By KAREN PICKERING
In three years of running the march in Melbourne, I’ve had a lot of conversations about SlutWalk; some in public, on radio, television, in print, on panels and debates. But many more conversations have taken place in private and they often begin with unsolicited correspondence from strangers.
You might think I mean messages of abuse from people who are either opposed to SlutWalk, feminism, women or me in particular. I do mean that as well. I have received hundreds of messages detailing horrific acts that I deserve to be the victim of, that they hope will happen to me, mostly involving sexual assault, rape, murder, disease, and the more imaginative ones gleefully imagine me the victim of accidents that render me paralysed, unconscious or dead.
These are not so much conversations as one-way communications, some of which are reported to the police, but most of which are deleted and ignored. This kind of mail is by turns troubling, hilarious, pathetic and truly terrifying but what they don’t realise is that by contrast it can be ultimately energising.
Because much, much more important to me is the unsolicited correspondence I have received from people with an constructive idea or a sincere sentiment to share, rather than a threat to issue or abuse to inflict. I’ve gotten letters from women and men, girls and boys, young and old folks, sex workers and sex educators, teachers, lawyers, rape crisis workers, members of the clergy, police officers, grandmothers, mothers and daughters.
They write to tell you about a way in which SlutWalk changed them, opened up a space for them, allowed them the opportunity to reflect and view things differently, or see something for the very first time.Teachers tell of their struggle to prevent the cycles of shaming that start before high school, and the gendered abuse that is casually tossed around classrooms. Lawyers talk about building defense arguments that anticipate the inevitable victim blaming that will, in all likelihood, help the alleged perpetrator escape conviction.
Rape crisis workers have told me of clients who come to them decades after the crime, their lives in pieces and their narratives full of self-reproach and shame and guilt at having brought it all on themselves. Coppers have told me that in good consience, they have advised victims not to proceed to courtrooms in which they will be retraumatised and convictions are almost impossible to secure.