These Jeans Were Made for Talking
Tomorrow, Wednesday 28th is Denim Day: an annual campaign running for the past 22 years in honour of Sexual Assault Awareness Month. This may be triggering and upsetting for some, if not most. If you would rather skip this one and wait for next week’s blog on cultures of sharing, please know you are not alone before you go. There are many resources online that are there to provide help, advice and support, including but not limited to the following:
- Rape Crisis Centres.
- UK National Helpline: 0808 802 9999 (open between 12:00-14:30 and 19:00-21:30 365 days a year).
- Rape Crisis Live Chat Helpline: this service is for women and girls above the age of 16, living in England and Wales only.
- Childline: support for children and young people.
- National Male Survivors Helpline: 0808 800 5005 supported by Safeline.
- Support services outside of England and Wales.
A conversation around sexual assault will be upsetting for many as estimates from the World Health Organisation (WHO) ‘indicate that globally about 1 in 3 (30%) of women worldwide have been subjected to either physical and/or sexual intimate partner violence or non-partner sexual violence in their lifetime.’ This is in addition to the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) for UN Women reporting that ‘71% of women of all ages in the UK have experienced some form of sexual harassment in a public space.’ Both of these reports focus on violence against women but everyone is affected by sexual violence*. The Crime Survey for England and Wales (CSEW) reported that for the year ending March 2020, 1 in 100 men had experienced sexual assault in the past year alone. ‘Official’ statistics in the UK are obtusely binary but the 2015 U.S. Transgender Survey (USTS) uncovered the extent to which the LGBTQ community is disproportionately affected by sexual violence. 47% of transgender respondents were sexually assaulted at some point in their lifetime.
These figures don’t reveal the full extent of the global sexual violence epidemic either as all reports and surveys acknowledge the chasm between actual cases and those reported to the police. In America, RAINN (Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network) estimates that as high as 77% of cases of sexual assault, against all genders and ages, go unreported. There is a complex array of reasons people do not report to the police, not least because of our current debilitating culture of victim blaming* and fears of retaliation, heightened by a severe lack of criminal convictions for sexual assault. As of 2005, a Home Office Research Study revealed that the conviction rate was as low as 5.6% in the UK.
Victim-blaming was the spark that fuelled the Denim Day campaign.
In 1992, an 18-year-old woman was raped by her 45-year-old driving instructor in the small town of Muro Lucano, near Naples, Italy. She reported that he drove her to an isolated road and raped her whilst he claimed they had consensual sex. She appealed the initial court ruling which convicted him of indecent exposure in a public place, a much lesser charge, and won. In 1998, he appealed and the Italian Supreme Court overturned his conviction. The Supreme Court of Appeals released the documents of this ruling the following year, sparking the Jeans Strike.
The Court had ruled that it could not have been rape as the victim was wearing tight jeans which her attacker could not possibly have removed had she been fighting him off, thus implying consent which would become known as the ‘denim defense’ or ‘jeans alibi’. Outraged by the severe lack of understanding of the psychology of rape from the 5 judges who cited this as one of several arguments to overturn the conviction, the women of the Italian Parliament launched a protest wearing jeans on the steps of the Supreme Court.
Never, ever (times 1 million), ever (for those in the back who couldn’t quite hear us), do the clothes someone wears suggest their consent*. Consent can not be implied. It must be explicit and you can change your mind at any time.
To call Italy’s laws at the time outdated would be the understatement of the century. As far back as 1612, a woman’s father demanded a high-profile rape case go to trial, not so much for his daughter’s sake but to restore the damage done to the family name. That woman was the great Baroque artist Artemisia Gentileschi and she was subjected to torture to test the validity of her statement. Until 1996 (!), Italian law still viewed rape as a ‘crime of honour’ against the victim’s family.These laws were overturned by the granddaughter of Benito Mussolini (the Mussolini), Alessandra Mussolini, who joined the women of the Italian Parliament in the open-ended jeans strike. Their protest fuelled international support and instigated the Peace Over Violence annual campaign to show support for survivors and tackle the harmful misconceptions surrounding sexual violence.
This Denim Day comes in the recent wake of the devastating and exhausting resurgence of awareness around sexual violence against women. At the core of why Sarah Everard’s tragic murder sparked such despair and fury was the commonality and familiarity we found in hearing other womens’ stories. Of clutching our keys between our fingers whilst walking home at night, making a real or fake phone call or waiting till we round a corner to run.
‘I take my children to Clapham Common for Sarah Everard’s vigil. Bath-time schedules mean we miss the later arrests, so we only see the flowers, the sunset, the women, all of us knowing we are no different from Everard, only luckier.’
Tomorrow, on April 28th we can make a social statement with a fashion one and join others across the world in wearing denim with a purpose. Raise awareness and share your favourite jeans to show solidarity with survivors everywhere and bring an end to sexual violence using #DenimDay2021 and we’d love to see your incredible outfits too so drop us a tag on Instagram!
Please note that the following definitions that refer to criminal law are subject to vary by country and region.
*Sexual Assault: 'The term "sexual assault" in the CSEW is used to describe all types of sexual offences measured by the survey. It includes rape or assault by penetration (including attempts), and indecent exposure or unwanted sexual touching. The term "sexual assault" in police recorded crime refers to one type of sexual offence, that is, the sexual touching of a person without their consent.’
*Sexual Harassment: 'unwanted behaviour of a sexual nature which:
- Violates your dignity,
- Makes you feel intimidated, degraded or humiliated,
- Creates a hostile or offensive environment,
You don’t need to have previously objected to someone's behaviour for it to be considered unwanted.’
*Sexual Violence: 'Sexual violence is any unwanted sexual act or activity. There are many different kinds, including: rape, sexual abuse (including in childhood), sexual assault, sexual harassment, forced marriage, so-called honour-based violence, female genital mutilation (FGM), trafficking, sexual exploitation (including child sexual exploitation), and others.’
‘Sexual violence can be perpetrated by a stranger, or by someone known and even trusted, like a friend, colleague, family member, partner or ex-partner. Sexual violence can happen to anyone. No-one ever deserves or asks for it to happen.’
*Consent: ‘Consent isn't something to be obtained with a simple “yes,” it’s a continual and open negotiation and dialogue.’ You are allowed to change your mind at any time.
*Victim Blaming: ‘Victim blaming is an umbrella term that denotes any actions or words that suggest or state that a victim of a crime -- in this case of [a] sexual nature -- is to blame for what happened to them.’