The words on signs carried through the University of South Florida campus Monday afternoon didn't quite match up with the smiles, Halloween costumes and peals of laughter from the 250 students who participated in what organizer's billed as the school's first official SlutWalk. I was only 15. I was raped in my dorm room. Got consent? The walk, an event hosted by several women's and gender studies students after months of preparation, ended in the Marshall Student Center's outdoor amphitheater on an unseasonably chilly day. Participants threw jackets over rainbow tutus and lingerie while they listened to planned and impromptu stories of sexual assault. Passers-by stopped on their way somewhere else, drawn in by what they heard. "I came out of the bookstore to see what it was, and I'm still here," said Russell Goodman, 21. "It's very moving, hearing the stories." Many of the speeches began, "I've never told this to anyone." The idea began last spring, when organizer Kate Shrum, 31, wrote an article for the online magazine Her Campus about her friend Caroline Jackson. Jackson, 20, reported her experience with sexual assault to the school's Office of Student Rights and Responsibilities and became increasingly frustrated with its procedures for student conduct code violations. According to the article, Jackson's attacker was eventually found responsible for sexual assault by USF, but allowed to continue attending classes, including one he shared with Jackson, during the investigation. The student accused was removed from campus for one semester, then allowed to return and graduate with his degree in women's and gender studies. "No one asks us what it feels like to see your attacker twice a week and feel naked every time," Shrum wrote in the article. USF Dean of Students Danielle McDonald, who deals with student code of conduct violations and appeals, said the university shares concerns about sexual assault and supported raising awareness of the issue. "This campus always tries to lead the way in promoting a culture where sexual violence is a rare occurrence that is simply not tolerated," McDonald said in an interview Monday. "We have no tolerance for sexual violence, but there has to be due process." Many of the walk's organizers met with McDonald in the wake of Jackson's experience. Brandi Lai, 21, said that McDonald took careful notes and listened to the group's concern during their meetings. Disappointed in what they called "administrative violence" against USF's sexual assault victims, the students decided to organize the SlutWalk and hope it will become an annual event. "We know the administration has their hands tied bureaucratically, and are amazing as individuals," Shrum said. "As students, we have the freedom to fight for change without as much fear of repercussion." Their ultimate goal is a zero-tolerance policy at USF for sexual assault, which would "immediately and permanently remove any student convicted of sexual assault from all USF systems," Shrum said. SlutWalk rallies originated in 2010 in Toronto to bring awareness to the idea of "victim blaming" in rape culture. Women have staged the walks around the nation and the world. The recent #MeToo campaign has spurred new conversations about harassment and assault. "The term slut doesn't mean anything until people give it meaning, and you can make that into a positive thing," said organizer Dolly Ferraiuolo, 27, who is pursuing her master's degree in social work. "We're changing the connotation behind the word into something positive; you can be empowered and wear whatever you want. It still doesn't mean you're allowed to be taken advantage of." Between speeches, Ferraiuolo and Shrum, decked out in trademark "Rosie the Riveter" red bandanas and denim jumpsuits, passed out Halloween candy from plastic pumpkin buckets and hugged marchers who smiled through their tears. "I was just here for an assignment, but now I'm so happy I came," said social work major Chelsea Bates, 27. "It's amazing, all this women's empowerment. I've heard about sexual assault at other schools, but I didn't think it was happening here." One speaker said her mother's rape led to the birth of her brother. Another said she was blamed in an assault case despite her jeans and sweatshirt. A third spoke of sleeping on a friend's floor for a month while waiting to be moved out of her and dorm away from her attacker. Despite the intensity of the subject matter, speeches were met with cheers and encouragement. When Ferraiuolo announced that a DJ would spin music until more speakers were ready to come forward, he never had a chance to press play. "We had a day full of peaceful and powerful engagement," Shrum said. "The administration was receptive and supportive, and we will continue to work with USF to make meaningful change on campus." Toggle screen reader support
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