BOSTON — Chanting "We love sluts!" and holding signs like "Jesus loves sluts," approximately 2,000 protesters marched Saturday around the Boston Common as the city officially became the latest to join an international series of protests known as "SlutWalks."
The protest movement, sparked by a Toronto police officer's remark that women could avoid being raped by not dressing like "sluts," came to Boston after advocates saw similar events — largely organized through Facebook and Twitter — pop up in Canada, England and other parts of the U.S.
"We wanted to do something to show our support," said Siobhan Connors, 20, of Lynn, Mass., a Boston organizer. "We originally planned for a small event and expected about 30 people."
But by the time the march began Saturday, about 2,000 people — some dressed in lingerie with the words "slut" written across their stomachs — were in attendance.
In January, a Toronto police officer told a group of university students that women should avoid dressing like "sluts" to avoid being raped. He later apologized. The officer who made the comments, Constable Michael Sanguinetti, was disciplined but remained on duty, said Toronto police spokesman Mark Pugash.
However, advocates in Toronto held a "SlutWalk" to protest the officer's remarks and to highlight what they saw as problems in blaming sexual assault victims. Since then, SlutWalks, organized mainly through social media, have been held in Dallas, Asheville, N.C., and Ottawa, Ontario. Organizers say the events also were held to bring attention to "slut-shaming," or shaming women for being sexual, and the treatment of sexual assault victims.
"I had watched the Toronto walk happen from afar," said Jaclyn Friedman, author of "Yes Means Yes: Visions of Female Sexual Power and a World Without Rape" and resident of Medford, Mass. "When I heard it was coming to Boston I just emailed the organizers and said, 'How can I help?'"
Organizers invited Friedman to speak.
Vanessa White, 33, of Somerville, Mass., also heard about the event through Facebook and showed up for the Boston event dressed in a pink jacket and fishnet stockings.
"For me ... it's an attempt to reclaim the word 'slut' itself," said White. "Because once you reclaim it, you take the power away from it."
Before the march, a small group of counter protesters, wearing colorful cowboy hats with feathers and holding a boom box that played hip-hop and 1970s funk, walked around the gathering. Dubbed the "PimpWalk," organizer Samuel Bilowski, 23, of Salem, N.H., said his group wanted to "get some numbers" and talk to attractive women.
"This is a pathetic attempt at a joke," admitted Bilowski. "We're just having fun."
Still, White and a group of other advocates surrounded Bilowski and his group and yelled the word "slut" repeatedly. Others verbally attacked Bilowski for glorifying violence against women.
Bilowski's group eventually joined the SlutWalk march around the Common.
Following Boston, SlutWalk marches are planned in cities including Seattle; New York; Chicago; Philadelphia; Reno, Nev.; and Austin, Texas.