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SlutWalk NYC Preparing to Take Over Union Square

Occupy Wall Street is not the only protest in town. Starting around 11 a.m. today, SlutWalk NYC will be in Union Square Park to challenge sexual violence in New York City and abroad.

The event will tackle sexual violence in the city and high-profile cases involving NYPD officers and former IMF chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn.

If you're expecting to see every participant strolling the streets dressed in lingerie and stilettos, think again, organizers say.

"People think it's a bunch of people parading around in costumes, but it's activists and advocates, rape survivors, and allies -- a group of people getting together to raise awareness," said Alison Turkos, one of the many organizers.

SlutWalk NYC is part of a larger movement that started in Canada. On Jan. 24, a cop told a group of college students in Toronto that "Women should avoid dressing like sluts in order not be victimized."

The cop's victim-blaming remark sparked the first SlutWalk rally in Toronto and has since spread worldwide to major U.S. cities and to places as far as London and Cape Town, South Africa. (The timing of SlutWalk NYC coincides with a piece in the Wall Street Journal that reports that NYPD officers have been telling women in areas affected by the Park Slope rapist to avoid wearing skirts and shorts because it's "easy access.")

According to SlutWalkToronto.com, more than 100 loosely affiliated events, often referred to as "satellites," have occurred or will occur worldwide this year.

To date, about 6,000 people have RSVP'ed to attend the New York event via Facebook. Organizers say women should dress however they want to assert that women should be able to wear whatever they want without being blamed for what happens to them.

Between Dominique Strauss-Kahn's alleged sexual assault of hotel maid Nafissatou Diallo and the acquittal of NYPD cops Kenneth Moreno and Franklin Mata on charges that they sexually assaulted a woman -- and the subsequent August sentencing of Moreno, who is to serve a year in prison for misdemeanor official conduct -- New York has had its fair share of major events that bring rape culture and victim blaming to public consciousness.

SlutWalk NYC organizers say their rally will challenge the outcome of both sexual assault cases, and that the group will march near the 9th Precinct -- the same precinct that officers Moreno and Mata represented.

Cameron Shahraray, another organizer, said the protest also brings awareness to increased sexual violence in the city. New York's Fiscal 2011 Mayor's Management Report, released earlier this month, highlighted a near 32 percent increase in reported forcible rape cases. In 2010 there were 860 reported forcible rape cases by the end of the 2010 fiscal period and in 2011 there were 1,138. The data goes through the end of June for each year. Recent assaults in Park Slope, for example, highlight such violence.

"Sexual violence is a human rights issue and I don't think the police or the FBI or any other law enforcement agency are doing enough to prevent it," Shahraray said. In a New York Daily News article, Councilman Peter Vallone, Jr. of Astoria, said the increase was related to a smaller police force.

The SlutWalk marches have not been without criticism.

Several groups have voiced concerned about the use of the word "slut," including the Brooklyn-based Black Women's Blueprint, who said SlutWalk excludes women of African descent in an open letter dated Sept. 23.

Joanna Chiu, an coordinator for SlutWalk NYC, said participants and organizers have different perspectives on the use of the word, but she feels the event it is not about reclaiming the pejorative.

"It's looking at the word and how it reflects our culture," Chiu said. "It's a way to generate a discussion. It's really satirical. There really is no such thing as a 'slut.'"

Singer Connie Francis, who is a survivor of rape, took to Twitter earlier this year to say that she was dismayed by the walks and that the organizers of these events were "misguided."

Others have rallied behind the SlutWalk movement, including noted feminist and author Alice Walker and several nonprofit and feminist groups in New York, like the Third Wave Foundation and Sex Workers Outreach Project New York.

For people who are concerned about safety in light of the Occupy Wall Street debacles, organizers say they have safety procedures in place, including a number of trained volunteers who will act as marshals. Chui added that unlike Occupy Wall Street, SlutWalk NYC has been officially permitted by the New York City Department of Parks & Recreation and is only scheduled to last for a few hours.

The public event will start 11 a.m. when organizers will meet at the south end of Union Square Park, near Whole Foods Market, to make banners. Organizers are asking participants to bring their own materials. The march will start at the same place, eventually going as far south as 3rd Street. Later, a rally will begin, featuring writers, poets, activists, artists and bands from New York.

Organizers and participants will be live tweeting the event from their official Twitter handle, @SlutWalkNYC. The official hash tag will be #SWNYC. The event will take place rain or shine, Turkos said.

SlutWalk NYC wants to continue its activism efforts after Saturday's big event-- potentially under a new name. The group with deliberate its future title and goals during public meeting on October 13 at Walker Stage.

Visit the coalition's website at SlutWalkNYC.com.

[manderson@villagevoice.com]

Go to Runnin' Scared for more Voice news coverage.


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