Amanda Weisbrod

Wear jeans to work Wednesday to bring awareness to sexual assault and show support for survivors.

Dubbed “Denim Day,” April 24 is the chance for professional men and women to express solidarity with victims and even spark conversation about the issue of sexual violence by wearing jeans to the office.

This year marks the 20th anniversary of the international event, which is hosted by Peace Over Violence, a nonprofit based in Los Angeles working to build communities free from sexual, domestic and interpersonal violence.

Shelter From the Storm, a Union County organization providing support for victims of domestic violence and sexual assault, is spearheading the movement locally as part of a larger, month-long campaign during April, which is sexual assault awareness month. Other local Denim Day participants include Eastern Oregon University and the Union County District Attorney’s Office.

“Having people in a professional field wearing jeans to work is a conversation starter,” said Kelsie McDaniel, who in 2014 was the first woman elected to serve as district attorney in Union County since the position was established in 1925.

So, how did such a commonplace fashion staple become an international symbol of protest against sexual violence?

The Denim Day website, denimdayinfo.org, gives the backstory: In 1992 in Italy, an 18-year-old girl was raped by her 43-year-old driving instructor, who was then convicted and sentenced to jail. But years later, the Italian Supreme Court overruled this decision and he walked free based on the argument that because the girl was wearing tight jeans the day of the assault, she must have helped him take them off, implying consent.

Following the verdict, women in the Italian Parliament wore jeans and stood on the steps of the Supreme Court in protest. The first Denim Day, launched by Peace Over Violence in LA, was held in 1999 and has continued every year since.

These events transformed an everyday item of clothing into a symbol of protest against destructive attitudes and myths surrounding sexual assault, such as the idea that certain clothing is sometimes considered as an excuse or reason to commit violence against another person. Krista Evans, a crisis response advocate at Shelter From the Storm, said no matter what someone is wearing, it’s never an “open invitation” for sexual advances.

“Denim Day helps people realize just because a person is wearing a style of clothing it doesn’t give (someone else) the right to (their) body,” she said. “People should be able to walk down the street without suggestive comments or (others) saying they’re asking for it.”

This backstory involving the Italian Supreme Court and the professional women of the Italian Parliament is one reason the Union County District Attorney’s Office is participating in the event, according to Rianna Bridge, one of three victim advocates at the DA’s office.

“The importance of the district attorney’s office getting the word out is based on where this day comes from,” she said. “I think for our office (to participate in Denim Day) and show support for victims is very important.”

This week, Tyana Musrasrik, a privileged campus advocate placed by Shelter From the Storm at EOU, is teaming up with the university’s student government to hang pairs of decorated jeans on campus in honor of Denim Day.

On April 3, La Grande Mayor Steve Clements signed a proclamation at the city council meeting to acknowledge April as sexual assault awareness month.

“Shelter From the Storm’s service in the community is immensely valuable to people in need,” the mayor said at the meeting. “Without this organization, (victims) would not be served as well as they are now.”

Anyone who wants to pick up Denim Day pins or teal ribbons to show support for survivors during the remainder of sexual assault awareness month can stop by the Shelter From the Storm office at 10901 Island Ave. in Island City.

For those in need of resources dealing with domestic violence or sexual assault, call Shelter From the Storm at 541-963-7226, or walk in from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays, or 9 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Fridays.

Resources are also available through the Sexual Assault Response Team, which is a collaboration between Shelter From the Storm, the Union County District Attorney’s Office, Grand Ronde Hospital, Eastern Oregon University and law enforcement. Through SART, survivors may seek medical care, advocacy programs, pursue charges, or a combination of the three, according to Bridge.

“For our county, (SART) is a good resource for victims who may or may not want to pursue charges,” she said. “We want victims to know what resources are available to give the power back to them so they can make decisions for themselves.”

Contact Amanda Weisbrod at 541-963-3161 or email aweisbrod@lagrandeobserver.com .

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