On the last Saturday of international sexual assault awareness month, hundreds of Wisconsinites came out to honor and support sexual assault victims on Denim Day, surrounding the Wisconsin State Capitol in solidarity.
Denim Day began 17 years ago after an 18-year-old Italian woman’s rapist was cleared of all charges when the chief judge of the Italian Supreme Court ruled that “because the victim wore very, very tight jeans, she had to help him remove them, and by removing the jeans it was no longer rape but consensual sex.”
The ruling sparked international outrage. According to DenimDayUSA, women of the Italian parliament wore denim blue jeans the following day in protest of the ruling, ultimately creating what is now a worldwide symbol of protest against sexual assault.
The third annual Wrap Around the Capitol, sponsored by the Wisconsin Coalition Against Sexual Assault, brought sexual assault awareness advocates from around the state to march, carrying signs and wearing denim, eventually encircling the Capitol building with a denim rope.
Two thirds of sexual assault victims in Wisconsin are under the age of 15, while 90 percent of victims know their attackers, according to data from the Wisconsin Department of Health Services. Nationally, 39 percent of sexual assaults are reported to law enforcement officials.
“By wearing denim today, we stand in support of sexual assault victims,” Gov. Scott Walker said in a statement. “As we work to end this violence, it’s important to raise awareness and show victims, they are not alone.”
Earlier this month, Walker signed several pieces of legislation to strengthen the process for punishing sexual assault crimes, update the Wisconsin Code of Military Justice to fall in line with new federal regulations and further protect children from sexual assault.
Between October 2012 and June 2013, there were 3,553 incidents of reported sexual assault within all branches of the U.S. military, according to the New York Times.
“We’re just all here to draw attention to this issue and support victims of [sexual assault],” Sandra Newbery, a participant at the event said. “It’s great that this is being done nationwide to raise awareness for such an important issue.”
The event included workshops for participants, an award ceremony for individuals’ work to promote sexual assault awareness, followed by the denim wrapping of the Capitol. The event ended on the Capitol steps as the crowd of participants gathered in song and dance to highlight the end of sexual assault awareness month.
Ian Henderson, WCASA’s director of legal and system services, said this year’s turnout constituted a significant growth from last year’s event.
“We had some really great award ceremonies that helped highlight several different issues,” Henderson said.
With an estimated one in seven Wisconsin women raped in their lifetimes, the likelihood of an individual knowing a victim is high, according to the DHS. Henderson said awareness for sexual assault victims is growing as it affects so many individuals.
Nyal Mueenuddin contributed to this article.