By: Candice Perry
Since 1999, April 29 has been designated as Wear Denim Day, a day when people around the world wear denim in solidarity with survivors of sexual assault. The movement caps off Sexual Assault Awareness Month, and is the second sartorial statement in protest of sexualized violence, the first being Wear Teal Day on April 7 each year.
Wear Denim Day began when female Italian parliamentarians went on a “denim strike” in response to an Italian Supreme Court decision to overturn a rape conviction, in part based on the reasoning that the victim must have consented because the tight jeans she wore at the time of the attack could not have been removed “if she was fighting with all her force”.
Another factor in the decision was that the victim, an eighteen year old student at a driving school, attended a driving theory class after the attack. The student reported the rape in 1992, after the driving instructor sexually assaulted her during a driving lesson. The Supreme Court decision demonstrated how persistent myths about sexual assault are within a culture because it came about three years after Italy had modernized its sexual assault laws.  Similar scenarios have been played out over the ensuing decades around the world, including in Canada.
The myth that a “true victim” will ”fight with all her force” or “raise a hue and cry”  is common. In fact, neuroscientists have shown that commonly misunderstood reactions to sexual assault such as continuing a relationship with the perpetrator or freezing can be an automatic reaction. The commonly known “fight or flight response” is actually preceded by a “freeze response”, allowing the human being to devote all the senses to assess the danger of the perceived threat. Also, in crisis, the human brain relies on habits to stay safe, so it should be no surprise that women, who in our culture are socialized to appease others and help them save face, might react to sexual aggression by appeasing the attacker or maintain a friendly relationship with him afterwards.
While the Italian “jeans defence” was met with vocal public backlash at the time, pervasive sexual assault myths continue to have harmful effects on survivors, the administration of justice, and society. When the people to whom survivors turn for support believe these myths, survivors feel re–victimized and alone. This complicates their recovery and may cause them to be reluctant to report sexual violence to the authorities. When investigators and judges believe these myths, perpetrators are never sanctioned and are allowed to victimize even more people. And when these myths are believed, pervasive stereotypes about women are allowed to result in bias and discrimination, thus enabling sexism to continue.
April 29 is Wear Denim day and April is Sexual Assault awareness Month, but we are all challenged to stand in solidarity with survivors by recognizing and refuting myths about sexual assault whenever and wherever they come up.
 Stanley, Allesandra. New York Times, February 16, 1999
 Craig, Elaine. The Ethical Obligtions of Defense Counsel n Sexual Assault Cases, Osgoode Hall law Journal, Volume 51, Issue 2 (Winter 2014).
 Haskell, Lori, and Melanie Randall, The Impact of Trauma on Adult Sexual Assault Victims, 2019