In 1999, the Italian Supreme Court overturned a rape conviction after the judges decided the victim’s jeans were so tight that she had to have helped her assailant take them off. Women in the Italian legislature expressed their outrage by agreeing to wear jeans to work.
Thus was born “Denim Day,” which has spread to the United States as an opportunity to promote rape awareness.
With $10,000 from the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services, MU’s Department of Textile and Apparel Management will host today’s “Denim Day” events, including assembling “clothing totes” in denim to distribute to area hospitals and police stations. The totes will include drawstring pants, T-shirts, flip-flops and personal care products that have been donated to the campaign by local businesses.
“Most victims of rape have to enter their clothing into evidence and leave the hospital in the hospital gown,” said Amanda Weiss, the Denim Day coordinator. “We are hoping to do whatever we can to make the victim feel more comfortable when leaving the hospital because the experience is traumatic enough.”
More than a half-dozen campus organizations, including Sexual Health Advocates Peer Education, the MU Rape Education Office and the MU Student Health Center, will be passing out information about rape on Lowry Mall today. Other organizations, such as Planned Parenthood, will also be on hand in one of 15 information booths on the mall.
“The concept for Denim Day was something that was brought to the attention of our faculty,” said Lynn Boorady, an assistant professor in the textiles department, “but it was something that was really embraced by the students. They discussed the idea and decided it was an important issue for our campus.”
More than 350 rapes occur each year on college campuses that have at least 10,000 female students, according to a 2000 report by the National Institute of Justice, which regularly examines the problem of sexual assaults on campus. The study, which was based on a random sample of 4,446 women attending a two- or four-year college or university, reported that female college students “are at greater risk for rape and other forms of sexual assault than women in the general population or in a comparable age group.”
The study also found that fewer than 5 percent of rapes and attempted rapes are actually reported to law enforcement officials. According to MU crime statistics, three forcible sex offenses — defined as any sexual act directed against another person, forcibly or against that person’s will — were reported to MU Police in 2003; two in 2004; and one in 2005. The majority of sexual assaults that take place on the MU campus are “drug facilitated,” according to the Student Health Center.
“Many people don’t go to the police or campus authorities because they feel completely traumatized, and they blame themselves for what they went through,” Boorady said. “That’s really what we want our message to be about, that there is no excuse for rape. Girls feel that just because they wore a certain type of clothing or had a drink, that the rape was their fault. Rape is still something that’s viewed as shameful, when in fact it isn’t the victim’s fault at all.”
In 1998, amendments to a federal law, the Jeanne Clery Disclosure of Campus Security Policy and Campus Crime Statistics Act, mandated that colleges and universities publish their policies concerning the “awareness and prevention of sexual assaults” as part of their annual security report. It also required that colleges “afford basic rights to sexual assault victims,” including additional reports, campus security provisions and the requirement that a daily public crime log be kept.
Earlier this month, the Missouri Senate passed a bill that would provide greater protection for victims of sexual assault and domestic violence. It awaits a vote in the House. If made law, the bill would increase the penalties for repeat domestic abuses and make the accusation process and testimony of sexual assault victims more confidential. It would also require that the Department of Health and Senior Services pay medical providers to cover the cost of forensic examinations for victims of sexual offenses.