April 28 is Denim Day, a worldwide campaign during which people are encouraged to wear denim to show support for sexual assault survivors. It is always the last Wednesday of April, which is Sexual Assault Awareness month.
Because of the sensitivity of the subject, the names of the survivors in this article have been changed. This article also contains references to sexual abuse and rape, and may not be appropriate for all readers.
Denim day started after the Italian Supreme Court overturned a rape conviction where a woman was told that, since she was wearing tight jeans during the time of her assault, she must have helped her rapist remove them, thus giving consent.
One local survivor, who we will call Victoria Brace, said women who have been sexually assaulted often receive responses that blame the victim.
“You were wearing a skirt, it's your fault, you shouldn't have done – you shouldn’t have gone with him there,” said Brace, citing a few examples she has heard.
According to the Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network (RAINN) one out of every six women and one out of every 33 men is a victim of attempted or completed rape.
RAINN found that 94% of women who are raped experience post-traumatic stress disorder following an assault, and experience these effects throughout their lives.
Another local survivor, who we will call Betty Carper, was assaulted in high school and experienced waves of depression and anxiety afterwards. She said she didn’t recognize how much her experience affected her until she got to college.
“I kind of ended up on a journey that I did not know I was signing up for. Much of my early adulthood experiences revolved around making sense of my high school past and making sense of incidents that happened,” said Carper.
However, she said these experiences also shaped who she is today.
“It's part of a long line of experiences that made me who I am. It's certainly one of the more significant ones. However, I do not let it define how I treat people, how I see my future being,” said Carper.
Brace was sexually assaulted multiple times during her high school years and said she still experiences panic attacks from the incidents to this day. She said it shaped how she grew to view sex and sexuality.
“Your sexual promiscuity is so much more," said Brace, "because in my head I justified it, saying, ‘If I don't say no, I can't get raped again.’ When that was my best-case scenario of dealing with it was, ‘Say yes to everything, so you can't be hurt again.’”
Brace now acts as a resource she wishes she had after she was assaulted.
RISE SLO is a San Luis Obispo County organization that helps survivors of sexual assault. Its mission is to “transform the lives of sexual and intimate partner violence survivors, their families and the community through services and education that promote safety, healing and empowerment,” according to its website.
RISE’s attention to partner violence is a part of sex education Carper said she wishes she recieved when she was growing up.
“Early high school we’re given, you know, the typical sex education birds and the bees talk, but it just it never — in my experience — it never touched on that," Carper said. "I did not know that it was possible to happen with a romantic partner.”
Christina Kaviani, the education and communications director at RISE, said education helps raise awareness about why sexual violence continues to occur.
Kaviani encourages people to take measures to protect themselves against strangers, but emphasizes that sexual assault from partners is what keeps the rates of rape and assault high.
“The tips that you give people, historically, are all assuming that you're going to be attacked by a stranger, but those aren't going to change long term,” Kaviani said. “Those are just all Bandaids that don't actually help us critically analyze why we keep having high numbers of rape and sexual assault.”
Brace and Carper say they are in the process of healing, and are helping others who have experienced similar situations. They speak at counseling sessions with other women and girls who have experienced sexual trauma and are open about their pasts, so other people feel comfortable coming to them if they need to talk.
Along with counseling sessions like the ones Brace and Carper are attending, Kaviani also recommends reaching out to a friend, participating in activities such as art or exercise, or finding alternative healing methods that work best for each individual as a way to aid in the recovery process.
“Help transform some of that pain, anger, shame into resilience,” Kaviani said. “I think that reporting to law enforcement, although it is one option, [there are] many other options that people can seek...and not put all their eggs in a basket of reporting.”
Two important things Brace wants survivors to remember are: to be kind to themselves and to know that their assault is not their fault.
“It's not anything you did wrong, because that took me a really long time to figure out," Brace said. "There's nothing I could have done that would have changed the outcome of the situation."
RISE offers a 24-hour crisis hotline and various other resources on their website, including information for therapy, emergency shelter, queer survivors, and temporary restraining orders. Visit their website to get help and to see their full list of events and resources for survivors and their loved ones.