Some outfits will forever remain ingrained in our subconscious long after we remove the clothes from our bodies. These articles of clothing often remind us of pivotal memories, from the first day of middle school to our senior prom. If you are fortunate, your garment will never carry traumatic memories, but for those who are victims of rape escaping these memories is almost impossible.
Survivors of sexual assault rose awareness via the popular video-sharing app Tik Tok in honor of Denim Day on April 29, at the conclusion of Sexual Assault and Awareness Month (SAAM). Both women and men posted videos of the clothing they were wearing when they were raped, using Tik Tok as a platform to take a step towards confronting these memories. The pattern of each video was similar: displaying the outfit, tossing it aside, and declaring that assault does not define a person. The compilation of these Tik Toks all solidify the reality that clothes are not the problem.
Tik Tok has risen in popularity over the past few months, in part due to quarantine. At the same time, domestic violence hotlines have received a significant increase in calls due to lockdown regulations keeping wives –– and husbands –– at home where escape from abuse is almost impossible. Something that is supposed to be safe, comfortable –– like a pair of jeans –– becomes another domain for assault.
While the majority of videos on Tik Tok aim to instill laughter and prompt hours of scrolling, the app is also redefining storytelling and the narrative around injustices, in this case sexual assault. 63% of rapes go unreported, but these videos allow users to speak up not only to attain justice and closure for themselves, but also for those who cannot.
Denim Day began in 1990s Italy when an 18-year-old girl was raped by her 45-year-old driving instructor. He steered her towards an isolated road, removed her jeans, and raped her. She reported the rape and the rapist was arrested and prosecuted. He was then convicted of rape and sentenced to jail, but years later was appealed and released because of what later became known as the "jeans alibi."
The compilation of these Tik Toks all solidify the reality that clothes are not the problem.
A statement from the Italian Supreme Court argued that because the young woman's jeans were too tight, she had to help her attack remove the pants which thus signaled consent. The verdict enraged women in the Italian Parliament who protested by wearing jeans on the court's steps. This soon became a worldwide protest when the California Senate and Assembly followed suit. The first international Denim Day was held in April 1999. The day began as a way to protest the unfounded idea that what a person wears has any impact on their likelihood of being sexually assaulted. People across the world still honor it today. SWAAY Voice and sexual assault survivor, Devi Jags, even shared her perspective on the history of Denim Day in her piece, "Why I'm Wearing Jeans On Denim Day As A Survivor Of Sexual Assault."
Chiara Ferragni, Italian Entrepreneur and Founder of The Blonde Salad, posted to her Instagram (@chiaraferragni) story in honor of Denim Day and SAAM. She began by explaining the Tik Tok trend outlined above, before showing selected videos on her own account. Many showed violently ripped jeans and skirts while the majority featured everyday outfits: a sweatshirt, joggers, or a baggy t-shirt. The clips are simultaneously emotional and empowering as voices silenced by their attackers and society are finally being heard across channels. Ferragni has compiled these stories into a saved highlight on her Instagram account where old and new followers can rewatch them at any time, not just during SAAM.
Ferragni currently lives in Milan, but has also spent part of her life in LA. With 20 million followers on Instagram, her posts brought more awareness to the already trending Tik Tok videos. As the day went on, more videos rolled in, diversifying the conversation around sexual assault as men and women were featured, one user tossing an army uniform to the side. Both survivors steered home the fact that anyone can be a target for rape, but not everyone has the privilege to be heard.
Both women and men posted videos of the clothing they were wearing when they were raped, using Tik Tok as a platform to take a step towards confronting these memories.
Followers messaged Ferragni, both in English and Italian, opening up about their own experiences. Chiara posted a photo of herself in tears from reading these responses. These brave survivors are true heroes, she wrote, posting their darkest memories to remind survivors of rape they are not alone. At the end of the highlight, Ferragni encouraged her followers to seek help if they have been raped, or are in an abusive relationship. The National Domestic Violence Hotline remains open and available 24/7, even through the pandemic. If you have been affected by abuse or need any support, call 1-800-799-7233.
Social media platforms such as Tik Tok and Instagram are not always privy to furthering the dialogue around social change, in fact sometimes they are the cause for the same societal ailments –– namely cyberbullying and slut or body shaming. But sometimes they rise above and beyond typical institutional systems meant to instill justice. During a pandemic, we are all grappling to find ways to stay connected and work through resurfacing traumas. Tik Tok may have been born from the same tree which brought us the cringey Vine, but the app is surpassing its predecessor in providing a platform for users to seek support, speak out, and find a sense of community even during the coronavirus emergency. Alone together, we remain strong.
WRITTEN BYElizabeth Berry