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Blog Post

Message from Director Carbon: April 2011 (2 of 2)

Today, April 29th, the Office on Violence Against Women (OVW) commemorated Sexual Assault Awareness Month program by participating in “Denim Day.” This rape prevention education campaign originated in response to a 1992 Italian Supreme Court’s reversal of a rape conviction in which the Chief Judge asserted 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.” Outraged by the decision, women in the Italian Parliament wore jeans to work as a way of protesting the verdict. Today, a growing number of communities across the United States wear jeans on Denim Day as a visible statement of the persistent misconceptions about sexual assault. Planned and coordinated by OVW staff, the program included a presentation of the findings from 114 completed interviews conducted by George Mason University (GMU) students, followed by remarks from a disability rights advocate who told her personal story of survival, and ended with a short presentation by the National Sexual Violence Resource Center. Over the past semester, nearly 30 GMU senior class social work students interviewed representatives from law enforcement, the military, formerly incarcerated persons, the immigrant and deaf communities and older adults. The GMU seniors presented their methodology, categories of questions and findings to an audience of 150 people, including Department of Justice staff, advocacy organizations, representatives from the Departments of Education, Health and Human Services, and Defense, and the Bureau of Prisons. The students’ findings shed light on the understanding of and attitudes about bystander intervention, the definition of rape and sexual assault, the profile of a rapist, victim characteristics, the relationship between perpetrator and victim and causes of sexual assault. Also included were the role of media in forming perceptions of sexual assault and the need for training and culturally relevant services. The students discussed reasons why victims do not report the crimes to officials and pointed out the need to provide more information and services to victims. Heidi Case, currently the co-chair of the National Organization for Women’s Disability Task Force, spoke poignantly about how her early victimization experience led her to work as an advocate and activist for people with disabilities. She emphasized the importance of believing survivors when they disclose noting that in her own case, being heard and believed was perhaps the single-most important factor in her own recovery. The program concluded with a presentation by Sally Laskey of the National Sexual Violence Resource Center, and included the showing of a new public service announcement currently running at Times Square in New York City. The messages from the speakers who joined us highlighted the stark reality surrounding sexual assault: · It knows no age, gender, geographic location, race, ethnicity, or sexual orientation; and · Every community is affected. Friday’s events concluded a month long series of events held across the nation. OVW traveled to nine states to engage with a broad range of communities, including members of the military, universities, high school students and law school students, and rural and urban settings. We were encouraged by the level of commitment that exists to confront the issue of sexual assault . We at OVW are paying closer attention to this crime and support a national dialogue about it, not only in April, but throughout the year. Across the country and within our own office we recognize that talking about sexual assault is a critical step in educating ourselves about a complex crime that affects millions, supporting victims in meaningful ways, and preventing the crime in the first place. We are grateful to the leadership of the Department of Justice, Department of Education, the Department of Health and Human Services, the Vice President and President who have added their voices to the national dialogue on sexual assault and in so doing have elevated the urgency of the issue. We will build on the momentum created during this Sexual Assault Awareness Month and commit to work diligently to support sexual assault victims, their families and our communities. Susan B. Carbon Director
Updated April 27, 2017