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A brave space: Sexual assault survivors and poets share stories on Denim Day

"It's a reclamation. It's a stance of power. It is taking my name back, taking my body back."
A brave space: Sexual assault survivors and poets to share stories on Denim Day
Posted at 1:30 AM, Apr 28, 2021
and last updated 2021-04-28 07:57:42-04

COLORADO SPRINGS — This year, Denim Day falls on Wednesday, April 28. It's a chance for people to show solidarity with survivors of sexual assault by wearing jeans.

The global campaign began in 1999, following an Italian Supreme Court decision that reversed a 1992 rape conviction. A 45-year-old driving instructor was sentenced to jail for raping an 18-year-old girl, and then appealed the sentence. A reason contained in the statement from the court that reversed the decision said the victim wore tight jeans at the time, which could not be easily removed. It went on to say the girl must have helped take off her jeans, and by doing that, it was considered consensual sex.

Women in the Italian Parliament were infuriated by this ruling. To protest the "jeans alibi," they wore jeans to work. The movement spread overseas, and a Los Angeles nonprofit called Peace Over Violence began organizing Denim Day. "Denim day is a protest. It is an active, active revolution... Where we come together, honor survivors, and talk about sexual assault awareness and ending rape culture. It doesn't matter what you're wearing, how tight your clothes are, there is no excuse or reason for sexual assault," said Ashley Cornelius, the co-director of Poetry719.

Denim Day protest
In 1999, women in the Italian Parliament wore jeans in protest of a Supreme Court decision that overturned a rape conviction.

Poetry719 is a community group of Black creators who aim to uplift the voices of marginalized communities through creative self expression and art. Due to the pandemic, the group has transitioned to a virtual platform. "During destruction or heartache, art is a creation method. It's healing," said Cornelius.

Cornelius said the group hosts open mic nights dedicated to Denim Day, and 2021 is no different, other than it being online. "Speaking the unspeakable. We're told not to talk about it, we're told to cover it up, don't mention it. A lot of people say, no, this isn't the place. And so, we're making it the place. The place is every time, everywhere, in spaces where that person feels comfortable," said Cornelius.

Cornelius said she has experienced sexual assault in her life. "For a long time, I was just like, 'oh, it wasn't that bad. I mean, it wasn't as bad as this person.' So, a lot of times we don't even give ourselves the opportunity to mourn, to grieve, to name it. And so, it feels good to use events like this to just say it," said Cornelius.

Susan Peiffer participates in Poetry719, and plans on reading some of her poetry at the Denim Day open mic night. She is a survivor of sex abuse, and said sharing her story is "a reclamation. It's a stance of power. It is taking my name back, taking my body back."

According to the Centers for Disease Control's National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey from 2015, one in five American women have experienced attempted or completed rape in their lives. Nationwide, almost half of women and about a quarter of men have dealt with some sort of contact sexual violence. "It's most people you know," said Cornelius.

National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey, 2015
Statistics found in the CDC's National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey from 2015.

News5 also spoke with Rica Molet, the community engagement manager at TESSA of Colorado Springs. Molet said victim shaming can lead to the retraumatization of people, and shared pieces of her own story with sexual assault. "It really came down to, okay, who do I trust enough to tell this story to? And then, what steps do I need to take to feel comfortable again, in my own skin?" said Molet.

Molet said TESSA has many programs ready to help people who have lived through sexual assault.

Poetry719's website has a Zoom meeting ID and password posted, so anyone can connect to the Denim Day virtual open mic night. It begins at 6:30 p.m. on April 28.

If you or anyone you know needs support right now, call TESSA's 24-hour safe line at (719)633-3819.