Denim Day puts spotlight on sexual assault survivors

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Wave Wire Services

LOS ANGELES — City Council President Nury Martinez and Councilwomen Nithya Raman and Monica Rodriguez gathered at City Hall April 27 in solidarity with sexual assault survivors to mark Denim Day, which aims to raise awareness of sexual violence.

“We are standing here wearing denim in solidarity with women who haven’t been believed in the past or heard when they report their assailant,” Martinez said. “We stand with the women who have been told over and over again ‘you were asking for it’ because of the way you were dressed or even the fact that some people think you were flirting.”

Denim Day was launched in Los Angeles in 1999 by Patricia Giggans, executive director of Peace Over Violence. Now, at least 20 U.S. states recognize Denim Day during April, which is Sexual Assault Awareness Month.

The campaign was launched following a 1998 Italian Supreme Court ruling in which justices overturned a rape conviction, finding that the victim’s tight jeans meant she would have had to help her assaulter remove them and therefore gave consent.

Alongside Martinez, Raman and Rodriguez, Giggans said that the coronavirus pandemic has brought new awareness about what happens “behind closed doors.”

“We know that the isolation and quarantining has created unfortunate opportunities where there has been even more sexual and domestic violence,” Giggans said. “And while it still predominantly happens to women and girls, it happens to men and boys, to trans individuals, to LGBT [people], people in all ethnicities and cultures.”

At 10:30 a.m., Peace Over Violence hosted a rally on the City Hall South Lawn, with speakers, activities and resources for survivors.

It’s the first time in two years that Denim Day in Los Angeles included in-person events, as the pandemic forced organizers to plan virtual rallies in 2020 and 2021.

The theme for this year’s Denim Day was “There is STILL no excuse and never an invitation to rape.”

Rodriguez said that “it is the city’s collective responsibility to provide that safe space to harbor those victims and protect them from further enduring the violence and the assault that has so often just impeded their ability to live a happy life.”

She added that a facility opened in her district during the pandemic to protect women experiencing homelessness as a result of fleeing their abusers.

The councilwomen were joined by a survivor identified as Michelle who told her story about surviving sexual abuse by her mother’s boyfriend. The abuse began when she was five or six years old and continued until she was 12, when her best friend’s mother told her she had to report him, she said.

Michelle told a teacher at school, who was a mandated reporter and contacted the Los Angeles Police Department.

“I also told my mom, however, my mom didn’t know the extent. … My mom was an immigrant and discouraged me from continuing to cooperate due to her immigration status. She also feared my removal from her,” Michelle said. When the LAPD interviewed Michelle, she refused to give a statement, she said.

Michelle said when she was 25 years old and had a child of her own, she decided to reopen the case and contacted the LAPD. The statute of limitations on the case had not expired, and Michelle was able to secure her abuser’s arrest and conviction through a recorded confession. He was found guilty of 12 charges against Michelle and another victim and was sentenced to 180 years in prison, Michelle said.

Michelle said she received support from Strength United, an organization that, like Peace Over Violence, provides assistance to sexual assault survivors.

Giggans encouraged survivors to reach out for help, saying that “no one should go through the trauma of any form of violence alone.”

“If you are a survivor, and you are listening to this today, please reach out, there are advocates, there are people who will help you heal,” she said.

People can learn more about Peace Over Violence at peaceoverviolence.org. The 24/7 LA Rape and Battering Hotline is at (213) 626-3393 for Central Los Angeles, and (310) 392-8381 for South Los Angeles. The hotline seeks to provide emotional support, advocacy, information and referrals to people who are a victim of sexual assault, domestic violence or intimate partner stalking.

 

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