49th Wing wears denim to raise sexual assault awareness

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Michelle Ferrari
  • 49th Wing Public Affairs

Airmen assigned to the 49th Wing wore denim attire to work on April 26 in support of Denim Day.

Denim jeans have become a symbol of support for victims of sexual assault.

Denim Day is an annual event that takes place on the last Wednesday of April to raise awareness about sexual violence, challenge victim-blaming and support survivors.

As the longest-running sexual violence prevention and education campaign in history, Denim Day asks community members, elected officials, businesses and students to make a social statement with their clothing by wearing denim on this day as a visible means of protest against the misconceptions that surround sexual violence.

“It’s important for the military to acknowledge denim day,” said U.S. Air Force Capt. Anne Von Seggern, 49th Wing Sexual Assault Prevention and Response advocate. “The discussion on consent and what that truly means is always going to be important.”

The Denim Day story began as an international movement originating in Italy in 1992 and was organized as a response to the Italian supreme court’s decision to overturn a rape conviction. An 18-year-old girl was raped by a 45-year-old driving instructor who was taking her to her very first driving lesson. He took her to an isolated road, pulled her out of the car, removed her jeans and forcefully raped her. She reported the rape and the perpetrator was convicted and sentenced to jail. Years later, he appealed the conviction claiming that they had consensual sex. The Italian supreme court overturned the conviction and the perpetrator was released. A statement from the Court argued that because the victim was wearing very tight jeans, she had to help him remove them, and by removing the jeans it was not rape but consensual sex. This became known throughout Italy as the “jeans alibi.”

This court’s decision sparked protests and created an international uproar. As a symbolic gesture, protestors wore jeans in front of the steps of courts, including the Italian Supreme Court, to show solidarity with the victim.

Since then, what started as a local campaign to bring awareness to victim-blaming and destructive myths that surround sexual violence grew into a movement. The conversation is still valid today as sexual assault is still prevalent in our society.

“It’s important for us to rally towards a better military where we can trust our brothers and sisters we serve with and that consent is a natural topic of conversation in healthy relationships,” said Seggern. “Denim day to me is a great opportunity to strike up a conversation with someone about why we wear jeans and why this is still relevant to us as a military and as a society.”

Members of Holloman Air Force Base acknowledged this observance and help raise awareness by allowing servicemembers and civilians to wear denim.

“Sexual assault is a serious issue that affects people of all genders, ages, races, and backgrounds.” said U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. James Potter, 49th Wing SAPR victims advocate. “We have to take care of one another and advocate to treat each other with respect, dignity, and kindness.”

Wearing denim helps open up heart-felt conversations and aids in fighting rape culture, dispelling the harmful stereotypes and myths that perpetuate it.

Rape is a universal and complex problem that requires a multifaceted response, including education, prevention, support for survivors, and holding perpetrators accountable.

Sexual assault is a crime, a violation of our Air Force core values and the Uniform Code of Military Justice . A great deal of harm is done, often unintentionally, to survivors because the people around them believe the myths that surround rape. Rape is never the fault of the survivor, but rather the fault of the rapist. Educating yourself allows you to provide informed, compassionate support.

“I would not be able to do this kind of work if it weren’t for my fellow volunteers,” said Seggern. “If I were to give any advice to the people coming in to work at Holloman Air Force Base is to trust your fellow advocates that have volunteered their time and their energy and their hearts to do this hard work. The potential for everyone on this base to come into this office exists and that can be overwhelming, but the key thing with being able to charge through is knowing that you’re not alone in this realm.”

Denim Day is just one part of a larger effort to address sexual violence and support survivors. How you respond to a victim/survivor can positively impact their healing process.

“Human connection is so invaluable that we need to hold on to that,” said Seggern. “As our mission changes, as our work starts to change from a military perspective, we can’t forget that we’re humans with hearts.”

The Holloman Air Force Base SAPR office provides 24/7 sexual assault response capability to Holloman members. It serves as the single point of contact for integrating and coordinating sexual assault victim and survivor care.

Holloman 24/7 SAPR Response Helpline: (575) 572-1444.

The Department of Defenses’ Safe Helpline, 877-995-5247, or www.safehelpline.org, is a 24/7 anonymous, confidential hotline, with one-on-one peer support, information and resources for members of the DoD and their loved ones affected by sexual assault.