Denim Day arrives at MU, raises sexual assault awareness

Photo by Olivia Morrissey/[email protected]

The story behind Denim Day begins in 1997.

It was in that year a teenage Italian girl was raped by her 45-year-old driving instructor. After he was convicted of the crime and sentenced to jail, the instructor appealed his sentence and the conviction was overturned in the Italian Supreme Court.

The verdict: because the victim was wearing tight jeans, she must have assisted in their removal, making the act consensual.

Outraged by this decision, the women in the Parliament of Italy protested by wearing jeans to work, and the now international symbol of protest against erroneous attitudes toward sexual assault was born.

Today is Marquette’s first annual Denim Day, part of the month-long Sexual Assault Awareness Month in April. Helping Abuse and Violence End Now, a Marquette organization committed to providing a responsive environment for victims of interpersonal violence, brought the event to campus this year.

Denim Day is growing in popularity across the country, and HAVEN decided to host the event by the suggestion of the National Sexual Violence Resource Center.

“As a group, we felt that this would be a simple yet powerful way to start some discussions around the myths and misconceptions around sexual violence,” said Becky Michelsen, a health educator and member of HAVEN.

Robert Spargo, a professor of English and a member of The Voices and Faces Project, a nonprofit that gathers testimonies of sexual violence survivors to raise awareness, said myths and misconceptions about sexual violence are still abound, especially toward victims.

Spargo said one question asked in regards to sexual violence cases is, “What was she wearing?”

“Which is still asked by far too many people,” he said in an e-mail.

Amelia Zurcher, an associate professor of English and director of Women’s and Gender Studies, said everyone knows at least one victim of a sexual assault whether they realize it or not, and Denim Day can inspire conversations about helping them that may not happen otherwise.

“If a lot of people observe the day, it can help the campus re-imagine itself as a community that takes a stand against sexual violence – it can inspire pride, and also more action,” Zurcher said.

According to the Department of Justice, the need for college campuses as a whole to fight against sexual violence is great since it is prevalent on campuses across the country.

“University students should be leading the charge to increase public awareness about sexual violence and to alter policies that continue to do damage to victims of sexual violence and allow the perpetrators to get away with their crimes,” Spargo said.