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Violence in Victim Blaming: The History Behind Denim Day

Violence in Victim Blaming: The History Behind Denim Day

Photographed by Joelle Beauchamp of Allison Miller, Kennedy Bolda, Nevaeh Banks, Allison Settembrini, Emily Gonzalez

By Allison Miller

Trigger Warning: Sexual Assault

“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 is a real quote from the Chief Judge of an Italian Supreme Court Case in 1999.

In 1992, an eighteen-year-old girl was sexually assaulted by her forty-five-year-old driving instructor during her first driving lesson. After driving to an isolated road, pulling the car over, and taking advantage of her, the perpetrator threatened her life if she told anyone. That same evening, she told her parents, and the perpetrator was arrested shortly thereafter. However, in 1999, he appealed his case, and his sentence was overturned. The court’s reasoning for their decision was that the victim’s choice of clothing: denim jeans. Their decision stated that her pants were “impossible” to remove without assistance. Enraged by this decision, women in the Italian Supreme Court wore jeans to work the very next day. Their action sparked a worldwide movement, and Denim Day is now observed on the last Wednesday of April (Sexual Assault Awareness Month) each year.

“What were they wearing?” “They were asking for it” “They never said ‘no’ verbally” Quotes still spoken in 2023 when an individual mentions sexual assault.

Many survivors of sexual assault will never come forward, or even tell a single soul about the experience in fear of judgement and blame from those around them. On average, less than one percent of perpetrators are convicted. The vast majority will walk free and live their entire life without facing consequences for their actions. Now, twenty-four years after the first Denim Day, survivors are still blamed for the crimes against them. Perpetrator’s actions are justified by themselves and others by the clothing of the victim, the victims’ actions prior to the assault, or the victim’s vocabulary (or lack thereof) leading up to their assault. It should not need to be stated once again that not one of these behaviors can justify sexual assault.

Silence is not consent, the lack of a verbal “no” is not consent, intoxication is not consent, coercion is not consent, clothing is not consent, previous consent is not present consent, consent can be revoked at any moment, and the only action that gives consent is a “yes”. Survivors of sexual assault are living with the trauma of what has happened to them and blaming them for it only causes more harm. Victim blaming is destructive and promotes the myths surrounding sexual violence. Denim Day was created after the Italian Supreme Court ruling in 1999 to combat victim blaming. On April 26th, 2023, I urge you to wear denim to show your support for survivors.

I hear you, I support you, and I stand with you. We should not have to fight for our right to defend our own bodies. We should not live in fear. We deserve better.

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