The setting is Rome 1992. An 18-year-old girl is taking her first driving lesson, and her driving instructor, a 45-year-old man, takes her to an isolated road, pulls her out of the car, wrestles her out of one leg of her jeans, and forcibly rapes her. For an hour, he assaults her, then threatens to kill her if she told anyone, and makes her drive the car home. The fear shaking within her adolescent mind is a fear she has never experienced before in her life. The fear for her life is engraved in her brain, and her dignity is forever tarnished.
The scared girl tumbles home, spilling her anxiety and fear to her parents. The trial is taken to court, where she is fortunate enough to have her rapist convicted and sentenced. Six years later, in 1998, the Italian Supreme Court overturned this conviction, and her fortune of never seeing the man who used her body and threatened her life, diminished.
But why? Why would the Italian Supreme court overturn a conviction from six years ago? Why would they ruin the life of this victim by making her traumatizing experience invalid in the court of law? The reason: pair of denim jeans. This 18-year-old girl was accused of helping her 45-year-old attacker remove her jeans, making the horrifying act consensual and not rape, because “the victim wore very, very tight jeans, she had to help him remove them…and by removing the jeans…it was no longer rape, but consensual sex.”
The idea of tight jeans being an alibi for rape sparked outrage and widespread protest in Italy. As a sign of support, the California Senate and Assembly, and the Executive Director of Peace Over Violence Patricia Giggans, made Denim Day an annual event, where people are encouraged to wear denim jeans to raise awareness of rape and sexual abuse.
Present day, rape and sexual abuse is still a prominent problem in society. Rape culture, the setting in which rape is pervasive and normalized due to social attitudes about sexuality and gender, is present in everyday life.
Rape culture is when rapists get short conviction sentences. For example, a judge sentenced a mere 30 days in jail to a 50-year-old man who raped a 14-year-old girl by defending the girl was “older than her chronological age.” She later committed suicide.
Rape culture is when athletes who are charged with rape are supported while their victims are called career-destroyers, or when celebrities accused of rape are publicly defended just because they’re celebrities while victims are ignored and told their story is invalid and untrue.
Rape culture is when college students who have the courage to report their rapes are called liars, are slut shamed, their cases are dismissed as if their rape never happened.
Rape culture is street harassment – and how victims are told they’re “overreacting” when they call it out.
Rape Culture is when people believe girls “allow themselves to be raped,” or “if it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down.”
Every year, we wear jeans with a purpose. We support survivors, and educate ourselves and others about sexual assault. Denim Day has become a symbol of protest against erroneous and destructive attitudes about sexual assault and rape.
There is no excuse, and never an invitation to rape.