By Maegan Ortiz
Staff members of the East Los Angeles Women’s Center promoted Denim Day last Wednesday not as a fashion statement, but as a statement against victim blaming in sexual assault cases.
Victim-blaming in sexual assault cases drove the East Los Angeles Women’s Center to hold a Denim Day event last Wednesday afternoon.
“We’re here to bring attention to sexual assault in our community and around the world,“ Beatriz Vega, Sexual Assault Counselor at East LA Women’s Center said.
The center also wanted to make the ELAC community aware of some of the services offered.
“We want to bring awareness of Denim Day and also to let people know what counseling services our agency offers about sexual assault or other issues that may be bothering them,” Carmen Lorenz, East Los Angeles Women’s Center Hotline and Volunteer Coordinator said.
This includes counseling services on campus at the ELAC Women and Men’s Support Center located in room 127 of the G8 building.
“This is a place where your silence is heard,” Lorenz said.
Denim Day began following a 1998 Italian Supreme Court decision that overturned a rape conviction because the victim wore jeans.
According to a New York Times article, the court ruled that ”jeans cannot be removed easily and certainly it is impossible to pull them off if the victim is fighting against her attacker with all her force.”
Female members of the Italian parliament wore jeans and held protests in response to what they saw as victim-blaming.
Since then, The last Wednesday of April has become a day to wear denim as an international symbol of protest against attitudes about sexual assault.
Victim blaming that shifts the blame to victims by questioning what they were wearing or doing, instead of putting the blame squarely on the perpetrator.
Lorenz said that not many students know the origins of Denim Day and tabling is one way to bring awareness.
Vega, who was a senior in high school when the Italian Supreme Court threw out the rape conviction, did not become aware of Denim Day until she began working for the East LA Women’s Center.
“Most of the people who are coming to the table say they know about the case and say they came because a faculty member sent them. If they weren’t sent, people aren’t stopping by,” Vega said.
Even though the Italian case occurred 15 years ago, Lorenz feels it is still important because she sees victim-blaming and feels that speaking out breaks the cycle of shame for survivors.
“Bringing it out helps women not feel shameful. It helps them understand that sexual assault is not their fault despite the myths that because they wear short skirts or drink, that they deserve it.
Sexual assault is a control thing by the person actually doing the assault. It has nothing to do with the way they dress, where they go, the way they talk. Sexual assault does not discriminate,” Lorenz said.
Lorenz hopes that attitudes have changed since 1998 but says that there is still work to do.
I do hospital accompaniments and (much) of times the victim is revictimized,” Lorenz says.
This revictimization, according to Lorenz comes in many forms beyond victim blaming.
She feels that not believing survivors and the long amount of time it takes for a rape case to actually get to trial, sometimes three to four years, can be overwhelming.
Vega is not as hopeful. She feels there is still much work to be done.
“We’re still living in a time when the social norm still tells a survivor of sexual assault that it’s all her fault, no matter if it happened in the home or when she was out. We still live under that norm and that is not ok,” Vega said.
She says that she and other staff members of the East LA Women’s Center do what they do because there is a need and she looks forward to the day when that need ends.
“At some point I don’t want to have a job, not doing this,” Vega said.