April is Sexual Assault Awareness month. On the last Wednesday of the month, Denim Day takes place, as a day of action and event of awareness. All over the world, people stand in solidarity by wearing denim to fight back against victim blaming and educate others about sexual violence. This day is utilized to combat the false narrative that survivors of rape and sexual violence or at fault or responsible.
Denim Day comes from an event that occurred in 1992 Italy, when an 18-year-old girl was raped by her 45-year-old driving instructor who was driving her to her first driving lesson. He drove them to an out of sight location, took off her jeans, and forcefully raped her. She reported the rape and the rapist was arrested and prosecuted for a lesser charge of indecent exposure. The girl appealed the sentenced which resulted in him being convicted on all charges. In 1998, the Italian Supreme Court overturned this conviction and the man was released. This decision was based on the “jeans alibi”, in that the court deemed the victim’s jeans were too tight and it would have been impossible for the perpetrator to take them off without her helping him, thus making the sex consensual.
The women of the Italian Parliament were enraged by this overturn and started a protest wearing jeans on the steps of the Supreme Court and holding placards that read “Jeans: An Alibi for Rape”, while no male members of the parliament participated. This protest caught the attention of international media that sparked the California Senate and Assembly to do the same on the steps of the Capitol in Sacramento. Inspired by the media coverage, Patricia Giggans, Executive Director of the Los Angeles Commission on Assaults Against Women (now Peace Over Violence), established Denim Day in Los Angeles in 1999. This has been continued every year internationally ever since, comprised of over 12 million people around the world participating.
This movement stands to fight back against the stigma and attitudes surrounding sexual assault. Conversations about sexual assault are too often swept under the rug. Rape culture has been normalized in media and pop culture. It has been sustained through misogynistic language, the objectification of women’s bodies, and the romanticization of sexual violence, creating a society that throws women’s rights and safety to the wayside. Many people perpetuate rape culture without even realizing, making victims fearful and powerless when reporting their assault. Some examples of this are publicly judging a victim’s dress, mental state, or history. One of the most common and harmful examples of rape culture is blaming the victim and minimizing sexual assault with comments such as, “boys will be boys”.
Victim blaming, the incident that sparked the entire Denim Day movement, justifies the abuser’s choice and pushes the responsibility onto the victim. This kind of society is one that allows and encourages abusive people to live without accountability for their actions. Victim blaming is also reinforced through false assumptions that women are submissive or sexually passive. Because of societal attitudes that have normalized sexual violence, it is estimated that one in three girls and one in six boys will be sexually assaulted by the age of eighteen. According to CONNSACS, only 2 percent of reported rapes are false.
So how can we combat rape culture and victim blaming? Do not let gender norms and stereotypes shape your actions. Hold abusers accountable for their actions, be an active bystander! Do not let people make excuses such as blaming the victim, alcohol, or drugs for their behavior. Take reports of sexual assault seriously and let survivors know that it is not their fault. Do not allow your friends or family to trivialize rape to justify an abuser’s actions. In your own personal relationships respect others’ physical space and always communicate with sexual partners.