Sarah Lisenbe, wearing an off-the-shoulder top, short skirt, fishnet stockings, and boots, was on her way to a rally downtown Saturday morning when several men began verbally harassing her.
Taken aback, Lisenbe changed into capris before joining friends for SlutWalk DC, an event at which men and women dressed provocatively to raise awareness about the issue of blaming victims for sexual violence.
As Lisenbe marched down 15th Street NW toward the Washington Monument, she said she felt more comfortable in the less-revealing clothing — but was also aware that her discomfort with the men’s comments was an example of the very issue she had come downtown to highlight.
“I realized in retrospect that this is what today is all about,” said, Lisenbe, 25, of Arlington.
“If we truly want to stop slut blaming, we have to take a really hard look at how feeling shame has not only hurt us but enabled our own denial,” said Andrea Bredbeck, a freelance writer who delivered a keynote speech Saturday afternoon.
Bredbeck told the crowd that her first boyfriend’s father sexually assaulted her in the middle of the night. “No matter what your gender, what you wear, you are never responsible for being assaulted,” she said to cheers and applause.
The first SlutWalk was held in April after a Toronto police officer suggested that women should avoid “dressing like sluts” to stay safe. Since then, SlutWalks have been organized in cities across the globe.
The crowd rallied at Lafayette Square in the morning and marched to the National Sylvan Theater at the base of the Washington Monument. More than a dozen speakers took the stage.
“Two, four, six, eight, it is not okay to rape,” the crowd chanted. Women and men brandished handmade signs with slogans such as “My dress is not a yes” and danced to Cyndi Lauper’s “Girls Just Want to Have Fun.”
One woman taped “SLUT” across her sunglasses. Members of a group identifying themselves as “gender-fluid anarchists” requested that they not be identified as “he” or “she” and declared “Consent is sexy” in signs and chants.
“We want to improve dialogue about sexual assault victim blaming,” said Samantha Wright, who organized Saturday’s event. “It’s a peaceful protest aimed at starting conversations and raising awareness.”
Many of the women who marched Saturday shared personal experiences with sexual assault and harassment.
Stephanie Hargett, 25, said she drove three hours from Hampton, Va., to represent women who have been attacked and harassed while serving in the military. Hargett said she was sexually assaulted while deployed in Kuwait with the Army two years ago.
“I want people to realize females should be able to go out and wear short skirts and have a good time without getting harassed,” said Hargett, who had transformed her uniform into a cropped top and short shorts and wore fishnets with boots for the event.
Andrea Brown, 24, of Manassas said she was molested first by her uncle when she was 7 and then by her mother’s ex-boyfriend when she was 11.
“The idea that anyone deserves to be raped is stupid,” she said.
Brown and two friends organized a SlutWalk sleepover Friday night, staying up late to choose outfits and make signs. “We ran out of paper before we ran out of messages,” she said.