Denim Day Set Aside to Focus on Sex Assault Misconceptions

Mike Ferguson
April 22, 2011

MUSCATINE, Iowa — If you’re used to wearing jeans to work on casual Fridays, consider shifting denim day to Wednesday next week.

That’s the day a group called Peace Over Violence will hold Denim Day in cities across the nation, including Muscatine. It’s billed as a way to make a social statement with one’s fashion statement by wearing jeans as a visible means of protest against the misconceptions that surround sexual assault.

Family Resources’ sexual assault and domestic abuse advocacy program will staff a booth from 9 a.m. until 1 p.m. Tuesday and Wednesday, April 26 and 27, at Strahan Hall at Muscatine Community College. The focuses will be on outreach and education, said Michelle Kurz, 29, the group’s community educator.

College-age people are the target of the outreach program because people under 25 are the victims of almost 80 percent of all rapes and sexual assaults.

About 70 percent of rapes go unreported, Kurz said, mainly because of the stigma and shame associated with the crime. It’s the most unreported crime in America.

Denim Day got its start in 1999 when the Italian Supreme Court overturned the rape conviction of a 52-year-old man who had been convicted of raping a 17-year-old girl. The court decided the girl’s jeans were so tight that she would have had to remove them herself, implying consent.

Family Resources plans to distribute literature on sexual violence and rape prevention and to talk with students and others on the MCC campus Tuesday and Wednesday.

“It’s a peaceful way to protest something that happened only 11 years ago,” Kurz said.

Part of the message will be that there’s no excuse for rape or for sexual assault, which can involve unwanted touching or making the victim touch the perpetrator, Kurz said.

A woman’s clothing choice does not send the message that she’s asking to be assaulted or raped. Kurz said the education campaign also seeks to get bystanders involved, such as the friend of a man who wishes to take an obviously intoxicated woman home for sex.

“We want to educate young people that when alcohol is in the mix, it puts the victim at risk,” said Rachel Riley Smock, who supervises the sexual assault and domestic abuse advocacy program for Family Resources and runs a shelter for the victims of domestic assault and their children.

“Kids are dating earlier now and they’re sexually active much younger now. They might not be psychologically ready for a sexual relationship, but they think they are.”

Kurz said she hopes many Muscatine residents will choose to wear jeans to work — with their boss’ OK, of course, where necessary — or while they’re out in public during Denim Day Wednesday.

She also hopes the group’s presence on the MCC campus will educate people on how many Americans (one in four women, one in six men) will be sexual assault victims at some point in their lives.

She also wants students, especially, to realize they don’t have to be bystanders to what could be an impending sexual assault or rape.

“We should be able to tell our friend, ‘Don’t go home with her. She’s too impaired to give her consent,’” Kurz said.

“It’s important to say there’s just no excuse.”