The CARE office raises awareness about sexual violence through fashionable means — including jeans.
The Campus Assault Resources and Education (CARE) Office at UC Irvine held its annual Denim Day in accordance with the national campaign to raise awareness against sexual violence on Wednesday, April 24.
“Denim Day started as a protest to a 1997 Italian Supreme Court decision that overturned a rape conviction because the victim was wearing jeans,” Zabie Khorakiwala, the Violence Prevention Coordinator at CARE, said.
According to the official Denim Day website, the judge reasoned that because the victim’s jeans were so tight, there would have been no way for them to be taken off without her assistance, and thus the sexual activity should be considered consensual.
Outraged, the women in the Italian Parliament began wearing jeans to work as a sign of protest and solidarity. The movement gained attention in California, and Denim Day LA was established in April of 1999.
“Students should participate to educate others that there is no excuse and never an invitation to rape,” Khorakiwala said. “In fact, what happened in 1997 is still happening all over the world today. [For example,] in Australia three years ago, a jury voted to acquit a 23-year-old man of rape [because] the victim was wearing tight-fitting jeans when the incident took place.”
To promote Denim Day, the CARE office marketed the movement alongside all the other programs for Sexual Assault Awareness Month, which included April 17th’s Take Back the Night.
Students and faculty at UCI were encouraged to wear denim and a “Why Denim?” button that was made available by the CARE office in order to prompt questions and discussions amongst their peers about the importance and meaning of the movement.
“A small conversation can go a long way to help educate others about the role they can play in preventing sexual violence from happening,” Khorakiwala said.
For third-year CARE research intern Lauren Warzecha, Denim Day is an important component in the movement to eradicate victim blaming in sexual assault crimes.
“My job at the CARE office is to look through the Internet for articles and research done pertaining to rape crimes and sexual assault,” Warzecha said. “The Italian judge’s reasoning for the case to be overturned is ludicrous, but my researching online has shown me that it’s a commonly held belief that victims somehow deserved to be raped or were asking for it simply because of the clothes they were wearing.”
Phuc Pham, the Student Coordinator of CARE peer education group Challenging All Men to Prevent Sexism (CHAMPS), agrees that participation in Denim Day is crucial to advocating awareness of the horrors of sexual violence and working against the victim blaming mindset.
“[Sexual violence awareness] should have more than a month devoted to it,” Pham said.
“Participation in Denim Day to me is a stance of solidarity with the fact that you shouldn’t be raped period, no matter what you’re wearing. If you’re wearing clothes, or if you’re walking around naked, the bottom line is there is never an excuse for someone to rape.”
The CARE office heavily promoted Denim Day through programs, such as the Survivor Panel Speaking Event hosted by CHAMPS.
Various social media platforms were also utilized. In particular, CARE issued an Instagram photo challenge in which groups at UCI were to take a photo of their members in denim or the “Why Denim?” button, and explain the personal importance of Denim Day. The winning group would be awarded with a party thrown by the CARE office.
Beyond Denim Day, those affiliated with the CARE office hope that the awareness of sexual violence will continue to be a discussion topic at UCI that will educate and help the movement to put an end to rape.
“Astoundingly, it is still the case that one in four women will experience attempted or completed rape during her college career and one in six men during their lifetime,” Khorakiwala said.
“These rates of violence are alarming, and the silence surrounding the experience is unacceptable. We hope that together we can empower others, celebrate progress, take action and speak out.”