April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month and you can get involved by wearing jeans on April 25 for Denim Day.

Denim Day is held in honor of a young woman whose rapist was let free after the Italian Supreme Court overturned his conviction. The judges ruled that since she was wearing tight jeans, she must’ve helped him remove them and thus, in their eyes, gave her consent.

It sounds outrageous and yet many sexual assault survivors nationally and locally are blamed or not believed. Our society tells survivors, especially women and girls, that they are asking for it by what they wear, how they flirt, by drinking alcohol, and more. No wonder so many survivors are filled with a sense of shame and guilt. In reality, the only person at fault is the perpetrator as they are the one that chose to do something sexual to another person who didn’t want it.

Often people will blame survivors as a way to self-protect or feel a sense of protection for those they love. They tell themselves:

“Well, I would never dance like that, so I won’t be sexually assaulted.”

“My daughter would never drink that much, so she won’t be raped.”

“My girlfriend would never wear that outfit, so she won’t be assaulted.”

Survivors also often blame themselves partly as a way to feel safer in the world — if there’s something they could’ve done to stop it from happening, then they can stop it from happening again in the future. The reality is that although there are ways to try and reduce our risk of being sexually assaulted, anyone can be sexually assaulted.

If we instead focus on holding perpetrators accountable, we will then send the message that sexual assault will not be tolerated, that enthusiastic, freely given consent is what is needed every time, and that survivors are strong, courageous individuals who deserve their family’s, friends’ and community’s support.

Please join Hope House and a multitude of other agencies, businesses, schools, churches and elected officials in wearing jeans on Denim Day. It is a symbol of support for survivors, a protest of victim-blaming and a call for education about what consent really looks like. Ask your employer if employees can wear jeans April 25 in exchange for a small donation to Hope House, which provides free and confidential services to sexual assault survivors in Sauk, Columbia, Juneau, Marquette and Adams counties.

Be sure to talk to others about why you are wearing jeans. Talk to the teens in your life about the importance of consent. Speak out against rape jokes. Talk to your employer about model sexual violence policies at workplacesrespond.org. Organize a service around sexual abuse awareness at your place of worship the Sunday before or after Denim Day.

On April 25, I will wear denim for all the survivors in my life — many of whom thought they could not tell without being told they were lying or responsible for the violation they endured. On April 25, why will you wear denim?

Jess Kaehny is the Community Education Program Manager at Hope House of South Central Wisconsin. To learn more about Denim Day and other Sexual Assault Awareness Month activities, visit HopeHouseSCW.org. Hope House offers free and confidential support and resources for those who have been sexually assaulted and can be reached at 608-356-7500 or 1-800-584-6790.

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