I have this memory from almost two decades ago that has always been kind of unsettling to me. I think I was sitting at a cafe with some friends, but I may have been in one of their homes. I could hear the sounds of the motorcars driving by, people chatting in Italian, the smells of baked goods and cigarettes all around. I remember the little table where we sat, my hot caffè in front of me.
It's hard to remember everything that was happening during that time. Some pieces are so clear and others are like a phone call with a bad connection: choppy yet the overall message is understood. But this particular conversation stuck with me.
I was talking with my friends, two natives to Rome, when I asked the question: "What happens if someone is raped in Italy?" I can't for the life of me recall if they were talking about it first or I asked out of the blue, but there it was. The question.
I saw them exchange glances, then one spoke up with a little hesitancy and an uncomfortable smile. He told me that they don't do much in Italy about rape. Our other friend then added, "If the girl was wearing jeans, it probably didn't happen anyway."
"If the girl was wearing jeans, la polizia think it was not possible to rape her because jeans are too difficult to take off."
Outwardly, I think I just kept moving on with the conversation. I continued normally and I'm pretty sure the conversation changed directions after that.
Inwardly, though, I died a little bit more.
I had been wearing jeans, but that didn't stop my cousin from violently raping me during those months that I studied abroad. Was the problem that I didn't fight him? Because I couldn't fight him. I was so paralyzed with fear that I had immediately dissociated from what was happening which, of course, made it easier for him to manipulate the situation.
But the jeans. I had been wearing them. Were they supposed to have protected me? Is that what people thought?
I have always loved wearing jeans and do even now. Ever since that conversation years ago, though, there remains a fear that, God forbid I should ever be raped again, I might not be believed.
Sixteen years after those months in Italy the #MeToo movement hit social media and I jumped in full force. It was the perfect opportunity for me to freely talk about those things I'd kept silent about for too long. So, in one of my posts I wrote:
#WhySurvivorsDontReport I was raped in Italy and told it's impossible to be raped if in jeans. The police disregarded the American girl.
A series of comments followed that post including one man's referral to #DenimDay. He said it began due to this exact erroneous thought process. After a moment of mild shock, more pieces in my past began coming together. This specific memorial day had been formed just months before I had moved to Italy.
No wonder my friends knew immediately what the Italian "policy" was on the matter. It had only been the year prior that one of their own young women had been raped by her driving instructor, the case eventually thrown out because she had been wearing jeans.
The Italian Supreme Court discarded the 18 year old because they believed there was no way for a rapist to take off her pants without help. Therefore, in their opinion, the young woman was lying and it was actually consensual sex.
My stomach still gets in knots at the thought of that teenager. And at the thought of myself back then. I feel oddly connected to her, though I don't even know her name. We were the same age in the same city having a similar experience of violation and humiliation.
I can remember what I felt during those nights and I'd imagine she felt something of the same emotions, maybe even had some of the same thoughts. Things like, "This isn't happening...," "Will anyone help me?" or possibly even, "If I don't fight too much, it will be over faster."
That un-named woman had her dignity stolen from her. Her body had been used, disgraced, and then carelessly abandoned. She fought to have justice only to be betrayed by those who could have given her back a piece of her honor. I understand and feel all of that. I connect to this woman and so many others who have to struggle against the horrors of rape and sexual abuse.
She probably knows Denim Day was created in solidarity with her. The day after the verdict, the Italian Parliament women all wore jeans in response to the poor decision. The young woman must know the impact her case had on so many other rape victims in her country and now around the world. Or maybe she doesn't because she never was able to move past that day when her driving instructor forced himself on her by the side of a road.
Italy, Where Sex Assault Victims Are Shamed
Nineteen years later and Italy, like so many other countries - like our own country - still discredits the victim. Governments, churches, societies, nations still try to make excuses for perpetrators and find blame with victims. There are hundreds of reasons why the abused are held accountable rather than the abusers - none of which are valid, though, because at the end of the day...
NO ONE has a right to touch our body or even speak about it without our FULL CONSENT.
Denim Day represents just one of the hundreds of reasons why people make excuses for perpetrators. It's just one. I wear jeans nearly every day now, because they are comfortable and convenient. But on April 25, I will wear jeans in solidarity with every rape and assault victim who had denim on at the time of their violation.
But it's not just about the jeans.
It has nothing to do with what
we were wearing or not wearing.
If you would like to join me, wear your favorite jeans on April 25, take a picture, and tag our Speak Truth Ministries Facebook page. All 8 members of our family,
including the 2 year old, will be wearing jeans as a reminder that any person, any age, any gender, and any ethnicity could be a rape victim.
As a family, we stand with the victims.
In addition, during the month of April if you donate $20 or more to Speak Truth Ministries, we'll give you an embroidered denim key chain as a thank you and a reminder to believe the victim. Our ministry is about to launch the first group of mentors who will walk other survivors through their darkest moments. Your donation will go towards training and equipping those mentors. Our mission is to give survivors a safe support system.
Sexual abuse survivors cannot do it alone.
They need our help, grace, and compassion.
For every sexual abuse victim who was wearing denim at the time of their assault and for every victim who wasn't...
For every survivor who has had to fight against all the reasons they were at fault, either in their own mind or the mind of someone else...
For Every. Single. Person. who has been abused, oppressed, silenced, disregarded, dismissed, diminished, ignored, shamed, manipulated, or forgotten...
I believe you and am with you.
Donate to Speak Truth Ministries
Information on Denim Day registration