This past Saturday, Druslugangan, the 5th annual Reykjavík SlutWalk, attracted thousands of participants—by some estimates close to 30,000.
“I will not be quiet” and “I own my own self,” were the slogans of this year’s walk, in reference to the silencing many victims of sexual abuse face.
‘Sluts’ marched from Hallgrímskirkja, down Skólavörðustígur and Laugarvegur, and to the town green at Austurvöllur.
There, organizers and other notable individuals addressed the crowd, including journalist Jóhannes Kr. Kristjánsson, city council president Sóley Tómasdóttir and researcher Guðrún Katrín Jóhannesdóttir.
Jóhannes Kr. has, throughout his career as an investigative journalist, worked to uncover several high-profile cases of sexual violence, which he spoke to in his address.
“These are difficult cases to investigate and report on. The horror is ubiquitous and the cruelty of the perpetrator—the one who cajoled, forced or incapacitated the person they then violated—always shines through. And in their wake they leave a both mentally and physically injured person who has to decide whether to come forward and open up to their family, and then the system itself—that is to say the police, the prosecution, the judicial system—which has oftentimes proven to be a false and deceptive defense for victims of sexual abuse, and a false hope.
“And exactly because the victim’s immediate support network and the system itself often fail, these survivors are left behind with feelings of self-hatred, anxiety and depression. Their life as they know it has collapsed and everything called trust or security is gone.
“Meanwhile the perpetrator—the one who raped or committed the violence—is at work, maybe with family, eating dinner with their spouse, children, even grand-children—watching the evening news every night—kissing their spouse and children good night before dozing off into a dreamworld that is pitch black and full of depravity.”
He pressed for increased societal responsibility, citing in particular the continued existence of so-called ‘Champagne clubs,’ where lightly dressed girls, most often of foreign-origin, dance for money. Speculations of illicit prostitution rings operating under the cover of these clubs, have long been a hot-button topic in Iceland society.
Reykjavík city council president, and member of the Left-Green party, Sóley Tómasdóttir, similarly stressed the importance of focusing on the societal roots of sexual violence, rather than looking at individual cases as isolated incidents.
“Gender-based violence is not a personal tragedy, an isolated incident or the result of bad luck. It certainly affects individuals—of all genders—but it is first and foremost a societal problem.
“Gender-based violence thrives in a society that puts great emphasis on distinguishing between boys and girls and expecting different things of them—for women properness and passivity, but for men authority and aggression.
“Gender based violence thrives in a society where pornification is allowed to take hold without critique—where the line between sex and violence is unclear—where “rough sex” and “she wanted it” are seen as believable explanations for rape.
“Gender based violence thrives in the society of double-standards. Where girls are taught to be sexy and cute—but not too sexy or too cute. Sluts, but still not.”
Sóley then refocused her speech to address how any solution would need extend to every corner of society, and that she would do everything in her power to bring this change to city politics.
“Just like gender-based violence isn’t about individuals, its suppression isn’t about individuals either—its systemic. Gender-based violence is taboo. Survivors are taught to be quiet. Politicians are supposed to shut up and focus on other more important issues. Real politics.
“I will not shut up. I will stand with you.
“We need to change the world. Together. You started. Us politicians need to listen. And understand. And react. And if we don’t you need to raise hell. That’s how our partnership works. Deal?
“Once upon a time women’s suffrage was considered absurd. Today some think the idea of a violence-free society is unthinkable. That’s nonsense. A violence-free society is a self-evident and normal demand and we will not give up.”
Finally Guðrún Katrín Jóhannesdóttir, who is currently working on her master’s thesis on the impact sexual violence has on small communities, spoke to the massive crowd that had gathered at Austurvöllur.
“Foreign research has shown that the social reactions victims experience after pressing rape charges range from support to downright hatred and animosity. A large majority of those who press charges or discuss their experience publicly report some sort of negative reaction.
“Over the course of the interviews I have conducted for my own research, there appears to be a certain correlation to these international studies. My interviewees experienced a great deal of animosity from their fellow townspeople after they pressed charges. This included being labeled a slut, ignored, accused of lying, threatened, physically assaulted and being ostracized from the community.
“It is no coincidence that rape is one of those crimes least likely to be brought to the attention of police. Not only must a victim prove that the crime occurred, but they have to prove that they weren’t party to it, or encouraged it in some way.
“Dear sluts. Today’s message is clear: We will not shut up. We will tell. We will return the shame to those it belongs to. We will stand together. We will stand with survivors.”
Musicians Friðrik Dór, MAMMÚT, Úlfur Úlfur and Boogie Trouble then took to the stage, and performed in support of the cause.
“I just can’t describe this, these emotions are just indescribable and irrepressible somehow. First when we held the SlutWalk so many were putting all their energy towards criticizing the name and not understanding that this is a serious issue that is important to Icelanders—it’s a social ill that has been allowed to fester for way too long, and we’ve finally started talking about it and opening up the discussion,” organizer María Rut told RÚV.
Much has changed since that first SlutWalk five years ago. Earlier last week, in the lead up to the walk, Reykjavík city council member Guðfinna Jóhanna Guðmundsdóttir, unexpectedly stepped forward to share her experience as a survivor of sexual violence.
“I’m not much for opening up about myself but now I’m going to step far outside of my comfort zone and thank those who have helped me and others with their courage, and lifted the silence that has surrounded sexual violence and its consequences,” said Guðfinna in a Facebook post.
“I am grateful to those who have stepped forward and admitted to having been the victims of sexual violence. That has helped many. That has helped me. I have been raped and I have suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder.”
“The anxiety, the anger, the fear, the shame, the nightmares, the flashbacks, the fixations, hiding behind an armored facade so no one will know what’s happened to you, the days when you have to talk yourself through every moment to make it through, the social phobia, the hopelessness, the defensiveness, the fear of the dark and everything else is hard to live with, and can affect many others, since such torment is often accompanied by behaviors that no one understands, but are really a cry for help. Therefore it’s important to open up the discourse about the consequences of sexual violence and help those who have been victimized.”
Most support for the movement has thus far come from the left, and from younger generations and so this message from an older, right-leaning politician was welcomed by organizers.
“Guðfinna is showing incredibly courage by sharing her story. What we want is for more people of her generation to do the same, because so many are carrying this burden of shame which is so pointless. I know what that feels like and the freedom that comes from telling what happened,” said María Rut.
The piece on Al Jazeera delved deeper into the history of the movement, and included coverage of the several social media campaigns which have taken place in Iceland in the past year, including #FreeTheNipple in March and the so-called Beauty Tips! revolution in June.
Hundreds, if not thousands, of survivors of sexual abused stepped forward in the closed Facebook group Beauty Tips! and shared their stories. This movement eventually breached the borders of the Facebook group and prompted an online campaign, whereby those who were victims of sexual violence could change their profile picture to an orange graphic, and those who knew someone who was a victim of sexual violence could change it to a yellow graphic.
Graphic designer and Beauty Tips! member Edda Ýr Garðarsdóttir, who designed the graphics, told Al Jazeera that the idea was inspired by Eve Ensler’s Vagina Monologues.
“At the end of the play, people in the audience were asked to stand up with they had been raped, then if a close friend or relative had been raped, then if it had happened to a friend or acquaintance. Eventually everyone in the theater stood up, which was heartbreaking but amazing at the same time.”