Please consider wearing jeans on Wednesday. I know it is not Friday, but it is a special day, and one that is being recognized worldwide as “Denim Day.” We would love to have your participation. In fact, Mayor Dave Bieter declared April 29 as Denim Day in Boise.
April is Sexual Assault Awareness month, and as part of raising awareness, the Women’s and Children’s Alliance (WCA) has chosen to highlight the natural tendency of our society to blame the victim anytime there is a story about sexual assault or rape through participation in this international social statement. The fact is that one in six women will be a victim of an attempted or completed rape in her lifetime. If you find this as unacceptable as we do, join us in making a statement that this is not acceptable in our community.
In 1992 a, 18-year-old Italian woman 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 of this assault, this young woman 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 its 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 wore their jeans to work in protest. Thus the first Denim Day was started.
In 1999 the first Denim Day in the United States took place in L.A., and has continued every year since. While the WCA has participated in Denim Day for the last three years, we have decided to make this a focus of our Sexual Assault Awareness campaign during the month of April this year and in years to come.
While you may read this and shake your heads in disbelief at the reasoning of the Italian Supreme Court, I would ask that you reflect on how many times we see victims of sexual assault blamed in the media here in our own community? How many times do we read or hear “they shouldn’t have been wearing” or “they shouldn’t have been drinking” or “they should have made sure they had friends along to watch over them”?
If you decide to join us and make a statement by wearing jeans, I ask that you also think about ways that you can do your part to reduce sexual assault and violence in our community. We live in a wonderful city, filled with caring and generous people. If each of us makes a commitment to change the conversation from talking about what the victim did to talking about the behavior of the perpetrator and the factors that led them to believe their actions were in any way justified or consensual, then we would help move our community toward one that supports the victim and holds the perpetrator accountable.
It is no longer good enough to say “NO means NO,” but rather we should be saying “ONLY YES means YES.” This means if someone is passed out or in other ways incapacitated, they can’t possibly give consent, and it is rape. Let’s call it what it is and stop blaming the victim.
Bea Black is executive director of Women’s and Children’s Alliance.