FIU Students Plan SlutWalk to Protest Sexual Assault

FIU students will march this Friday to protest sexual violence.
FIU students will march this Friday to protest sexual violence.
FIU NOW

When Barbara Toledo started college at Florida International University, her mother gave her a rape whistle and pepper spray. The junior psychology major, who’s also media coordinator for the school’s National Organization for Women chapter, never thought about rape as an imminent threat.

“When I was younger, I saw rape as something that would only happen if you were out late at night or that a stranger would do to you,” she says. “But one in five women are assaulted in college every year.”

That disconnect between the reality and perception of sexual violence is what led FIU's NOW chapter to launch annual "slut walks," rallying women to protest rape culture. FIU NOW is hosting this year's SlutWalk in collaboration with Women's Center at FIU on April 14 as part of a global initiative to fight institutionalized sexism during Sexual Assault Awareness Month. The protest march, one of many held around the world, is also a fundraiser for M.U.J.E.R. (Men and Women United in Justice, Education, and Reform), a nonprofit based in South Dade that helps victims of domestic and sexual abuse.

The event is also bolstered by It’s On Us, an awareness campaign former U.S. President Barack Obama launched in 2014 to help put an end to sexual assault on college campuses, which asks people to pledge to help solve the problem evinced in some sobering statistics: Over 40 percent of survivors fear reprisal by their attacker and eight in ten victims know their assailant.

Daniella Valdes, president of NOW at FIU, says that like Toledo, she grew up in Miami’s public school system, where feminist consciousness came with mixed messages.

“I had a lot of internalized misogyny that was prevalent within my group of friends,” Valdes recalls. “We were about women’s rights and equality, but those words were still taboo. There was a culture of women-hating and victim-blaming in high school.”

Valdes was well aware of the rape culture mindset, that if a woman dressed a certain way, she’d be asking for it. “All those views were harmful,” she says. “I want to eradicate this as much as possible.”

FIU Students Plan SlutWalk to Protest Sexual Assault
FIU NOW

At FIU, she found a community of like-minded people unafraid to speak their minds and voice their concerns.

The young feminist leader follows in the footsteps of many others who’ve been marching to protest slut-shaming and sexual violence after a 2011 incident in Toronto when a city police officer said that women should avoid dressing like sluts to prevent sexual assault. The issue of sex and fashion was just as raw in 1968, when second-wave feminists burned bras outside the Miss America pageant in Atlantic City — they didn’t actually burn them, but tossed symbols of women’s oppression into a “freedom trash can” — just two years after Betty Friedan founded the political National Organization for Women.

Valdes, who’s been involved for four of NOW’s five-year existence at FIU, was inspired to help incoming freshmen and fellow co-eds navigate the challenging territories of public discourse about women’s bodies and sexual consent. The chapter is active year-round with consciousness-raising activities. Students and community stakeholders gather every month at F-Word Forums to discuss topics such as overly sexualized portrayals of women in entertainment media.

SlutWalk's title is as ironic as it is provocative, Valdes says; women don’t have to look like a slutty stereotype to fall prey to assault. “Last year, some women showed up in heels, fishnets, and even corsets,” she says. “But some women, though they love the message, don’t feel comfortable wearing revealing clothes like short shorts. Rapists don’t really care what you’re wearing, though. They’ll go for it, whether you’re wearing a bikini or pajamas.”

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Some victims, she adds, just wear what they wore on the day of their assault to prove the point.

Toledo, who says she has identified as a feminist her whole life, hopes the walk will help “reclaim” the S-word and end victim-blaming. “It’s a call out to universities and federal agencies who may even unknowingly promote self-protection rather than prevention,” she says. “There’s this whole culture where we’re taught how not to get raped instead of teaching people not to rape.”

Toledo grew up in a conservative Cuban household and was shy about saying the word pussy during interviews. The word, which took on an even more derogatory connotation after U.S. President Donald Trump’s claims about “grabbing pussy” were widely broadcast, makes Toledo uncomfortable.

She notes that the current political climate isn’t helping the cause. “SlutWalk is misunderstood by some more conservative groups on campus,” she says.

Nonetheless, liberal and conservative groups co-exist and protest peacefully. “Trump has energized both sides to dialogue,” she says. “But to have a president with allegations of sexual assault affects me on a personal level.”

FIU’s NOW chapter also encourages transgender members of the student body to participate. Dudes aren’t off the hook either — one in 16 men are sexually assaulted in college.

FIU’s SlutWalk is open to the public and features DJs, vendors, and the participation of other university clubs at the housing quad on the Modesto Maidique campus. You can register to walk at Eventbrite.

FIU SlutWalk
3 to 6:30 p.m. Friday, April 14, at FIU housing quad, 1590 SW 111th Ave., Miami; facebook.com/MiamiSlutWalk.


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