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Middletown South High School students create awareness of sexual assault victims rights
HAZLET, NJ – “I would imagine that the day I take my driving road test is going to be pretty nerve-wracking,” says Tara Smyth, a junior at Middletown High School South, slated to get her driver’s license in May. “I would like to think I’m going to end up elated that I passed! I can’t imagine that day being a tragic memory.”
ara is one of several young women who gathered in the offices of 180 Turning Lives Around Inc., recently to learn more about Denim Day, observed worldwide during April, which is Sexual Assault Awareness Month. The tragic memory Tara is referring to happened in Italy in 1998. The case involved a young woman who was attacked by her driving instructor. The victim wore tight-fitting jeans and the judge ruled that the victim must have consented to sex because she was forced to help her attacker remove her jeans. People all over the world were outraged. Wearing jeans became an international symbol of protest against erroneous and destructive attitudes about sexual assault. The Italian Supreme Court decision overturned the rape conviction, and wearing denim in the month of April is now an international symbol for the rights of all sexual assault victims.
One group already committed to wearing denim is a group of concerned students at Middletown High School South. On a recent Sunday evening, these eight women were educated on sexual assault prevention, bystander intervention and most importantly, the services that 180 Turning Lives Around provides to Monmouth County residents who become victims of sexual assault. Following the informational session, the girls hand painted pairs of jeans with creative messages about Sexual Assault Awareness Month. Some of the ideas they got across included “My body is the only thing on this earth that is 100% mine. Why would you destroy that?,” “There is No Excuse,” “Stand Up and Speak Up,” and even a Seuss-like poem “Pants loose or tight, skinny or fat, my body’s my body and that is that.” The girls plan to wear these jeans to school on Denim Day – Friday, April 26 – not only to make a statement, but to help educate their peers and teachers.
“We described the workshops and programs that 180 offers to our school administrators and said that we wanted to help,” said Gabrielle Reimann, a senior at Middletown South. “These are services and information that any one of us might use or need. It’s important to spread awareness.” Gabrielle thinks about going away to college next year. “Many girls my age will be far away from friends or family for the first time, which is scary enough without thinking about how some of these things could happen. The information we learned from 180 will help.”
Some of the information the girls were given comes from the Sexual Assault Prevention Program at 180, which can be tailored for any audience and has been presented to numerous schools and organizations in the area. They also learned how the professionals at 180 Turning Lives Around Inc. become involved after an assault does happen.
180 seeks support for these programs through their own Denim Day effort aimed at Monmouth County businesses and organizations, where employees and members make dress down day count by paying $5 to wear blue jeans to work. Proceeds are used to support 180’s Sexual Assault Prevention Programs.
“Denim Day is an outward example of how a community can help change people's perceptions about violence against women, men and children,” said Anna Diaz-White, 180’s Executive Director. ”We are so proud of these young women for taking the initiative to stand in support of survivors and encourage others to do so as well.”
180’s 24-hour Sexual Violence Hotline number is 1-888-264-RAPE.