It wasn’t too long ago when jeans made headlines – not for being comfortable or stylish – but because of an absurd judgment made by an Italian high court in a sexual assault case.
On July 12, 1992 in Italy, an 18 year old student was picked up by her driving instructor for her first driving lesson. He then drove her to a secluded pathway and brutally raped her. She bravely pressed charges against him the following day, despite his threats to kill her if she spoke out. Six years later, in 1998, he was sentenced to two years and ten months in imprisonment. But he appealed the case to the Supreme Court, which overturned the previous conviction with a startling decision on February 10, 1999.
The Supreme Court reasoned that the lower court had failed to conduct adequate and rigorous scrutiny of the trustworthiness of the plaintiff’s accusations (first count of victim-blaming). Thereafter, the Supreme Court rebutted the lower court’s decision in evaluating the removal of her jeans stating that, “it is a fact of common experience that it is nearly impossible to slip off tight jeans even partly without the active collaboration of the person who is wearing them.” In other words, her jeans were too tight and could not have possibly been taken off without her help. The conclusion reached was that she had consented (second, shocking count of victim-blaming).
Ridiculous? Trust me, everyone thought so!
The decision sparked widespread public protest. The day after, women in the Italian Parliament protested by wearing jeans, holding signs that read “Jeans: An Alibi for Rape”. In California, the Los Angeles Commission on Assaults Against Women (today known as Peace Over Violence) marked the day as Denim Day.
Today, April 23, is recognized as Denim Day across the world. Not because we love wearing jeans, but because wearing jeans on this day symbolizes an international movement to fight victim blaming in sexual assault cases.
In solidarity with victims of sexual assault and in recognition of the on-going culture of victim blaming, we are wearing our jeans tomorrow – skinny or baggy- to protest against damaging social attitudes about sexual assault.
In Canada alone, half of all women have experienced at least one incident of physical or sexual violence since the age of 16. Yet only ten per cent of sexual assaults are reported to police. If we are to change attitudes and support victims of sexual assault, we need to stand by the victims and raise our voices to increase awareness about the realities of sexual assault.
One of the participants at our National Skills Institute on Girls Programming, the Avalon Sexual Assault Centre, has been promoting Denim Day in Halifax and is bringing the movement to Toronto. The 85 community organizations from across Canada participating in our National Skills Institute will be joining in and proudly sharing their reasons for wearing denim. If you want to get more involved, you can tweet a photo of yourself wearing jeans and post it on Facebook or Twitter using the hashtag #denimday and #Halifax.
May 11 (Mother’s Day) marks the last day of the Canadian Women’s Foundation’s annual campaign to end violence against women. If you would like to support local women’s shelters and violence prevention programs in your community, make a donation to raise hope for women and children living with violence and P&G will match it. For more information click here.