In Rome in 1992, a 45-year-old driving instructor was accused of rape. When he picked up an 18-year-old woman for her first driving lesson, he sexually assaulted her, then told her that if she was to tell anyone he would kill her. Later that night, she told her parents and they helped her press charges. The driving instructor was convicted and sentenced to a lesser charge of indecent exposure. The victim appealed, and the driving instructor was subsequently convicted of all charges.
The accused instructor appealed to the Italian Supreme Court, which overturned the conviction because the victim wore tight jeans. It was argued that because the woman’s jeans were tight, the only way to have gotten them off was if she had helped the instructor remove her jeans, thus making the act consensual. In its decision, the Italian Supreme Court stated, “it is a fact of common experience that it is nearly impossible to slip off tight jeans even partly without the active collaboration of the person who is wearing them.”
The Italian Supreme Court had clearly been biased in favor of the rapist, and its actions were in line with the victim-blaming culture that permeates our society around the world. In response to the ruling, women in the Italian Parliament came to work wearing jeans in solidarity with the victim. Peace Over Violence, a non-profit that focuses on domestic violence and sexual assault, developed the Denim Day campaign in response to this case and the activism surrounding it. Since then, wearing jeans on Denim Day has become a symbol of protest against erroneous and destructive attitudes about sexual harassment, abuse, assault, and rape.
At Sleepy Hollow High School on April 30th, students from many walks of life wore denim to show their support for Denim Day, and tables were set up outside the cafeteria and the student lounge to collect donations for Hope’s Door and provide further information about the movement against rape culture. Kate Behrens, a senior who helped organize and facilitate the day, told Hoofprints what Denim Day meant to her: “To me, Denim Day means showing support for those who have experienced sexual abuse or sexual assault but also spreading awareness of what those terms really are. I think a lot of people are not aware of what sexual abuse and sexual assault really mean and that they can make it harder for survivors to come out and share their experience. We have to let the victims know that they have support…I hope that [Denim Day] is something that continues to happen in our school for years to come.”