Around 100 demonstrators marched from the Chicago Water Tower on the Magnificent Mile to Daley Plaza last Saturday, July 28 for SlutWalk Chicago, an annual protest against rape culture and police violence. The event is part of a worldwide movement that began in 2011, in response to comments a Toronto police officer made about sexual assault victims. SlutWalk Chicago—now in its eighth year—is the longest-running version of the protest.
“It’s incredible that SlutWalk is still keeping shit real in Chicago, that people are still coming out and building community this way,” says Red, a queer nonbinary femme and community organizer who works with Support Ho(s)e, an activist group that advocates for sex workers. “At the same time, it’s incredibly infuriating that we still have to do this every single year because we’re still trying to win a world without rape culture.”
In 2011, Michael Sanguinetti, then a Toronto constable, told a group of Osgoode Hall Law School students that "women should avoid dressing like sluts in order to not be victimized." The comments sparked the first SlutWalk, which quickly became a transnational movement. Participants not only support victims of sexual assault and fight rape culture but also stand by sex workers and against police violence, victim-blaming, body-shaming, and all forms of discrimination like homophobia and transphobia.
“We are here to center the most vulnerable and marginalized survivors, which include sex workers, trans folks, non-binary folks, and people of color,” Donna, who’s worked with SlutWalk Chicago for the last two years, told the crowd at the start of the march. “The people who run this world want you to think you have no power, and that is false… For too long we have people saying that being raped, being assaulted, is not a crime because it’s sexual. When you are violated and someone interferes with your bodily autonomy, that’s a crime.”
Organizers and marchers also called for felony charges against a participant in last year’s SlutWalk to be dropped. Police had arrested Lee Dewey, a nonbinary individual, along with four other people, for allegedly biting an officer. Organizers and their lawyer contend that this accusation is false and based on “transphobia and HIV stigma.” They also say that police were aggressive with them during the arrest.
“Lee was roughly arrested and, in the course of their arrest, an officer stepped on their head and ground it into the pavement,” says Dewey’s attorney Joey Mogul, a partner at the People’s Law Office and member of the National Lawyers Guild. Dewey was later released from police custody after the Chicago Community Bond Fund helped them post bond; according to Mogul, if they are found guilty, their charges could land them in prison for several years, which would severely harm them.
“Prison is an ugly place for anyone,” says Mogul. “There should be cages for no one. For Lee, as a gender-nonconforming person, to be put in a prison is hell. It’s based on a binary—one that does not recognize all human beings and all human being's humanity.”
SlutWalk Chicago organizers and participants also condemned an ordinance passed by the Chicago City Council in June, which officials said was meant to curb “prostitution-related loitering.” Those opposed say the plan unfairly targets marginalized people and will end up harming them.
“Police base their suspicion on skin color,” Red says. “They base it on gender presentation. They base their suspicion on clothing like leggings, tank tops, skirts—you know, summer shit. That’s what is being used to arrest, fine, and ban people from these prostitution-free zones."
SlutWalk Chicago lasted close to four hours and finished "without a hitch," according to its organizers. They have also planned a follow-up event on Monday, August 13 at Dearborn Denim in Andersonville: Slutspeaks, cohosted by Poet Party, is an open poetry open mic night that invites survivors to share their writing.