Much like the word "queer" in LGBTQ spaces, activists aiming to stop sexual violence and victim-blaming are reclaiming the word "slut" by raising awareness about these issues through the organization of Slutwalks across the world. Since 2017, the nonprofit Metro Detroit Political Action Network has taken on that responsibility locally by organizing the city's own sexual assault awareness event, and this year is no different. However, that doesn't mean that there won't be precautions taken at the Sept. 12 event to keep attendees safe from novel coronavirus pandemic.
"This year, masks are mandatory and we are going to have PPE stations," said event Chair Chantel Watkins. "We have volunteers whose jobs are literally to go around and give people hand sanitizer and things like that so that we can accommodate for the pandemic."
Despite the mandatory mask requirement, much like in years before, Watkins said attendees are encouraged to wear whatever makes them feel comfortable and there is no required registration or cost associated with the event. There will be, however, a Detroit Slutwalk-sponsored petition that encourages the maximum sentencing of violent sexual assault offenders, which Watkins invites everyone in attendance to sign.
"It's very important because a lot of cases where people end up being convicted for sexual assault or rape or things like that, they often times only get half of the sentencing and get elongated probation," she said. "And especially since that has been going on for years and years, we haven't seen any changes. So we are asking for a maximum penalty that will keep people from committing assault. A lot of times, the harsher the consequences are, the less likely that people are to commit crimes."
This year's keynote speaker will be Nicole Denson, the co-founder of the Mute R. Kelly Movement and comedian Delo Brown will host along with poet laureate Kai Mills. And besides the pushes they provide for legislative and social change, Watkins said that Slutwalks are important community education measures that spread awareness about what actually constitutes sexual assault.
"People think sexual assault is just explicitly rape, but there are a lot of things that sexual assault can be. It can be unwanted touching, it can be unwanted advances, it could be somebody who is always harassing you — there are different levels," Watkins said. "A lot of times, people don't think that they've been involved, either by being a perpetrator or being a survivor, when it comes to sexual assault."
Watkins added that the actual event is supplemented with Slut Talk, an informational program that airs via the organization's Instagram account that educates the public not only on what constitutes sexual assault but on how to get help beyond filing a police report. She said that she's received many messages via Instagram and Facebook from people who learned that past experiences they've had qualify as sexual violence.
"I've had people come up to me and say things like, 'I've always been uncomfortable about a situation, and I'm realizing I was assaulted.' So, a lot of times, people are thinking that it's just explicitly rape and that's just, unfortunately, not the case," Watkins said. "Even a lot of people say that they give in because they don't want to be assaulted. That's a form of assault, too: finally saying yes because you know that you don't have a choice."
So, for everyone unable to attend or those who are looking to educate themselves about sexual assault even after the Slutwalk, Watkins views it as a great way to stay connected.
"We have a lot of different people who are able to explain different ways to deal with sexual assault and I think that has been very helpful and beneficial because a lot of time the police haven't been proven to be a big help when those things happen. So it's definitely helped out a lot of people," she said. "… [And] we've also learned along the way with these Slut Talk Live shows."