Tiffany Thorne is the organizer of this year’s second-annual SlutWalk SLC, which aims to break the myth that modesty prevents sexual violence. People are encouraged to wear whatever they’re comfortable with—from burkas to bikinis—for the march from the Salt Lake City Main Library (210 E. 400 South) to the Utah Capitol (350 N. State) on Saturday, Sept. 1. Marchers are meeting at 1 p.m. for music and poetry, and the walk to the Capitol—where there’ll be several speakers—begins at 3 p.m. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
What do you make of recent statements about “legitimate rape?”
It’s frustrating to see and to hear people look at rape as an isolated, rare incident, because it really is a pattern. It’s dangerously normal. In Utah, 1 in 3 women will be sexually assaulted in their lifetime, and 1 in 6 men. One in 5 women will be raped. Most of the time, it’s minors. Utah outpaces the national average in sexual assaults. It’s kind of surprising to see how much we outpace the national average, because we’re well below the national average in every other violent crime. A big young population that’s especially vulnerable is part of the problem, and so is, according to the Utah Domestic Violence Council, having a religious atmosphere that burdens victims.
How does modesty factor in to all this?
Modesty is not prevention. Last year, the response to SlutWalk was still that modesty is good prevention. We really want to make it clear that that’s a myth, it’s not good prevention—it’s actually harmful. We divert so much attention away from what is really the problem, and make it clothes. We put so much energy into dressing modestly to “prevent” sexual assaults, and then when someone is assaulted, we’re distracted by their clothes. It’s humiliating and hard on victims to have their clothing become evidence if they report. It’s not at all part of the real problem. A lot of times, especially in more religious communities, when you challenge a set of ideas, people think you’re invading something that is sacred. But it’s your god-given right to talk about things, and it’s so important that we do.
Without modesty to cling to, how can we prevent rape?
Going with your gut on things—is this a safe situation or is this something that I want to get away from? When it comes to verbalizing a no, that is something that we could work on. Learning to stand up for yourself. Being polite is something that people struggle with, generally, especially women. It’s hard to risk hurting people’s feelings or being impolite or being too assertive. But change doesn’t always come from polite behaviors.
More than anything, we’re looking at the culture and the issues we have as a community, the rape myths that we perpetuate—that modesty is prevention is a big one. That’s a lot of wasted energy. We’re also looking at how we’re talking about this issue—we don’t talk about it. We need to get consent education in schools, and open up a dialogue.
What should women be worrying about more than whether their shirts have sleeves?
This is something that men and women can do: Notice their own contribution to slut shaming and victim blaming. Talk about the word slut and talk about how arbitrary it really is. Open a dialogue. And if you find that you’re uncomfortable calling other people out on their slut shaming and victim blaming, ask why.
What are some problems with how society looks at rape?
By law, you’re not required to say no for it to be a rape. A lot of women freeze. That’s another way of disproportionately burdening victims—requiring them to fight and say “No” when the most common reaction is to just freeze. And people sometimes think that getting consent is this vague thing. It’s not. It’s pretty cut and dried, and rapists will blur that line purposefully and are really skilled at making you wonder if it was a miscommunication. Sex education can be improved upon. Consent needs to be talked about. That’s something that people hate talking about, especially with younger people. But it’s really important that people know how to get a yes versus how not to get a no.
Could focusing on telling people simply to not have premarital sex mean that men won’t have the experience to know how to read the signals of whether their partner wants to have sex?
Definitely. There was a study that says that 1 in 16 college men rape, and they won’t call it that. They’ll know that they were having sex with an unwilling partner, but they won’t call it that.
What’s it like to be in charge of a big movement like this?
It’s been a really good way of channeling some energy. I have a lot of frustrations about this topic. When I come home at the end of the day and I get to work on it, it’s a way of knowing that I’m putting it toward something that’s going to make a healthier community. It’s always good if you can put your anger toward change.