped off the sidewalk and joined in, walking with us for a block or so before turning back to head to wherever they had been going.

It wasn’t until we rounded our first corner that I realized how many people were actually a part of the protest: hundreds of people ranging from tweens to retirees, of all appearances and gender identities were strung out along the street.

It wasn’t just me against rape culture, or even my group of friends and I. This was a movement involving millions of people. There was an incredible sense of community, even though none of us had met before. We were all doing what we could to end rape culture. To change the society we live in.

I felt so small. And yet, so powerful.

By the end of the march, my fingers were numb, my voice was gone, and my feet were sore. And yet, I was filled with a strange sense of euphoria. I had become part of a movement that is dedicated to a cause I truly believe in. We may not have directly stopped any sexual assaults. We didn’t prosecute a rapist in a court of law, or pass a bill. Statistically speaking, the Philadelphia  March to End Rape Culture hadn’t made an impact.

However. Every person who passed by City Hall saw our protest, every person who Snapchatted a picture of us marching, every Instagram post of an anti-rape culture sign is bringing awareness to this cultural phenomenon. Slowly, we are teaching society that no victim was ever “asking for it.” It is never their fault, regardless of what they might have been wearing. If we are to point fingers at anyone, it must be at the monsters who live among us, those who commit the rapes themselves.

Society needs to write a new list of rules, a list that doesn’t tell us that stopping rape is the victim’s responsibility. We need a list that looks something like this:

How to Avoid Rape (A few helpful tips)

1) Don’t Rape.

2) Don’t Rape.

3) Don’t Rape.

4) Don’t Rape.

5) Don’t Rape.

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