May 15, 2017

The importance of talking about sexual assault

Tracy Casey, adjunct professor at Anna Maria College.

Denim Day began in 1990 when a female was sexually assaulted by her driver education instructor in Italy. The Italian Supreme Court found the offender not guilty, as the victim's jeans were too tight. The victim, fearful for her life, assisted in the removal of her jeans leading the court to believe it was a sign of consent. The Italian Parliament were outraged and as a protest, wore jeans to work. This show of advocacy and support for victims made its way to the California Senate and Assembly, who did the same, inspiring Peace Over Violence to create the first Denim Day in L.A., April 1999. Quoting DenimDayInfo.org, "There is no excuse and never an invitation to rape".

One in four girls and one in six boys will be sexually assaulted. Pathways for Change report they believe the rates will change to one in three girls and one in five boys. The FBI Crime Index reports 22 percent of assaults are never reported. The Center for Missing and Exploited Children report in 2016 there were 859,500 registered sex offenders living in the U.S. Those are just the ones we know about. There are many victims who are too afraid or ashamed to come forward. This is a huge injustice and it needs to change by sending a strong message, we are here to support you.

Since 2011, Anna Maria College has been raising awareness about sexual assault and helping our community break the silence. Each semester my students participate in creating a visual community awareness project to start the conversation about the magnitude of this problem. Resources are also available that offer support to victims, their friends, family, as well as bystanders, with lists of local agencies and support systems.

The past three years we have been participating in Denim Day. We ask all staff and students to wear jeans on that day and ask for a pledge to stop violence by signing a pair of jeans. Those jeans are then hung up for all to see showing our support for victims and making a statement we will not be silent.

Denim Day is near and dear to my heart as my two sons were sexually assaulted by a family member in 2005. At that time, there was little awareness and trained professionals to tackle this ever-growing problem. I decided to take a stand for my children as well as for others who feel as though they do not have a voice. On average, I have at least two students, each semester disclose they have been sexually assaulted at some point in their lives. This further encourages me to continue my mission to change this by education, awareness and advocacy.

The more we talk about these issues and educate others on what sexual assault is and how to prevent it and advocate, the more we can make a difference for others. We can achieve this by wearing jeans to work one day a year during the month of April and take a stand to do no harm and report any harm we see. I encourage all of you to join us.

My message I wish to leave with you, which is my motivation to never give up, comes from my son who said, "Break the silence, 'cuz silence goes nowhere."

-Tracy Casey is an adjunct professor at Anna Maria College in Paxton.

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