Last Friday, the annual SlutWalk took place in Tel Aviv, where many young women, and a few sympathizing men, paraded the streets in revealing attire. The message of the rally was: “There is nothing that justifies sexual abuse – not clothing, not behavior, not reputation.”
For those who might be unaware, the SlutWalk originated in Canada when, during a talk at York University, a police constable 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.” An apology soon followed, but the remark had already sparked a movement. The idea was to redefine the term “slut,” as co-founders Sonya Barnett and Heather Jarvis wrote on their website: “We are tired of being oppressed by slut-shaming; of being judged by our sexuality and feeling unsafe as a result. 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. No one should equate enjoying sex with attracting sexual assault.”
In Israel, the movement first gained popularity in 2012 under a slightly different name: Tza’adat HaSharmutot (צעדת השרמוטות), using the Arabic word for “prostitute” – sharmuta. Since then, the number of participants in the annual march has steadily grown, with 500 marching in 2016, 1,500 in 2017, and 2,000 in 2018. This year, the rally attracted large numbers as well, with participants waving pictures of convicted sex offenders, including former-President Moshe Katzav and Rabbi Berland.
Bracha Barad, the director of “Kulan,” one of the organizers behind the Tel Aviv march, said: “The word ‘slut’ is not just a word intended to humiliate women, it serves society and the system as a justification for rape. The authorities are quick to grant exemptions to rapists, and it is precisely the victims of the establishment that set an impossible criminal threshold.”
A woman’s appearance, regardless of how the victim is clothed, doesn’t justify rape by any means. Looking at the issue from a biblical perspective, we see God’s love for prostitutes and the sexually-broken. Sex and marriage have sanctity in the eyes of the Creator, and as His image-bearers, we ought to engage victims with care and lovingkindness. As hard as it may to make a case in the face of such a rally, where concepts of purity are void, we ought to make room in our conversations for wisdom, and modesty.
For example, I have the right to leave my door unlocked at night – I’m a free man, and it is my door. And if someone were to break into my home and steal my valuables, the blame wouldn’t fall on me, but on the thief. Somebody may call me an idiot for leaving the door unlocked, but there is no way the thief’s sentence would be reduced due to my carefree nature. I could have acted wisely and locked the door because there is a chance of a break-in. And something similar could be said on the present topic, as well. As this movement grows in popularity, is it really raising the kind of awareness it intends? Are the means justifiable to the cause? Many women paraded in nothing but their underwear, and some even went topless, leaving little to the imagination. And there were teenagers among the protestors following their example.
Believers should stand together with victims of abuse, and reach out to them. But we ought to also raise awareness of modesty, and start discussions on the image of the body, and how Israeli culture views and values it. “My body is a temple” can appear as a slogan on the wall of a local gym, but in the context of the recent march in Tel Aviv, there is a lot more to discuss.
Women must feel safe on the streets of Israel, regardless of what they’re wearing, and men must treat them with respect, but in order to tackle that, we must change how we value our bodies, and no amount of undressing is going to change that.