Supporters and photographers prepare for the SlutWalk march to begin at Union Square. Photo by Charles Li

Janice was a 20-year-old college student in Troy, N.Y. when she accepted a ride home from who she thought was a harmless stranger six years ago. But, he drove her into the woods and raped her. She managed to get out of his car, but then he chased her, caught her, and then choked her and raped her again, before leaving her in the woods.

When criminal proceedings against her rapist began, the defense attorney threatened to portray her as a “slut” to the jury, and promised her that an ex-boyfriend would testify that she was a slut unless she dropped the rape charge. Janice, who did not want to give her last name, dropped the rape charge to avoid being stigmatized, and her assailant went to jail for the lesser crime of assault and battery.

Rape victim, Janice, holds up a protest sign at the SlutWalk on Union Square. Photo by Charles Li

Yesterday she carried a big sign that read, “I’m a rape survivor, not a fashion victim,” and marched with hundreds of New Yorkers through Union Square and the East Village, in a grassroots campaign called SlutWalk, challenging what they called rape culture: victim blaming and slut shaming.

Some female participants wore low-cut blouses, some only wore bras to cover their chests, and a few fully bared their bosoms.

“Rape culture is a global culture that doesn’t take rape seriously and just accepts it as a fact of life,” said Joanna Chiu, 23, one of the event organizers and a graduate student at Columbia Journalism School.

Chiu said statistics kept by the NYPD show sexual assaults have already increased by 24 percent in New York City since last year. And many more rape cases go unreported because of the victims being blamed for the attack, marchers believe.

According to information pamphlets handed out by SlutWalk event organizers, victim-blaming points to the social stigma attached to rape victims, who often are judged by society as the cause of sexual violence, accused of “asking for it” by the attire they wear or the way they walk. Slut shaming refers to derogatory use of the word “slut” in discrimination against women who wear attire or use body language that expresses their sexuality.

Suzie Expozito, an event organizer and human rights activist in New York, told supporters that the SlutWalk movement began in Toronto, Canada, in reaction to what a police representative told law students at York University. The policeman said women should “avoid dressing like sluts” if they don’t want to be victimized.

Supporters of SlutWalk included both women and men who marched from Union Square south to Broadway chanting, “NYPD, target rapists and not me.”

As supporters marched down the sidewalks on Second Ave., their chants of “Hey hey! Ho ho! This rape culture has got to go,” attracted crowds from nearby streets in the East Village.

According to event organizers, one of the goals of this year’s SlutWalk is to get the attention of officers from the East Village’s Ninth Precinct, who are responsible for protecting the public. Kenneth Moreno, a former officer with the Ninth Precinct, was charged with rape last December, after he escorted an intoxicated woman home. Moreno was charged with rape but acquitted this May, after his attorneys cast doubt on the victim’s credibility.