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'Denim Day' Uses Symbol of Jeans to Shed Light on Sexual Violence

The Green will host event at noon Thursday, April 28, to raise awareness of sexual violence in the county.

Rape is the most personal crime.

That, according to Denise Lang, executive director of the Morris County Sexual Assault Center.

Rape not only attacks the victim’s body, but their sexual identity, as well. “It violates a person in a very personal way,” Lang said. “It is a terrible crime.”

But, 30 percent of sexual violence victims do not report the crime, she said.

The reluctance to come forward is tied directly to the nature of the crime, Lang said. To that end, "Denim Day," an event aimed to to raise awareness about sexual violence, will be held at noon Thursday on the Green in Morristown. Supporters are asked to wear blue jeans to show their commitment to ending sexual violence.

Lang said four victims of sexual violence will tell their stories, including a former National Football League player. Alan Grant and Primitive Soul will perform during the event.

The pressure on the victim of sexual violence to remain silent is tremendous, Lang said. “Ninety percent of victims know their attacker,” she said.

In addition, the tendency of society to “blame the victim” is increasing, she said. If the suspect is a high school sports star or someone from the proverbial “good home,” the victim is strongly urged to remain quiet so the incident won’t affect that athlete’s ability to get a sports scholarship, or just to get into college, she said.

It was that attitude expressed in 1998 by the Italian Supreme Court that led to the founding of Denim Day, Lang told Morris County Freeholders last week.

The Italian court refused to overturn a rape conviction because the victim wore tight jeans. It was argued that she must have necessarily have had to help her attacker remove her jeans, thus making the act consensual, she said. As a result, the wearing of jeans has become an international symbol of protest against erroneous and destructive attitudes about sexual assault.

The mission of the Morris County Sexual Assault Center, which was founded 10 years ago, is to provide awareness about sexual violence. With partner Atlantic Health (the parent company of ), the center runs a free hotline (973-829-0587) where suspected sexual violence can be reported confidentially with an offer of help, she said. Lang said the number of calls to the hotline jumps sharply after Denim Day.

Michelle Roers, acting chief professional officer of the United Way of Northern New Jersey, Morris County, said her agency has been a partner on the Morris Alliance for the Prevention of Sexual Assault (MAPSA) for the past several years. MAPSA is the committee that is orchestrating Denim Day. United Way does not support the center financially, but through its efforts to promote a healthy community, Roers said.

That effort is closely tied to the agency’s Youth Empowerment Alliance, which focuses on supporting the county’s youth to build social and emotional intelligence along side the academic intelligence, she said.

United Way also supports the teen dating violence prevention program and , she said.

“Raising awareness of sexual assault and recognizing its prevalence is a first step towards ending this social problem,” Roers said. “We further must raise our children to be more socially and emotionally responsible–to be proactive in preventing violence, and as bystanders, speak out against interpersonal violence when it happens.”

According to the New Jersey Uniform Crime Report, the number of rapes reported per 100,000 population has varied. In 1960, the rate was 7.3 reported rapes per 100,000, or 442. That number more than doubled by 1971 when 1,058 rapes were reported, a rate of 14.3 per 100,000.

The largest number of rapes recorded in the Uniform Crime Reports was 2,600 in 1988, when the rate hit 33.7 per 100,000.

By 2009, the rate had dropped to 12 reported rapes per 100,000, or 1,041. In Morris County, the number of reported rapes rose from 33 in 2008 to 37 in 2009, according to records.

Lang said some disturbing new trends are emerging.

First, the number of people of both sexes who are reporting being the victim sexual violence before age 18 is increasing. The ratio was one out of five women, and one  out of seven men, she said.

The rise in the reports of sexual violence can be linked to the rise in bullying incidents and increased "sexting," the use of text messaging by teenage girls to send nude or semi-nude photos to others, she said.

There is also a rising number of reported cases of gang rape, she said, in which two or more suspects attack a victim.

“Five years ago that was unusual, but now it is more common,” she said.

For more information about the Denim Day event at noon on Thursday on the Green, call 973-971-4754.

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