April 22, 2014

Denim Day

By Senator Lena C. Taylor

Jeans are a universal symbol of style and a staple in wardrobes across the globe. Yet, on Wednesday, April 23, also known as Denim Day, jeans will serve as a symbol of protest against the destructive opinions our society holds regarding sexual assault and its victims.

Fifteen years ago, the Italian Supreme Court overruled a rape conviction on account of the victim’s tight jeans. The court decided that because the victim’s jeans were so snug, she must have assisted the rapist in taking them off, implying consensual sex. Outraged by the ruling, the women of the Italian Parliament wore jeans to work the following day as a show of support for the victim and in protest of the court’s decision. This act of defiance soon spread around the globe, creating what we now recognize as “Denim Day.” 

Ever since, wearing jeans on Denim Day has become a sign of solidarity, championing survivors of assault and fighting to end the vicious cycle of victim blaming.

April marks National Sexual Assault Awareness month. This month, we dedicate ourselves to raising awareness about sexual violence and educating community members about prevention.  Denim Day, which falls on April 23, is an important part of this effort. We wear jeans in order to commemorate the Italian Parliament’s brave defiance of the court ruling.

Yet, it is important to remember that what happened in Italy is not an isolated incident. Sexual assault continues to take place in Wisconsin, within our very own communities. It does not know any boundaries. It is not limited to any singular group. Survivors come from all genders, age groups, sexualities, ethnicities, and socioeconomic backgrounds. Through Denim Day, we attempt to put an end to victim blaming and generate love, hope and support for survivors.

The statistics regarding sexual violence are, quite frankly, alarming. Every two minutes another American becomes the victim of sexual assault. On average, 237,868 individuals, aged 12 or older, face sexual assault each year. Approximately 60 percent of these assaults are not reported to the police, and an estimated 97 percent of offenders will never spend a day in jail.

On a local level, the 2013 Denim Day campaign partnered with the City of Milwaukee Commission on Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault to launch the Persons of Influence Initiative. The initiative asked members of the community to submit pictures of themselves in jeans to raise awareness for sexual violence prevention and provide survivors with a community-based support system.

Survivor support serves as one of the most crucial goals of Denim Day, as society can be quick to question the accusations of sexual assault victims. Too often, victims of sexual violence are held accountable for the actions of their assailants. This is backwards thinking and prevents future survivors from coming forward to tell their stories. We should be fostering an environment in which these individuals feel safe and encouraged. Through forward-thinking movements such as the Persons of Influence Initiative, we can help to change the way that our communities view sexual assault.

Show your support this Denim Day, Wednesday April 23, by wearing jeans. You can help to put an end to victim blaming!