The year was 1997 and the place was Italy. An 18-year-old girl was picked up by her married 45-year-old driving instructor for her very first lesson. Instead of teaching her to drive he led her to an isolated road, wrestled her out of one pant leg of her jeans and forcefully raped her.
She made it to safety and reported the incident. Subsequently, he was convicted of rape and sent to jail. Months later he appealed the sentence and within a matter of days the case was overturned, dismissed, and the perpetrator was released.
The chief judge argued that “because the victim wore very, very tight jeans, she had to have helped him remove them, and by removing the jeans it was no longer rape but consensual sex.”
As to be expected this verdict enraged many and within a matter of hours the women in the Italian Parliament launched into action and protested by wearing jeans to work. This call to action motivated the California Senate and Assembly to do the same, which then spread to Patricia Giggans, executive director of Peace over Violence and Denim Day in LA was born.
The first Denim Day was in April of 1999 and has been recognized nationally every year since. April is designated as Sexual Assault Awareness month and National Denim Day falls on the last Wednesday of the month — which is this week, April 26.
Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Services will be holding several Denim Day events during sexual assault awareness month. Denim Day events involve participants wearing jeans or a Denim Day button as a visible protest against myths that surround sexual assault.
At some events, people will have the opportunity to express their thoughts on denim cutouts which will then be displayed on a clothesline for all to see. People will be engaging in conversations regarding sexual assault, taking the pledge to stand against sexual violence in their communities and inviting others to do the same.
Events will take place at Telstar Regional High School, Mountain Valley High School, Region 9 School of Applied Technology, Oxford Hills Comprehensive High School, Fryeburg Academy, University of Maine at Farmington, Mt. Blue High School, Central Maine Community College, and USM-LA College in Lewiston.
To end sexual assault and counter the ideas and myths that support its occurrence will take the effort of each one of us. Denim Day is one way to create space for people to get involved in this effort, learning more and encouraging others to join in.
On Wednesday, people will be asked to sign a Denim Day pledge that reads:
TO take pride in myself;
TO respect the relationships I have and honor consent;
TO accept responsibility in making this a safer world;
TO believe I have the right to make choices about my body;
TO pay attention to cries for help and be an active bystander;
TO challenge images of sexual violence;
TO support those working to end sexual violence; and
TO believe sexual violence will not end until we unite to create solutions.
I hereby pledge to use my strength for efforts of non-violence and commit as best I can to become a nonviolent person.
Because of Denim Day, many in our communities will take the pledge and commit to working towards an end to sexual assault.
Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Services invites you to learn more about Denim Day and how you can help raise awareness and show your support for ending sexual violence in our communities. Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Services provides free, confidential services to Oxford, Franklin and Androscoggin Counties, working to prevent and eliminate sexual violence and promote healing and empowerment for people of all genders and ages who are affected by rape, sexual assault, child sexual abuse, sexual exploitation, stalking and sexual harassment.
For more information about SAPARS and services you can visit our website at sapars.org.
Shawna Austin is the rural outreach coordinator for Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Services.