Content Warning: Depiction of sexual misconduct and assault
In 1992, an 18-year-old girl was raped by her driving instructor while learning how to drive a car. The man instructed her to drive down an empty road where he then pulled her out of the vehicle, forcefully removed her jeans, and raped her.
The driver was prosecuted and convicted of rape. He later appealed the conviction claiming the activity was consensual. He was successful; the Italian Supreme Court overturned the rape conviction partially due to the tight fit of her jeans. The man was set free. This became known as “the jeans alibi.”
Statements from the court mentioned that because the girl’s jeans were so tight, she must’ve removed them on her own accord or helped the man remove them. Her assistance would have been an indication of consent in the eyes of the court, thus the conviction of non-consensual sexual conduct was reversed.
Women in the Italian Parliament became infuriated and took to the steps of the Capitol in protest, clad in denim jeans. Thus, Denim Day was born to support survivors and push for a culture of belief regarding survivors of sexual assault.
Today, April 28, the Cal Poly community can wear denim to show support for survivors.
Women and gender studies professor and Education and Communications Director Christina Kaviani said that Denim Day is an opportunity for people across the world to wear denim and showcase a united front regarding sexual assault during Sexual Assault Awareness Month (SAAM) in April.
“[Denim Day is] a reminder of the work we have to do ahead of us, and that people are still disbelieving survivors,” Kaviani said. “People still bring up clothing when we talk about rape and sexual assault.”
She said it is important to raise awareness about sexual assault at Cal Poly because sexual assault happens regularly on college campuses.
“Sexual assault happens at Cal Poly,” Kaviani said. “It’s obvious with something like @shadesofcalpoly that happened last year. There are hundreds of students’ voices that need to still be heard and acknowledged.”
Kaviani thinks it’s harder for people to comprehend that violence happens in a quaint college town like San Luis Obispo that appears to have so little crime. However, there is still a significant prevalence of rape, intimate partner violence, sexual harassment and other forms of sexual assault occurring regularly at Cal Poly.
Kaviani said there is a lot students can do to raise awareness about sexual assault and believe survivors beyond SAAM including wearing a button on backpacks or clothing, attending events that support survivors, taking classes at Cal Poly that discuss gender discrimination and violence and having conversations with families and friends.
Kaviani has noticed a pattern in Cal Poly students who make statements to support an important cause, yet don’t take the time to turn that passion into action.
By engaging in the small things students can do in the anti-violence movement, students can begin to scratch the surface of supporting survivors and counter the phenomenon of inaction at Cal Poly, she said.
Some actions Cal Poly students can take to get involved are to volunteer or work for organizations like SAFER and RISE in San Luis Obispo.
Mechanical engineering sophomore Kinsale Sproule volunteers for SAFER at Cal Poly and wrote in an email to Mustang News that having the opportunity to help people with similar stories to her own has been rewarding, and she would recommend all students go through SAFER training, despite whether or not they plan on volunteering.
“I also wanted to be educated enough to have difficult discussions with members of my community,” Sproule wrote.
She wrote that Denim Day represents upliftment and support to her. She wears denim to show support and solidarity. When others wear denim on Denim Day, it shows her that she can trust them.
“For me, it hits on a more personal note, but I think the biggest takeaway is seeing members of my community take a moment of their day to consciously think about the big issue of sexual assault in our community,” Sproule wrote.
According to Sproule, most people don’t know how abundant sexual assault survivors are on college campuses. She wrote that rape occurs far more frequently than most people think.
“The party culture has normalized getting women drunk and sweeping the consequences under the rug,” Sproule said. “I talk to a lot of people who do not even realize that they have been assaulted.”
Sproule wrote that at the very least she hopes Cal Poly students wear some denim and post about Denim Day on social media with captions showing support and love for survivors.
“There are so many people around that have been taken advantage of. Just because they do not share their experience, doesn’t mean they don’t need your support,” Sproule said.
Physics junior and secretary of the Women in Physics Club Margo Thorton said that she thinks Cal Poly students will be more inclined to get involved in Denim Day, SAAM, and general conversations surrounding sexual violence when it hits close to home.
“I know that if you hear all these statistics from the whole nation or the whole world, you think ‘Oh that’s not going to happen to me,’” Thornton said.
But, when students hear about peers or friends being the victims or perpetrators of sexual violence, it makes it more real. This is one of the reasons Thorton believes it is so important to center these issues in conversations specifically at Cal Poly.
“Raising that awareness in the close community will make people more inclined to … make pre-emptive actions to prevent this from happening,” she said.
Thorton said the administration could help students by continuing to push resources and education regarding sexual assault at Cal Poly. She hopes more professors will get involved in supporting student survivors, as they serve as a connection between the students and administration.
Thornton joined the Women in Physics club and found a safe space on campus surrounded by like-minded females and allies.
“I think of it as a group that all these females will come to have a common ground and have this group that goes through the same things as them,” Thornton said. “These clubs show that you’re not alone.”
Cal Poly hosts many clubs that foster female empowerment in male-dominated fields and Greek Life organizations that focus on ideals of sisterhood and solidarity. However, business marketing junior and public relations director of Cal Poly Women Empowered club Karenna Case said that for a long time Cal Poly did not have a general space for women and feminist allies to seek empowerment.
Now, Cal Poly Women Empowered serves as that safe space for women, offering education and fostering dialogue among the young women, men, and nonbinary individuals at Cal Poly.
“I think part of the way we can make change at Cal Poly is through education, which is a really big part of Women Empowered,” Case said. “The more awareness we can build, especially about what is and what isn’t consent, hopefully, we can reduce the numbers.”
Case said that consent must be freely given and mutual.
“You have to get a clear ‘yes.’ There’s no coercion. There’s no maybe. there’s no ‘They didn’t say no,’” Case said.
Case said that Denim Day brings attention to the fact that clothing does not indicate consent.
“One of the big things that is stressed about Denim Day is that the victim was wearing tight jeans,” Case said. “That’s a powerful thing if that is something you are comfortable wearing — showing that what I’m wearing does not mean consent.”
Another important part of sexual assault advocacy for Case is the creation of a safe space for people to discuss these topics.
“Creating spaces for [survivor’s] to share their stories and talk about it when they are ready is really cool,” Case said.
Construction management junior and Vice President of Women in Construction Greta Stout found a safe, supportive place for women in her industry through the Women in Construction Club.
Stout said that it’s important to raise awareness for sexual assault at Cal Poly because Cal Poly women want to embark on their careers without fearing gender discrimination or violence.
“We have so many impressionable young women who want to pursue careers in whatever they choose and don’t want to live in fear of people taking advantage of them based on decisions that shouldn’t solicit any unwanted activity,” she said.
Greta said that to her, Denim Day is about the ability for women to express themselves without feeling undermined by society’s view on what women should and shouldn’t do. She plans to show her support for Denim Day by wearing denim and reminding her organization about these remembrance days and educating them on their significance.
“It’s really important to continue to educating everyone on what denim day is — not just educate women but educate men too,” Stout said. “Together we can change the way society views women — women in construction, women in general, women on campus — whatever it is.”
For resources about support and education please visit https://safer.calpoly.edu/ or https://www.riseslo.org/. Please note that these services are confidential. Cal Poly faculty and staff are mandated reporters and are not confidential resources.