Wednesday is Denim Day. If you have participated in the past, you already know what this is about, and I invite you to join me again as I wear something made of denim. Wearing denim on this important 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 significant 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 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 Supreme Court gave for their 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 their jeans to work the next day in protest; marking the very first Denim Day. In 1999, the first Denim Day in the United States took place in Los Angeles, and the movement has continued to gain momentum every year since then.
National statistics indicate that one in six women will be a victim of an attempted or completed rape in her lifetime. 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 reduce sexual assault and violence in our community. It can be as simple as speaking out in support of victims when individuals make victim blaming statements: “They shouldn’t have been at that party wearing that outfit,” or “They shouldn’t have been drinking,” implying that being raped was the victim’s fault.
We need to change the conversation from talking about what a person did to become a victim of sexual assault to talking about the behavior of the abuser and how it is simply not OK — ever. It is not enough to say “NO means NO,” instead the conversation should be “ONLY YES means YES.” 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/about-us/sexual-assault-faq/ for more information about consent and sexual assault.
Beatrice Black is the executive director of Women’s and Children’s Alliance.