The SlutWalk protest marches began on April 3, 2011, in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, and became a movement of rallies across the world. Participants protest against explaining or excusing rape by referring to any aspect of a woman's appearance. The rallies began when Constable Michael Sanguinetti, a Toronto Police officer, suggested that to remain safe, "women should avoid dressing like sluts." The protest takes the form of a march, mainly by young women, where some dress provocatively, like sluts. There are also speaker meetings and workshops. Some objectors have remarked that this approach is an example of women defining their sexuality in male terms.
On January 24, 2011 Constable Michael Sanguinetti spoke on crime prevention at a York University safety forum at Osgoode Hall Law School. He said: "I've been told I'm not supposed to say this – however, women should avoid dressing like sluts in order not to be victimized." Co-founders Sonya Barnett and Heather Jarvis decided to use the word slut in their response. They observe that historically, "slut" has had negative connotations, and that their goal is to redeem the term. They write that women "are tired of being oppressed by slut-shaming; of being judged by our sexuality and feeling unsafe as a result." They continue: "Being in charge of our sexual lives should not mean that we are opening ourselves to an expectation of violence, regardless if we participate in sex for pleasure or work." Sanguinetti later apologized for the remark saying: "I am embarrassed by the comment I made and it shall not be repeated."
To be sure, such a comment from law enforcement is highly offensive in suggesting that some victims of rape are responsible for the criminal acts of their attackers. Rather than admonishing women to dress a certain way, police should be warning potential offenders that they should 'avoid assaulting women in order not to go to prison' —Gail Dines and Wendy J Murphy
On April 3, 2011, over 3,000 gathered at Queen's Park. The day began with speeches before moving to the Toronto Police Headquarters. Although the website requested women to dress in everyday wear (to symbolize ordinary women, sexually assaulted in ordinary life), many women dressed as "sluts" in provocative clothing.
New York City SlutWalkers dressed like sluts. Union Square, October 2011
The idea spread to include major cities around the globe. Jessica Valenti says: "In just a few months, SlutWalks have become the most successful feminist action of the past 20 years. SlutWalks have been attended by thousands of women and men, and debated in the media. In India, where the events were called Slutwalk arthaat Besharmi Morcha, slutwalk was denounced as irrelevant in the face of numerous other issues that women face, including female feticide, infanticide, dowry murders and honor killings, Rita Banerji, Indian feminist and author argues, "The issue at the crux of the SlutWalk is one and the same as for all the other above mentioned afflictions. It is about the recognition of women as individuals with certain fundamental rights, including that of safety and personal choices, which no one, not even the family, can violate." For their activism, founders of SlutWalk Heather Jarvis and Sonya JF Barnett were named Utne Reader visionaries in 2011.
Augie Fleras believes that many news items that report violence against women use language that tends to normalise it, make it sound inconsequential, or don’t seem to oppose its recurrence; that rape myths are framed as rough sex, or blame the victim; and for all of this, it appears that the "police remain the authoritative voice in these encounters with the result that realities are constructed to fit police versions rather than victim's experiences." He quotes Slutwalk as an appropriate grassroots reaction to these realities.