Denim Day at UCLA

Photo by Kristy Phan

On Wednesday April 26, nearly a hundred pairs of denim lay on the grassy slopes of the Meyerhoff Park lawn in front of Kerckhoff Hall. This display was organized in honor of Denim Day, which brings awareness to the many harmful misconceptions surrounding sexual assault. Denim Day is an event organized by the Bruin Consent Coalition for Sexual Assault Awareness Month.

Denim Day was created after a 1992 Italian Supreme Court ruling that overturned a sexual assault conviction. The judge argued that the victim’s jeans were apparently too tight to be taken off without the victim’s consent, and thus sexual assault did not occur. In response to this reasoning, women in the Italian Parliament wore denim jeans to support the victim. The annual tradition of Denim Day campaigns was established in 1998 by Peace Over Violence, a U.S. non-profit organization that works to reduce and alleviate interpersonal, domestic, and sexual violence.

The array of denim skirts, shorts, and jeans were painted with the following quotations that touched on various themes, such as victim-blaming, consent, relationships, and more.

“Myth: I want attention.”

“Jeans that are tight don’t make it right.”

These statements respond to arguments concerning the relationship between clothing choice and sexual assault. People mistakenly believe that if someone dresses in a “provocative” manner, then that must mean they are okay with all sexual attention — even suggesting that they were “asking for it.” In the contrary, sexual assault happens regardless of whether or not the victim wore sexy clothes. Identifying the victim’s clothing choice rather than the perpetrator’s intentions as the cause of sexual assault is victim-blaming.

Silence consent.”

“Did I say yes? Then the answer is no.”

“‘She was drunk’ is no excuse.”

These statements advocate for affirmative consent. There is a misconception that not saying “no” to sex means that a person has given consent. But the absence of a “no” does not necessarily translate into “yes.” In cases of intoxication, consent is even more tricky. Intentionally getting someone drunk as a means to gain consent is sexual assault.

“No means no.”

Despite “no” being a straightforward expression of one’s unwillingness to give consent, some still believe that “no” actually means “maybe.” If “no’s” are understood as negotiable boundaries, then persistence and persuasion will be used to “change” the person’s mind.  However, a “no” that needs convincing is coercion, which is not true consent.

“‘They were dating’ is no excuse.”

“‘They are married’ is no excuse.”

These statements address the myth that by simply being in a serious romantic relationship, consent can be assumed from the other partner. This is false because partners do not always want sex and being in a relationship does not entitle someone with any type of ownership to another’s body. Consent must constantly be obtained and can be revoked at any time.

“Myth: Males are less traumatized by sexual abuse than females.”

Anyone can experience sexual assault, regardless of gender identity. Patriarchal gender roles posit that men are always happy to have sex. This supposedly makes men less affected by sexual assault because to some degree, they wanted it. It is wrong to believe that all men are primed for sex all the time — this denies men individuality and reinforces rigid gender roles.

“Break the silence.”

The purpose of Sexual Assault Awareness Month is precisely to break the silence, shame, and stigma surrounding sexual assault. Bringing these conversations to the forefront promotes healthier understandings of how to navigate relationships and sexuality. Breaking the silence gives space for victims and survivors to gain control over their own narratives and encourages others to break the silence as well.

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