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25 years of Denim Day

The history of Denim Day, the international court case that inspired it and how Chico honors it.
A graphic featuring the jeans of college aged students. Designed by Nadia Hill on April 23. Photos by Nia Hill on Oct. 23, 2022 and Sep. 1, 2023.

This April marks the 23rd anniversary of Sexual Assault Awareness Month and the 25th anniversary of Denim Day. 

The National Sexual Violence Resource Center, along with numerous other organizations, worked together in 2001 to officially recognize April as SAAM to bring awareness to the frequency of sexual violence in society and what communities can do to prevent it.

Denim Day has been on a Wednesday in April since 1999. First observed in America by Peace Over Violence, the holiday calls for the public to wear denim in honor of sexual assault victims and to further spread awareness about the issue.

This year, for Denim Day, WellCat Safe Place, in collaboration with the Gender and Sexuality Equity Coalition, will host a Denim Day Resource Fair and a Denim Day Museum on Wednesday, April 24.  

Safe Place has been on campus since 2011 and is a resource for students regarding issues related to sexual assault, domestic violence and navigating healthy relationships.

Katie Callahan, a senior and the student lead for Safe Space explains that in California, college campuses are required to have a student advocacy service like Safe Place to help students. 

“Basically, there needs to be an advocate with privilege on every college campus that can be the first point of contact for someone who has been affected by sexual assault or intimate partner violence to go to and talk to,” she said. “So it’s basically, someone who is trained and can help with the next steps, and we are not required to report to the police or Title IX.” 

The Resource Fair will be on the Colusa Lawn from noon to 2 p.m., while the museum will be in Selvester’s Cafe.  

The Resource Fair will feature a wide range of resources, such as the Basic Needs and Gender and Sexuality Equity Coalition. The museum will showcase the same exhibit from the last Denim Day that was shown in the Valene L. Smith Museum of Anthropology.

Denim Day didn’t start in America, but from a incident in Italy, where in 1992, a driving instructor raped a young woman.

In Italy at the time, laws about rape were written in 1936 by notorious dictator Benito Mussolini and rape wasn’t considered a violent crime but a crime of public morality and decency. This was revised in February 1996 after six decades.

After the driving instructor was accused and arrested, he appealed the verdict in 1999. The court overturned the ruling because the victim was wearing tight jeans.

The case went up to the Supreme Court of Appeals in Rome, which concluded that jeans are impossble enough to take off without the wearer’s help. The court concluded that if the victim were fighting off her attacker, it would be impossible for the attacker to take off the jeans, thus making it consensual sex.

While it wasn’t the only factor in the appeal, the court cited it as one reason — this outraged female Italian politicians. 

One member of the Parliament, Alessandra Mussolini—Mussolini’s granddaughter—took this outrage to the Parliament’s steps, along with other politicians who were women, all wearing jeans. 

In a New York Times article published in 1999 where Alessandra Mussolini explained her belief that the verdict was extremely outdated and void of empathy of the psychological trauma victims endure. 

The shock and anger over the case reached overseas to Los Angeles. 

Peace Over Violence executive director Patti Occhiuzzo Giggans helped organize the first Denim Day. On this day, people were to wear jeans to protest against myths over why women get raped, like wardrobe or behavior. Giggans is still active each year with the events. 

Since then, Denim Day has gone international, including in Italy.

Nadia Hill can be reached at [email protected].

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About the Contributor
Nadia Hill
Nadia Hill, Arts and Entertainment and Food Editor
Nadia Hill is originally from Carson City, Nevada, and is in the middle of her sophomore year. Currently, she is double-majoring in journalism (public relations) and studio arts. She is one of two social media managers on The Orion. Both writing and social justice have captivated her with the field of journalism and is excited to continue with her second semester on The Orion. In her personal time, she enjoys painting, performing and working with children.

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