180 denim day 2014Young women from several area high schools have teamed up with 180 Turning Lives Around, Inc. to use paint and a fashion runway to broaden awareness for a serious subject. Internationally observed “Denim Day” has prompted them to showcase their concern about the effects of sexual assault on young people.

“We don't have to remain passive bystanders,” says Aisha Bhoori, a senior at Middletown High School South who participated in 180’s first Denim Day event last year and is serving as a team leader for her school this year. “We all have the capacity to serve as active participants in the struggle to galvanize change, and to give a voice to those we feel are silenced by a society that is largely ignorant of the true facts regarding the causes of rape.”

Student volunteers registered with 180 to attend an educational session

provided by the organization’s Sexual Violence Prevention team. They learned about healthy dating relationships, current issues concerning sexual violence, and ways to stay safe, including bystander intervention tips. They learned about the origins of Denim Day, when the wearing of jeans became an international symbol for the rights of all sexual assault victims in 1998, after an Italian Supreme Court decision overturned a rape conviction. 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, and wearing jeans became a symbol of protest against erroneous and destructive attitudes about sexual assault.

“At the information session I was shocked to learn the frequency of sexual assaults on teenage girls in the United States. I learned about the meaning of full and informed consent,” Maggie Powell reported. She is a junior at Colts Neck High School and is also serving as her school’s team leader. “I am taking part in Denim Day because I want to help raise awareness among my friends and classmates about sexual violence.”

These young women are now committed to educating their peers and the public by including their schools in events slated for April, which is Sexual Assault Awareness Month. In addition, they are making posters and getting creative by painting empowering and cautionary messages on their blue jeans and will proudly wear them at a fashion runway event at the Monmouth Mall on Saturday, March 29th. The event has been generously sponsored by Mathnasium of Middletown and Ocean, and will feature live music, dance, art and information on sexual assault as well as a display of the student’s work on the runway.

Join us on Saturday, March 29th from 1 pm to 4 pm just outside the entrance of Lord and Taylor. To read more about 180’s Denim Day project go to http://180nj.org/denim-day/.

180 Executive Director Anna Diaz-White speaks with pride regarding these student leaders,” This is a tough subject,” she says,” but a crucial one for young people to be aware of. 44% of sexual assault victims are under the age of 18. Our Denim Day student volunteers deserve a lot of credit for not only educating themselves, but getting the word out to their peers and the public. We are looking forward to their courageous and creative event at the mall!”

Here in Monmouth County, 180 Turning Lives Around, a private, nonprofit organization dedicated to ending domestic and sexual violence, provides 24-hour hotlines, emergency housing, family court assistance and trained advocates who accompany survivors at police stations, hospitals and family court.

Businesses, organizations and individuals who wish to support Denim Day and the sexual violence programs for victims at 180 can also log on to http://180nj.org/denim-day/.