Call to end sexual violence on Denim Day

NYC Council Member Laurie Cumbo and Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer have called for an end to sexual violence during a rally at City Hall on Wednesday, April 29.

In full support, other elected officials, and survivors, advocates and supportive men packed City Hall steps, rallying in commemoration of Sexual Assault Awareness Month and Denim Day. The rally cry: Yes means yes, no means no!

“One in three Americans is a victim of sexual violence, particularly on campus,” said BP Gale Brewer.

“There is no excuse for sexual violence. Tight jeans are never an invitation to rape.” Brewer was referring to the Italian Supreme Court ruling in 1998 that reversed a rape conviction on the grounds that the victim complied because her jeans were so tight — the court’s conclusion that she must have helped her attacker, thus making the act consensual.

That ruling sparked protest by Italian and international women leading to observance of Denim Day in April, recognized by at least 20 U.S. states. Wearing jeans on this day has become an international symbol of protest against destructive attitudes about sexual assault. (The Italian ruling was later reversed).

New Yorkers have been acknowledging this day since 2010, launched by then Council Member Julissa Ferreras. “This is a national and global movement,” said Cumbo who reported 13,000 sexual assaults last year in her district. The council member spoke to those who are vulnerable, “We will be here until we have safe streets.”

It was emphasized that sexual violence remains prevalent in communities — particularly college campuses and universities across New York State — promoting the need for continued awareness; tougher laws; and additional support for survivors.

Assistant to the chief, Inspector Keane of the Special Victims Divison, explained that the division has a staff of 200 detectives working in the five boroughs. “A real concern is the under reporting of sexual violence crimes on college campus,” he said. He declined to talk of a well-publicized case at Columbia University, where a victim frequently sees her attacker on campus, stating, “It’s under investigation.”

At the rally, three social workers that are placed in New York City high schools held the banner of their organization — Center Against Domestic Violence.

Phung Ngu Yen sees 40-50 students a week at Lincoln High School in Brooklyn. She counsels both boys and girls with all kinds of issues: history of family domestic violence, abusive relationships, history of trauma, physical or sexual abuse, and bereavement.

Certified Social Worker Andrea Lee-Fisher works in the High School for Violin & Dance in a “rough neighborhood” in the South Bronx. It is mostly girls that are counseled by her with issues of rape, incest, fighting and gang activity. One female student was doing very poorly. “She goes to a group session and individual counseling,” said Lee-Fisher. “She’s also a peer leader and goes with me (to other schools) for presentations. Her grades have improved (considerably).”

NYPD Commissioner William Bratton also spoke at the rally. He emphasized how the NYPD is working to address issues of sexual violence. “By raising awareness of sexual violence, the Denim Day coalition helps NYPD keep people safe,” he said.

Eleven citywide organizations helped organized the rally, but there were dozens more, organizations, institutions, and service agencies, represented.