SARN Sexual Assault Panel (original)

student_denim_0413Today is Denim Day. In 1997, a 45 year old driving instructor picked up an 18 year old girl for her first driving lesson. He allegedly raped the girl for an hour. The case was taken to trial, and the driving instructor was convicted. However, the Italian Supreme Court overturned the conviction because the girl was wearing tight jeans. The justification was that: “because the victim wore very, very tight jeans, she had to help him remove them…and by removing the jeans…it was no longer rape but consensual sex”.

The day after the overturning of the conviction, the women in the Italian Parliament protested, wore jeans, and held posters that said “Jeans: An Alibi for Rape.” After that event, Denim day was born.

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Wearing jeans on Denim day became a symbol for protest against erroneous and destructive attitudes about sexual assault.

On Denim Day, SARN, Sexual Assault Resource Network, had a panel of six current St. Olaf students who told their stories of sexual assault.

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Before each speaker spoke, the host spoke about the myths associated with sexual assault and the facts. The myths entailed: The perpetrator is always a stranger, the perpetrator is mentally-ill/unstable, it was inevitable because the victim was intoxicated, the victim did not fight back thus it was not sexual assault, the perpetrator is never a significant other, and the list continues. Followed by the myth, the host spoke about the facts that accompanied the myths. The facts included, often perpetrators of sexual assault are not strangers, sexual assault frequently occurs in the victims home, sexual assault happens to individuals in relationships, and many other notions.

The survivors recounted their sexual assault experiences and some spoke of their recovery stories. In the panel of survivors, the earliest age of sexual assault happened at the age of 13. The most recent sexual assault experience took place in November of 2013. The perpetrators ranged from significant others, best friends, strangers, friends of siblings to St. Olaf classmates. Each story was complex and intimate.  In all of the stories, none of the victims spoke of attempting to convict their perpetrators. Rather, one survivor said that she would would not change her decision, of not convicting her perpetrator. The combination of the stories and injustices that these victims encounter had left me mixed with sorrow, condolences, and anger.

After the all of the survivors had spoken, the host asked for questions, and the room was silent. The host asked the audience to stand up if the individual has experienced sexual assault. A less than quarter of the room stood up. The host then asked if the individual has ever met or had a relationship with someone who has been sexually abused. I looked around the room and only a handful of people were not standing up. Then, the host thanked everyone for coming and then I paid careful attention to everyones face. Majority of the faces were filled with commiseration and eyes that darted ground.

Silence was the song of the night. The stories evoked something in the audience. Sexual assault is a problem that occurs everyday, in our community, and to people we know. I hope that the discussion of sexual assault does not stop at the panel. So how about we continue here?