This weekend’s SlutWalk raises awareness of sexual assault

Helen Rogers has been raped twice, now she’s taking a global initiative to end sexual assaults and bringing it to RVA.

SlutWalk-Front

On September 22nd, Helen Rogers, 41, will wear a silk blouse–the same blouse she wore ten years ago when she was raped for the second time.

Rogers will join other locals who will walk two miles, from Monroe Park to Byrd Park, starting at 11:30 AM this Saturday. They will protest blaming rape and sexual assault victims for prompting the crimes against them simply because the victims dressed too provocatively. It’s called SlutWalk.

One night, at age 25, Rogers allowed a young man to sleep on her parent’s couch after a night of drinking. Rogers slept in her own room. “I woke up to him raping me,” she said. He later stalked her, relenting only after Rogers obtained a restraining order.

Five years later, Rogers was at a bar when she suddenly started to feel strange. She said that as a 30-year-old, she was mindful of her alcohol limits and wasn’t drinking to excess. “I went to the bathroom and called my friend and said, Something’s not right.” She remembers little between that phone call and waking up the next morning with the “son of a well-known [Richmond] businessman” (she won’t identify the man). It was obvious to her what had happened. “I was slipped roofies in my drink.”

The presumed culprit turned the circumstance upon her. “I was looking to get laid and regretted it,” is what he told her. A carousel of emotions twirled, just as they did five years prior: “Hate, self-hate, embarrassment, confusion.” She said she felt weak, like damaged goods. “Some of those feelings don’t go away.” Many of those feelings came back in 2011 when a Toronto Police Constable’s comments made the news.

In January 2011, Constable Michael Sanguinetti spoke at a sexual assault seminar at York University. “I’ve been told I’m not supposed to say this,” prefaced the Constable. “However, women should avoid dressing like sluts in order not to be victimized.”

The statement outraged women in Canada and across the globe. In April 2011, over 3,000 gathered in Toronto to protest the constable’s statement. Many of the participants dressed in provocative clothing to underscore that a woman’s outfit should never precipitate or excuse an assault. Women in other countries organized similar protest walks. This year, it comes to RVA.

“How does dressing up for a night on the town mean you’re asking for it?” asked Rogers. “Rape is not about sex. It’s about violence and control.” She objects to the thinking that women should be held responsible for being sexually assaulted. She asked: what do you tell an 11-year-old or an 80-year-old woman that was raped? That both of them were asking for it? What about a Mechanicsville girl raped by two boys when she was 16?

While on camp grounds in Middlesex County during the Labor Day weekend just before her senior year of high school, “Nicole,” now 19, was drinking with other underage friends. During the night, two boys took advantage of her intoxicated state and raped her. The next morning, her own friends tried to convince her that it wasn’t a big deal. “Everyone thought it was a joke,” said Nicole.

One of the boys later confessed to the crime, but the other maintained the rape never happened. “My case was never prosecuted because the district attorney said I was ‘flirting.'” Nicole was devastated by absence of legal action. “It’s basically like someone telling you you’re lying.” She attended her final year of high school with the boy she accused of rape. He still lives around the corner from her parents’ house. “I hope he feels guilt for what he did.”

Nicole recently ended the counseling she received after her rape, remarking how few resources there were for rape victims in the Richmond region. Just like Helen Rogers, she followed the SlutWalks in Toronto and across the world. When she saw that one was coming to Richmond, she reached out to Rogers. “I wanted to bring some good out of [my experience],” said Nicole.

On Saturday, September 22nd beginning at 11:30 AM, participants will meet at Monroe Park on VCU’s campus. They will walk west along Main Street, past several bars. The route is deliberate. “That’s where a lot rapes begin,” said Rogers. “With alcohol.”

The walk will end at Fountain Lake in Byrd Park, another symbolic location. “I want this to be a cleansing journey, and a healing journey,” said Rogers. “There are all kinds of guilt issues and shame issues” that linger with sexual assault victims. “I’m going to be protective of them, because I know what it’s like.”

Nicole hopes to get back the dress she wore the night she was raped back from Police evidence to wear during the event. Not only will she walk the two miles with fellow survivors and supporters (including her mother), Nicole will also present her story at the walk’s conclusion to fellow participants. She’s hoping for a catharsis: “Me letting it go and being able to talk about it.”

To fund the event, Rogers needs $1,400, but has only raised $800 thus far with the support of local businesses Taboo and Odessa Rescue and Rehabilitation, along with individual support. She hopes to raise the needed amount, with remaining money to be donated to local sexual assault centers (donations are accepted here). She also hopes to make Richmond SlutWalk a nonprofit organization that will offer training programs to law enforcement and legal groups on acceptable forms of victim questioning. Additionally, she wants to bring awareness to bars and restaurants about sexual assaults.

While many support the idea and mission of SlutWalk, some find the name misleading, even jarring. “I understand the shock,” said Rogers. But she said that the purpose of the walk is to undermine the thinking represented by the use of the term slut by that Toronto constable. The name is meant to shock, because the belief that women are responsible for being sexually assaulted is even more shocking. That’s what Rogers wants the SlutWalk to show. “Even if I can educate one or two people…that’s progress.”

SlutWalk Richmond will take place on Saturday, September 22nd at 11:30 AM at Monroe Park.

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Nathan Cushing

Nathan Cushing is a writer, journalist, and RVANews Editor.

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