At this time last year, Kimberia Sherva seemed a fairly typical suburban mom: juggling a job, college courses, a partner and her two sons’ packed schedules. She was unaware that she’d soon be part of a worldwide movement to speak out against rape culture and sexual stereotypes.
In January 2011, a Toronto police officer told a group of college students that “women should avoid looking like sluts in order not to be victimized.” Furious local activists dubbed their response “SlutWalk,” and an estimated 1,500 people gathered in Toronto on April 3, 2011, to speak out against sexual violence and the ongoing stigmatization of survivors.
By the time her boys were out of school for the summer, Sherva had decided that she’d like to see a SlutWalk happen in the Twin Cities. On Oct. 1, 2011, she and a crowd of over 700 participated in the first SlutWalk Minneapolis, marching along the downtown riverfront, holding signs with messages both bold (“I love sex, I hate rape!”) and blunt (“I was 12. Did I deserve it?”).
In the week before the walk, Sherva appeared on TV, on the radio and in both major newspapers explaining and defending the event’s controversial name. “In one specific interview,” Sherva said, “I was asked three different times to elaborate on the same question: ‘what should the woman do to avoid being raped?’ I patiently answered … [the SlutWalk] message isn’t telling people ‘don’t get raped,’ it’s telling people ‘don’t rape.'”
Throughout the process of organizing SlutWalk, Sherva has been open about her past as a rape survivor who experienced the additional trauma of having her story discredited and dismissed. Her determination to save others from the same fate is what steadied her resolve in the face of withering criticism of the walk and its message. “This cause is where I’ve taken a stand,” she said. “I’m not about to back down because someone is uncomfortable with me talking about rape and sexual assault.
“I have become a lot more fearless when it comes to being who I really am,” Sherva added. “I am going to keep talking, and I’m going to keep challenging, and I am going to stand up for myself and for all other survivors out there.”
Despite its painful origins, the day of SlutWalk Minneapolis was about unity and celebration, Sherva said. When she watched the crowd marching behind her, she “saw so much happiness. I saw joy and exhilaration and I saw strength … families and young people and older people and all different ethnic backgrounds and gender and sexual identities … we really were a diverse group.”
Sherva and a team of volunteers are committed to keeping the excitement generated by SlutWalk Minneapolis moving forward. They plan on holding additional meetings and speak-outs on sexual violence in the community, culminating in another public march next year.
Today, Sherva may still seem a typical mom as she shuttles her boys to and from school, but she’s been forever changed. “[SlutWalk] made me stronger and it’s given me what I need to break new ground. It’s given me empathy and compassion and gentleness. I am so fortunate to have grown so much.”
The 700 people who followed her lead on Oct. 1, taking bold steps to end rape culture, would certainly agree.