Since April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month, early spring marks the time for NYC to speak up about a problem that plagues more women and men than most would like to imagine. With statistics that point to approximately 237,868 survivors of sexual assault each year in the United States, according to the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network, and a rate of one sexual assault in the U.S. per every two minutes, it’s important that we have a month dedicated to spreading knowledge of such a devastating issue that affects so many.
Wednesday, April 23, 2014, focused on a particular event concerning the month’s overall message. The day gave people a chance to reflect on one of the legal systems many failures to prosecute for sexual assault. Having grown out of a 1998 Italian Supreme Court decision that overturned a rape conviction, “Denim Day” got its name because the victim from the case worse tight jeans on the day of her assault. Thus, the presiding judge decided that the victim must have helped her attacker remove her jeans before he raped her, which, in the court’s mind, indicated consent.
Though we’d like to think that nowadays the courts know better than to equate tight jeans with consent, Denim Day serves as a reminder of such attitudes that help rapists get away with their crimes and re-victimize those who have already been violated. On Wednesday, the 23rd, people were encouraged to wear jeans as a symbol of discontent with the Italian Supreme Court ruling and the thinking that lead to it.
In New York City, Denim Day took a number of different forms. The NYC Alliance Against Sexual Assault, in conjunction with St. Luke’s-Roosevelt Crime Victims Treatment Center, Start Strong Bronx, YWCA of Brooklyn, and other organizations from around the city held a Denim Day press conference hosted by Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer and Council Member Julissa Ferreras. Located on the steps of City Hall, the conference stressed the importance of men speaking out against sexual assault, which keynote speaker Police Commissioner William Bratton helped support.
Meanwhile, at Beth Israel hospital, a table set up in the main lobby held informational pamphlets, papers, and pins surrounding the day’s message. Glitter glue signs attested to attire, behavior, and time of day never serving as excuses for sexual assault. For example, a sign read something like, “I have the right to walk down the street alone late at night without the fear of getting raped.”
People’s reactions to the information varied. One of the most disappointing came from a man who sympathized with rapists, noting that rape is a stupid action to take because “it could ruin the guy’s life.” As this was certainly not the message passersby were meant to take from the table, it is important to note that the positive responses outweighed such misplaced sympathy. One hospital worker took a pamphlet about services the BI offers regarding sexual assault, planning to share the information with patients of his who had suffered from that particular trauma. Others showed equal enthusiasm, grabbing pins for coworkers and expressing thanks for spreading the message.
Jean brand Guess also showed their support by providing information on their website and requesting people take the pledge to wear jeans on April 23rd. The Columbia University dining hall even served a cake, decorated with roses, in solidarity of the message usually espoused by wearing jeans. Though intentions behind the cake were reportedly positive, the gesture was ultimately deemed inappropriate and the cake was taken away, unsurprisingly untouched. Sporting denim and spreading a message that condemns rapists and those who let them get away with their actions, of course, remain the best ways to show support. With about a week left in April, there’s still time to raise awareness for the month’s cause (and there’s always time to continue to do so indefinitely).