About 50 Soldiers and civilians from across Fort Knox participated in a Denim Day walk at Ireland Army Health Clinic April 24 where many wore denim in a show of solidarity against sexual assault.
Denim became an international symbol to protest sexual assault and victim blaming after the infamous 1989 Italian Supreme Court decision that overturned a guilty verdict against a 45-year-old driving instructor who had raped his 18-year-old driving student during her first driving lesson. The judges argued that the teen’s blue jeans were too tight for the assailant to remove alone, thereby indicating she must have assisted in the sexual act and, in so doing, given her consent.
The decision sparked outrage and led to the start of Denim Day.
Fort Knox Sexual Harassment/Assault Response and Prevention officials said the Italian case not only created an outcry against sexual assault but also served to more clearly demonstrate what is and is not consent for sexual contact between persons.
“When that case was overturned, the victim was blamed for the assault, which essentially made the perpetrator the victim,” said Bethel Francis, a Sexual Assault Response Coordinator with Ireland Army Health Clinic. “In the military, we say consent is everything, but this case said that consent wasn’t needed–
“Well, that’s rape.”
The “Denim Defense,” as it became known, was used as a legal strategy for nearly a decade later, before a European court of cassation ruled that jeans were not an obstacle to assault.
Staff Sgt. James House, a SHARP victim advocate with Ireland Army Community Clinic, said the high-profile case continues to be used as a valuable conversation starter, highlighting it wasn’t a one-time deal but often was a case focused on outward appearances.
“What this really brought about is a discussion about victim playing, where the victim is blamed for what she wore, where she was, what was going on, and what she was drinking,” House said “What a person wears does not give consent. None of that matters. What matters is if a person agrees to a sexual act.
“Without consent, it is sexual assault.”
Standing up against sexual assault means more than just finding fault, said House; it also means changing the stigma of being assaulted and encouraging the victim to seek help.
“Many times, victims don’t report because they think, ‘Well, I was drinking,’ or ‘I wore a short dress that night,’ and they’ll automatically say, ‘It was my fault,’” House said. “We want the stereotype to go away. Profiling another person because of a look [does not equate] a ‘Go ahead.’
“An outfit is not an invitation. It is not affirmative consent.”
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