By its very definition, to “reclaim” means to retrieve, recover or bring something back. Western sophomore Samuel Schimmel has made it his mission to reclaim the word “slut” by co-coordinating SlutWalk Seattle, happening this June.
In what originated as a protest in Toronto, SlutWalk centers on the fight against the sexist, social acceptance of rape in today’s culture.  Schimmel said the event is meant to shed light on the misconceptions of rape victims and their circumstances. The Seattle SlutWalk will be held on June 19 at noon, when protesters will rally and march from Pine Street to Westlake Center.
We sat down with Schimmel to learn about his experiences planning the event and what he hopes will come of it.

The AS Review: How did you get involved with SlutWalk?

Samuel Schimmel: I actually found it on Tumblr of all things. I saw a poster for it and it said, “Reclaim the word ‘slut,’’’ which seemed like a good cause, and the more I learned about it, the more I learned it was just one of many facets of SlutWalk. Part of it is about victim-blaming, which is placing the burden of prevention of sexual violence on the victim, with statements such like “She deserved it,” “She was asking for it,” “She shouldn’t have been dressed this way or behaved this way.”
    The other part of it is slut-shaming, which is stigmatizing people, especially women, for how much sex they have. I have a background mostly in the queer movement, and I was really impressed with how we reclaimed the word “queer,” like how at Western, we changed the LGBTA to the Queer Resource Center is a testament to that. I feel like we can do that with the word “slut” too. That was what got my interest. One of my friends, she’s just about to graduate from high school, she is going to the [University of Washington] next year, Robin. She and I decided that because there wasn’t one of these in Seattle yet we would take it on. We reserved the domain and all that. Then we got an email from Toronto, that’s where the headquarters of this is, that’s where it all started, and their satellite coordinator told us someone else expressed interest. Jessie, she’s a Microsoft employee, they put us in contact with her. And ever since then it’s been a terrific three-way partnership. 

Review: What do you hope will ultimately come of this event?

Schimmel: I feel like the best way, in order to reduce victim-blaming and slut-shaming, is educating kids accordingly. But before we can change the education curriculum that we have, we have to really win over the hearts and minds of the current adult generation. A lot of them don’t see it as a problem. 
    It’s about convincing the general public that this is a problem and that there are ways we can change it. So far this has grabbed the attention of the mainstream media who don’t necessarily represent us the way we would like. But nonetheless, the important thing is that it is bringing this issue to the attention of a lot of people who hadn’t heard of it or given it much thought.
    It’s not a stretch of the imagination as the first movement against victim-blaming or the first movement to reclaim the word “slut.” But it is the first time it has gotten this much media attention, which, really, regardless of how people look at this, they are at least thinking about it. And that is just exposing a lot of ills right now in our society and in our criminal justice system. But we really think, in a democracy like ours, people tell us “Men are still violent; they are still going to rape women and a rally will not change that.” This rally isn’t targeted at rapists, it’s targeted at the public and looking at rape as an issue and sexual assault as an issue, and how they hold our judges accountable when making decisions. “She was dressed in a certain way, sex was in the air,” that is actually a quote from a Canadian judge who shortened a rapist’s sentence because of how the victim was dressed. So really, just convincing the public to hold the justice system accountable.
    Also to stop on a day-to-day, personal level the culture of victim-blaming. I’m a political science major, so I’m always looking at the legal side of this. But sexual assault is one of the most traumatic experiences that someone can suffer in their lifetime. And it’s made even worse when victim-blame becomes a factor in that, just the unnecessary amount of guilt or shame that survivors have to go through. I really think that is preventable, and by really opening people’s eyes to this issue we hope to reduce that as well.

Review: What would you say to students who don’t feel like their voices don’t matter?

Schimmel: I would say that there are a lot of ways to affect change, and this is just one of them. There are things that everybody can do, actually all of these things people can do. Some of these things take a larger commitment of time and resources than others. But writing to the editor of your newspaper, writing letters to your legislators, even blogging on the Internet, they are all things that people who want to see change can do. Organizing a protest like this—you know there are good days and bad days we have with this. But really, it’s been a very rewarding experience. I’m glad I’m doing it and in some ways it’s easier than it looks, especially once it gets going.
    You really meet a lot of amazing people out there who have useful talents. You network with them and you find your place in the movement and you establish a vision and you make a plan and you do it. There are all these encouraging moments along the way when some radio station or newspaper wants to interview you, or when one of the almost 4,000 people attending the Facebook event friend requests you and they tell you that you’re their hero. The ceaseless amount of people who want to help out, if it’s an important cause; you’re not going to be alone in it.
    There are always going to be people who will want to step up and do their part. Naturally, you’re going to be getting a lot of negative energy from people who [want to] discourage your cause. Sometimes it’s easier to shrug that off with strangers on the Internet and sometimes it’s harder when it’s your best friend from your childhood. It’s rough, but as you go, you continue to build conviction in your cause and that makes it all worth it.

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