I've been advocating for survivors of sexual violence since 2016. My life changed when I was raped, a part of me became completely lost, lonely, and utterly without hope. It took the right friends, professional help, and ultimately a lot of time, for me to find a way to speak up about what happened. When I started to learn that I wasn't the only woman out there who had experienced this, I felt a sense of relief. I had a community. I wasn't alone.
But that sense of relief quickly turned to anger when I learned just how many women this has happened to — how many other women had their lives changed in an instant, just like me.
I have always been vocal, loudly taking a stance on issues that were important to me. My mother reminds me frequently of the time I came home from school in the 5th grade after Earth Day and made my family eat dinner in the dark to "save electricity." It wasn't too long after that I became a lifelong vegetarian. I guess you can say, I always had a mission to "change the world" whether I knew the extremity of that or not. However, even in my four years of advocating for survivors — educating people on consent, and running campaigns to raise awareness on sexual violence — I am always shocked by the new stories I am continually learning about.
This year when I was planning my awareness efforts and social media campaign for Sexual Assault Awareness Month (SAAM), I wasn't too surprised by the case I heard that had originally inspired "Denim Day." I was unsurprised, even reminded of my own experience, but not unmoved.
When the police asked me, "What were you wearing that night?" the rational part of my brain was saying, "These are the questions they ask when you file a police report, it's okay." It wasn't until after I left the station that I realized they never asked me what he was wearing that night. That was not okay.
The story of Denim Day begins in Italy in 1990. An 18-year-old young woman attends her very first driving lesson with her 45-year-old instructor. The instructor is shortly after convicted of rape when she reports that he took her to an isolated road, pulled one leg out of her jeans, and forcefully raped her.
Almost a decade later, he appeals the conviction by claiming they had consensual sex. The case makes its way all the way to the Italian Supreme Court, at which point the court overturns the conviction. The perpetrator is released.
Why? The Chief Judge argued, "Because the victim wore very, very tight jeans, she had to help him remove them, and by removing the jeans it was no longer rape but consensual sex." This became known as the "jean alibi" or the "denim defense."
Women all across the world were outraged — and rightfully so. The women of the Italian Parliament organized a protest in which they wore jeans on the steps of the Italian Supreme Court. The California Senate and Assembly also supported the protest by organizing the same initiative on the steps of the Capitol in Sacramento. Then, the Los Angeles based organization, Peace Over Violence, saw this protest and thought everyone should wear jeans to bust the myths about "why" women and girls are raped. Thus Denim Day was born. Every April, since 1999, Denim Day has continued on in protest.
In this period of isolation and working from home during the coronavirus pandemic, our news feeds have been flooded with excitement about pajamas and sweatpants for all occasions, conference calls that don't require "business professional" attire, and messy buns for days.
Of course, I'd be lying if I didn't say I haven't been participating in these recent trends. However, reading this story, I cannot ignore this annual protest. The organization Peace Over Violence has declared April 29th, 2020 Denim Day and encourages people to wear jeans with a purpose. Millions of people across the globe will ditch the sweatpants and WFH-casual to don their best denim in support of sexual assault survivors and to encourage education on all forms of sexual violence. This epidemic affects not only women but all people, all around the globe.
These staggering statistics haunt me every single night. My desire to create change, raise energy for protest and find solidarity is important even during the coronavirus pandemic.
It is crucial, now more than ever, that we increase awareness of these acts of violence. The NY Times reports that "with families in lockdown worldwide, hotlines are lighting up with abuse reports." Colleges and Universities are facing obstacles in addressing Title IX cases. All investigations have been put on pause and everyone is now filled with uncertainty on how to proceed due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, leaving survivors hopeless.
Of course, there isn't one, single solution. My personal anxiety arises out of different triggers during this pandemic — feeling like things are out of my control. However, where there's a will there's a way. And I have every intention of finding a way to shine a light in this time crisis.
In protest of that infamous 1999 Italian Supreme Court case, on Saturday, April 25th 1PM EST I will be hosting a "Survivor Chat" via Zoom with my colleague, Sydney Rae Chin. People interested in participating can sign up via my IG page and follow me for updates throughout the entirety of Sexual Assault Awareness Month (SAAM). During this event, we will be facilitating a safe space for survivors to come together to share their stories, learn new ways of healing during coronavirus lockdowns, find resources to get involved with activism, and feel empowered. The event will be "Denim Day" themed to further support busting myths about people who experience sexual violence. I hope that despite this dark time, we can still continue to fight for the rights of those who do not have the ability to fight for themselves. Sign up today.
If you or someone you know has been sexually assaulted, call:
National Sexual Assault Telephone Hotline at 1-800-656-HOPE (4673) or visit online.rainn.org. National Domestic Violence Hotline: 800.799.SAFE (7233) or visit https://www.thehotline.org/. Please note, Sydney and I are NOT certified therapists, and this is not meant to replace seeking professional help. If you or a loved one is currently in danger call 911 or a resource center.
WRITTEN BYDevi Jags