Warning: The subject of this story is sexual assault, including a firsthand account of the aftermath of being attacked.
In the Summer of 2021, I was sexually assaulted by a student at Northwestern University while attending a Fraternity party for “Dillo Day,” a music festival hosted annually on the university campus. I fell into a deep depression soon after. The only reason I got out of bed each morning was to go to work. I rarely went out, and for months I couldn’t even think about returning to that area of Northwestern. All I needed was support, but I didn’t know how to talk about it.
Survivors of sexual violence often feel isolated and alone. Only 20% of college-aged women report their assault to the police, citing reasons like feeling the police can’t or won’t do anything, that they would face retaliation, or that they reported it to someone other than police, according to RAINN.
If I didn’t have to report my assault I wouldn’t have. The experience of getting the rape kit, being poked and prodded, and being looked at like a basket case was traumatizing. I cried the entire way to the hospital and during the police interview. The officers who questioned me tried to make it easier for me to talk but it’s hard being asked about something you can barely even think about.
The month of April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month, with the last Wednesday marking Demin Day. The day of action is devoted to supporting the survivors of sexual violence. Events such as these are a way to show silent solidarity with survivors. Anyone can wear denim making it a safe way for survivors to engage with a support network without having to disclose anything.
The origins of Denim Day started in 1992 when an 18-year-old girl in Muro Lucano, Italy was sexually assaulted by her driving instructor during her first driving lesson.
The case was taken all the way to the Italian Supreme Court, where they ruled that because of the young woman’s tight skinny jeans, the act of violence had to have been consensual. His rape conviction was overturned, and this became known as the “jeans alibi.” The next day women in the Italian Parliament wore denim clothing in protest of the court’s ruling.
“No matter what someone’s wearing, they don’t deserve to experience sexual violence,” said Rachael Reed-Maloney, violence prevention education coordinator at The Phoenix Center on Auraria Campus.
The Phoenix Center hosts an annual event on Denim Day to show support and raise awareness for their organization. This year, they hosted an event on the Lawrence Street Mall with a photo booth and information.
The organization does much more than just raise awareness. They provide support for those facing interpersonal violence with a 24-hour helpline and counseling services in person for CU Denver, MSU Denver, and CCD students.
“I think that interpersonal violence affects college students a little differently than folks in the general community,” Reed-Maloney said. “They are surrounded by certain entities. And unfortunately in many of those spaces, there’s rape culture and toxic masculinity and those types of cultures which breed the normalization and dismissiveness of sexual violence,”
Nationally, among undergraduate students, 26.4% of women and 6.8% of men experience sexual violence, according to RAINN. Reed-Maloney explained that there often aren’t resources for college students to get the right kinds of support and often the trauma can be too much to be able to continue their education. The Phoenix Center aims to change that.
I was lucky enough to never have to see my assailant again. I don’t attend Northwestern anymore and I had the entire summer to recover from the assault so it didn’t affect my education. Disconnecting myself from that space was a luxury that many college students may not have after an assault.
If no one had believed me when I told them about what happened I don’t know what would have happened to me. My first Denim Day as a survivor was an empowering one. Seeing people wear denim and speak up made me feel a little less alone in my grief, I was able to look around me and see and feel the support for survivors. That is why Denim Day is so important to me.