Tampa SlutWalk brings attention to victims of sexual assault

TAMPA

Dressed in fishnet panty hose and short-shorts, Ale Martinez wanted to make a statement.

"The way I dress is not a yes," she read from the front of her T-shirt.

The Florida State University student joined hundreds in downtown Tampa Saturday for the SlutWalk, a protest to raise awareness of the treatment of sexual assault victims.

"No matter what I look like, I'm not asking for it," Martinez, 19, said. A victim of sexual assault, she hoped to help others by participating in the walk.

Men and women, young and old, marched through Joe Chillura Courthouse Square Park, some wearing homemade T-shirts, others in skimpy outfits, and many holding signs denouncing victim blaming. At the end of the walk, sexual assault victims shared their stories and offered inspiration to others.

Similar events took place across the world this summer. The event originated in Canada earlier this year after a police official sparked controversy through his use of the word. Speaking about safety on a college campus, Toronto police Constable Michael Sanguinetti 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."

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Charli Solis, 25, organizer of the Tampa event, said that to show solidarity and support, they chose to keep the same name as the original event.

Solis, a student at the University of Tampa, acknowledges that the name might turn some people away, but she knows it will get them talking and that's what counts, she said.

"The word is kind of weird, kind of uncomfortable, kind of ugly, but so is sexual assault," Solis said. "Putting that word on the table and talking about these issues brings it to the forefront."

The name didn't scare Alice Donovan, 67, of Port Richey.

"The way people dress has absolutely nothing to do with whether they want to have sexual relations," she said. "We don't think there is any excuse for rape."

For Tim Daffron, 22, the event was personal.

Daffron, of Tampa, wore a pair of old and ripped blue jeans he was wearing eight years ago when he was sexually assaulted.

"Just because I'm dressed in torn-up jeans doesn't mean you can hurt me," he said.

He wanted to make it clear that men can be affected just as much as women.

"It does happen to men, too," he said.

Derek Johnson, 32, came to the event armed with homemade signs showing his support. He declared that men can be feminists, too.

"I want to show my solidarity as a male ally of the movement," Johnson, of Carrollwood, said. "I want to bring attention to the idea of not blaming the victim."

Members of the University of South Florida chapter of To Write Love On Her Arms, a suicide prevention group, walked in the event to help raise awareness as well.

"It's not anyone's fault if they are raped, no matter what they are wearing or if they are flirting," said Jenni Warren, 22, a student at USF and member of the group.

Long after the outrageous costumes and flashy signs of the participants are forgotten, Solis hopes her message will be remembered.

"It's not about being a slut or acting like a slut," Solis said. "It's about opening a conversation."

Staff photographer Tyler Tjomsland contributed to this report. Shelley Rossetter can be reached at srossetter@sptimes.com or (813) 661-2442.

Tampa SlutWalk brings attention to victims of sexual assault 09/17/11 [Last modified: Sunday, September 18, 2011 12:18am]

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