Dane County Executive Joe Parisi and Rape Crisis Center Executive Director Erin Thornley Parisi held a press conference Wednesday in the City County Building to highlight Denim Day, which is meant to bring awareness to Sexual Assault Awareness Month.
Denim Day first occurred in April 1999, according to the Denim Day website. The movement started after an 18-year-old Italian woman accused her driver’s education instructor of driving her to a remote road, forcing her out of the car and raping her.
The case made it to the Italian Supreme Court, which ruled the sex must have been consensual because her jeans were so tight she must have helped take them off. Enraged, the women of the Italian Parliament showed up in tight blue jeans hours later.
“We wear denim today to bring awareness to sexual assault and to dispel the myths that surround these crimes,” Thornley Parisi said at the press conference. “Denim is a visible means of protest against the misconceptions that surround sexual assault, the most common myth being that women lie about being sexually assaulted.”
Parisi condemned victim blaming in sexual assault cases.
“No other crime calls into the question the motives or the everyday being of the victim like sexual assault,” Parisi said. “About 50,000 Honda Accords are stolen every year. I’m not aware of one case of someone calling the police and reporting their Honda Accord was stolen and their response was, ‘Well that person must have wanted their car stolen because they bought a Honda Accord.’ And why we treat sexual assault any different than any other crime is a mystery to me.”
The press conference also came after sexual violence prevention educator Dr. Keith Edwards spoke on reframing sexual assault as a male issue at Gordon Dining and Event Center April 6.
“While most men don’t commit sexual assault, most sexual assaults are committed by men,” Parisi said. “Most sexual assaults are perpetrated by males. And part of wearing denim today is to ask men across the nation to think about how we can be a part of the solution.”
Thornley Parisi also noted the GameChanger program, which is made up of high school students who work on different public policy issues. According to the Rape Crisis Center website, the program builds leadership through education on rape culture, primary prevention and bystander intervention.
High school students Kenzie Thom and Hayley Baldwin attended the press conference and said they were working to increase consent education in their sexual education programs.
“[GameChanger] is an amazing opportunity,” Thom said. “I’ve learned a lot. About myself. About consent. About everything, honestly,” Baldwin added.
The Rape Crisis Center has taken 504 calls to its helpline this year. It has also made 136 trips to the hospital or law enforcement to accompany victims of sexual assault, which is 30 percent more than 2015.
Newly elected Dane County Board of Supervisors Representative Hayley Young, District 5, said it is important to recognize programs need funding when they have increases in services, like the Rape Crisis Center’s increase in accompaniments.
“When [the Rape Crisis Center] is providing hospital accompaniments, that’s at a time when someone needs the highest quality, sensitive care and response to sexual assault,” Young said. “We need to make sure as a campus community that we are supporting women, supporting men and supporting survivors with their stories of assault.”
The Rape Crisis Center can be reached for services at 608-251-7273.