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Women walk the talk after officer's offending 'slut' remarks

People take part in the Slutwalk protest in Toronto.

Mark Blinch/Reuters

The trio of 20-something women had never been to a demonstration before. They don't consider themselves political. They look more suited for an H&M sale than a quasi-feminist uprising.

But when Melissa Dolson, her sister Amanda and Amy Sherwood, heard about Toronto Police Constable Michael Sanguinetti's comment to a York University class - that women who don't want to be sexually assaulted should "avoid dressing like sluts" - it stirred them in a way that other headlines rarely do.

And that's how the three friends ended up on Toronto's College Street on Sunday, all wearing white T-shirts emblazoned with the logo of the SlutWalk - "Because We've Had Enough"- and railing against the police and that particular comment. The demonstration, which started at Queen's Park and ended in front of police headquarters, featured much outrage, lots of skin, and all walks of life, including activists, Goths, native protesters, artists and a good smattering of men.

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Public officials often say things that offend, but the words do not usually result in a protest of 3,000-plus people. So why did Constable Sanguinetti's ill-advised advice, which he made more than two months ago and has since apologized for, produce such anger?

For Melissa Dolson, 23, it was strictly the suggestion that the police view some victims differently than others. "They're supposed to be protecting everyone as a whole," Ms. Dolson said, shortly after the organizers finished their speeches.

For Amber Tucker, a 20-year-old York psychology student, the protest was much more personal. She lives in residence, right next to the Vanier dormitory where two young men crept through the halls during Frosh Week of 2007, hunting for unlocked doors and unsuspecting first-year students. When friends told her it was stupid to take part in the walk, it only reaffirmed that many people are inclined to blame victims, she said. "It's not just one cop. It's a lot of people," she said.

In response to the protest, the force has said the constable's comments were unacceptable. "Our actions and behaviour must never cause doubt or bring discredit to the reputation of the service," the force's statement said.

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