Wednesday is Denim Day. Wearing denim on this day is one of the things we do in April to raise awareness of the prevalence of sexual assault and the danger of victim blaming. Participating in this international event shows solidarity with survivors and individuals worldwide who are committed in their resolve to stop sexual assault.
It all began in 1992 when a young Italian woman of 18 was picked up by her driving instructor, taken to an isolated area and raped. In spite of threats to harm her and her family if she told anyone, she did tell her family and the rapist was convicted and put in prison. This should be the end of the story.
But, after six years of appeals — reaching all the way up to the Italian Supreme Court — the ruling was overturned and the rapist was released. The reason the court gave for the decision was that the young woman’s jeans were so tight that she must have helped take them off — thus making the sexual encounter consensual and not rape. The women in the Italian Parliament were horrified, and in solidarity wore jeans to work the next day in protest, marking the very first Denim Day.
In the past year, we have seen an increase in awareness of sexual assault and the dangers of victim blaming, as well as an increase in the reporting of sexual assaults, but we still have a long way to go. Gender-based, sexually themed, disrespectful jokes, slurs, words and actions seem to be more prevalent and acceptable as evidenced by incidents reported throughout our country. The faceless and transient nature of social media and technology also seems to encourage the dissemination of hateful thoughts, words and actions.
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National statistics indicate that one in four girls and one in six boys will be sexually assaulted by the time they are 18. These are appalling statistics. Please join me and make a statement by wearing jeans on Denim Day and by thinking of ways you can help change the conversation. It can be as simple as speaking out in support of victims when individuals make victim-blaming statements — “they shouldn’t have been wearing that outfit” or “they shouldn’t have been drinking,” implying that being raped was the victims’ fault.
We need to change the focus of the conversation from talking about what a person was doing when they were assaulted to talking about the behavior of the abuser and how it is simply not OK — ever. Being passed out, or otherwise incapacitated for any reason, implies that consent cannot be given and therefore it is sexual assault. Being coerced into any sexual activity that you don’t want is not consensual, even if you are in a relationship with that person. If enough of us start talking this way, we can change the conversation and we can change our community.
Visit wcaboise.org for more information and join me Wednesday for Denim Day 2017.
Bea Black is the executive director of Women’s & Children’s Alliance.