Paint It Red: How Sexual Assault Awareness Is Taking On New Shades

In light of April being Sexual Assault Awareness month, countless students at UC Irvine are choosing to take part in a powerful international campaign known as “Red my Lips.” The best part about it? Participation in this public initiative is as simple as wearing red lipstick or your favorite red jacket.

So how did this all begin and more importantly, why all the red? After experiencing a traumatic sexual assault in 2011 by a known colleague, then 29-year-old Danielle Tansino quickly reported the crime but was later told by a prosecutor that her case would never be tried because “jurors don’t like girls that drink.”

From that moment, Tansino realized that the institutions that are meant to keep the public safe bear injustices that are strongly based off of the false stereotypes perpetuated by society. Current CEO and Founder of “Red my Lips,” Tansino took a stand against the silent storm of sexual violence by generating a movement where everyone could get involved and start the necessary conversations in the comfort of their own community.

Red My Lips, now in its third year running, is an international nonprofit organization that uses the boldness of red lipstick as a weapon against the pervasive power of victim blaming.

“A lot of people don’t like to discuss this issue whether it’s because of the traumatic experiences they had themselves or because they don’t want to make anyone else feel uncomfortable…but I think it is important to speak up about it and make it more casual and easy to talk about so that people are educated and aware of the statistics,” said Babenkoba.Third-year biological sciences major, Maria Babenkoba expresses her views on the importance of campaigns like this on college campuses.

Fourth-year anthropology major and civic and community engagement minor, Idda Colcol has taken part in other awareness movements regarding sexual violence, particularly as a cast member for this year’s Vagina Monologues in February 2015. Colcol shares similar sentiments with the campaign that this movement isn’t just a women’s issue, it’s a human issue.

“The most compelling part I find about the campaign is the visibility of red lipstick,” said Colcol. “I see this as a method of steering the conversation of make-up as an object for public gaze, especially for male gaze, to one where make-up is a tool of empowerment, a weapon for change, a statement and a battle-cry. It is a means to say something, to start a conversation, to create a dialogue.”

As a student who has experienced sexual harassment first hand, Colcol goes on to say, like many survivors of sexual violence, she has been doubted and underestimated because she is a woman.

“It’s frustrating seeing other women go through worse makes me feel so helpless,” said Colcol. “However, the more I feed my brain with knowledge and awareness of these issues and testimonies, the more power I have  to start conversations and get people thinking about the gender stereotypes they continue to circulate.”

In wearing red lipstick or red articles of clothing, supporters visually demonstrate solidarity with survivors and are given the impetus to start important conversations with those in their lives. This campaign believes in the individual level of communication as effective building blocks for true and enduring change. It is meant to incite participants (known to the campaign as “warriors”) to challenge rape myths and disrupt the pervasive silence that allows sexual predators to perpetrate these crimes without consequence.

The Red My Lips campaign calls for supporters to wear red for one month. It offers the opportunity for individuals to stand up against the deep-seated injustices that make sexual violence a reality for men and women everywhere, literally painting the invisible issue of sexual violence a bold and unapologetic red.