What happened in 1999 that brings us together on this 17th annual Denim Day, Peace Over Violence's sexual violence prevention education campaign? The Denim Day story began in Italy after a Supreme Court justice overturned a lower court's rape conviction ruling that because the 17 year-old victim had been wearing tight jeans, she must have helped her 45 year-old driving instructor remove her jeans, therefore giving consent. This caused uproar in Italy and female members of parliament wore jeans in protest on the steps of the Supreme Court in Rome. Members of the California legislature followed suit, wearing jeans in solidarity on the steps of the Capitol in Sacramento. When I saw those images on television, I imagined how powerful it would be for everybody to wear jeans to protest the harmful myths that are perpetuated against the victim/survivors of this trauma and this crime.
Peace Over Violence created the first Denim Day in Los Angeles inspired by the Italian legislators who turned their anger into action. Denim Day has evolved into a grassroots movement that works to wake everybody up, support, engage, educate, legislate, and defeat existing taboos, and fundamentally change rape culture across the globe.
What do we mean by changing rape culture? Rape culture is a set of conditions and practices that blames and shames victims, minimizes and excuses behaviors, gives power and privilege to perpetrators, allows money and commerce to obstruct justice, stigmatizes survivors to the point of silence, accuses them of causing their own harm and goes as far as convincing victims that they deserved it. In some countries, including our own, victims of rape are ostracized from their families, their peer groups and communities and in some they are stoned to death.
The excuses and misconceptions persist: she wore a short dress, she was drunk, as a prisoner he deserves what he gets, what was she doing in the bar at 2a.m.?, it can't happen to a boy, you know children lie, she didn't say NO--she didn't FIGHT BACK!
Denim Day is a call to action; it summons us to change this culture of shame and blame and cover-ups that we have become too accustomed to. To change this culture, we need leadership from those who are in charge of our institutions, schools, universities, the legal system, the military, government, religious institutions, and corporations. This issue is finally coming out of the shadows.
Peace Over Violence is fortunate to have GUESS? as the sole fashion sponsor of Denim Day, and the first international company to take a stand on this issue, educating and influencing their customers and their professional peers on the issue. Through advertising in fashion magazines and on digital platforms, GUESS? is spreading the message that "there is no excuse and never an invitation to rape". GUESS? gets it! As a sexy brand, they want everyone to know that "violence is never in style."
Through our partnership with GUESS?, the Denim Day Movement is growing. Last year GUESS? brought Denim Day back to Italy, the inspirational origin, and more than 11 million people in all 50 U.S. states and 110 countries registered to wear jeans with a purpose.
This year GUESS? will be taking Denim Day to Barcelona. On April 27th, millions of people will again wear jeans with a purpose and make the promise to support survivors, to become educated and to engage in healthy and violence-free relationships. By making a social statement with your fashion statement we can reverse the belief that sexual abuse and rape is inevitable. So that no child, no wife, no boy, no girl, no teen, no mother, no soldier, no co-worker, no prisoner, no refugee, no male, female or transgender person of any color, religion or origin or ability is sexually harassed, abused, trafficked, violated or raped.
Peace Over Violence has a voice but together with GUESS? and concerned activism around the world we have a megaphone!
This post is part of a series produced by The Huffington Post and the National Sexual Violence Resource Center in conjunction with Sexual Assault Awareness Month. To learn more about the NSVRC and how you can help prevent sexual violence, visit here. Read all posts in the series here.