14th Annual Denim Day Asks Supporters to Wear Jeans, Protest Sexual Assault

A shocking Italian court ruling that overturned a rape conviction prompted a Los Angeles-based organization to start the visible protest tradition

By Christina Cocca
|  Thursday, Apr 25, 2013  |  Updated 12:52 AM PDT
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Kim Baldonado

"Denim Day" is a rape prevention campaign where people all over the world are encouraged to wear jeans. About 5 million people from more than 100 countries are expected to participate in Denim Day this year, and among them are students at Franklin High School in Highland Park who are hoping to end the violence and silence on sexual assault. Kim Baldonado reports from Highland Park for the NBC4 News at on April 24, 2013.

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Southern Californians are being asked join a massive wave of support for the prevention of sexual violence on the 14th annual Denim Day Wednesday -- an event that has supporters wearing jeans as a visible protest against sexual assault.

Denim Day -- a demonstration that has expanded around the globe -- is a rape prevention campaign started by the Los Angeles-based non-profit Peace Over Violence that asks everyone to wear denim to debunk myths surrounding rape and sexual assault.

“When a woman is raped, she feels afraid something else will happen, afraid that the police won’t believe her, afraid that her husband will blame her, afraid that she will be ostracized, and afraid that if it goes to court, she won’t get her due justice,” said Cathy Friedman, associate director of Peace Over Violence, an anti-abuse education and prevention center.

“You don’t have that kind of fear when a purse is stolen,” Friedman said. “Only in rape do people feel like they did something wrong, and I want to break the myth that it’s a woman’s fault.”

The recent lawsuit by students at LA's Occidental College alleging that the school failed to protect women from sexual assaults furthered the importance of the annual campaign, she said.

Some Franklin High School students gathered in Highland Park to support Denim Day.

"We're celebrating Denim Day because we want to end the violence of sexual assault, and we want to end the silence," said Jose Meneses, student and president of campus club STOP (Students Together Organizing Peace).

"We're trying to show students at this school that it doesn't matter if you're married or in a relationship with someone," said Franklin High School student Angelica Juarez. "There's never an excuse for rape."

During last year's Denim Day, more than 2 million people from 119 countries and all 50 states registered online to participate in the day of protest. This year, Friedman said they expect 5 million people.

“This grew from a tiny event in Italy, a tiny event in Sacramento, a tiny event in LA, to a huge global experience,” she said.

Downtown LA’s Peace Over Violence headquarters hosted the denim-clad Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and Los Angeles Police Department Chief Charlie Beck as they joined the organization’s staff and supporters to commemorate the day that has been a tradition since a shocking Italian court ruling in 1999.

An Italian Supreme Court judge overturned a rape conviction because the 18-year-old victim wore “very, very tight jeans,” which he said meant that the woman had to have helped the 45-year-old perpetrator remove the pants. By removing the jeans, it was no longer rape but consensual sex, the judge said.

After the ruling, women in the Italian Parliament protested by wearing jeans to work, prompting outraged female legislators in Sacramento to march the steps of the State Capitol in jeans.

Peace Over Violence -- established in 1971 by feminist activists -- saw an opportunity for public awareness and organized the first Denim Day in 1999 during the month of April -- Sexual Assault Awareness Month.

Denim Day events will continue around Los Angeles, including rallies at high schools, a Los Angeles City Council meeting, and a comedy show at Hollywood's Lexington Social House featuring Tenacious D -- an event Friedman said is to prove "feminists do have a sense of humor."

The landscape for talking about sexual violence has changed drastically over the decades, Friedman said, who has been with Peace Over Violence for 26 years.

“Nobody even talked about it 26 or 27 years ago. It was in the shadows, and it was something that people thought just happened to bad people, something that was your fault if it happened to you,” Friedman said. “I have two daughters, and I don’t want them to be raised in fear.”

NBC4's Kim Baldonado contributed to this report.

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