LIHU‘E — There were a lot more supporters of the Denim Day event than those who were in attendance at the Mo‘ikeha Building Lihu‘e Civic Center Wednesday when Mayor Derek Kawakami and Gov. David Ige’s Kaua‘i liaison Carrice Gardner publicly read proclamations on Denim Day.
“This is a collective effort,” said Prosecuting Attorney Justin Kollar. “I came because Edie Ignacio Neumiller said I needed to be here. But there are many others, including elected officials, state and county employees, businesses, survivors, groups and students who help and support the cause, and believe the survivors.”
Others like employees of the county Department of Water wore their denim to work, but stayed at their workplace because of the COVID-19 limitations on group size and social distancing.
“Today we join millions of people across the world in wearing jeans with a purpose — supporting survivors and educating ourselves and others about all forms of sexual violence,” Ige stated in his proclamation delivered by Gardner.
“For the past 22 years, Peace Over Violence has organized the annual Denim Day campaign in response to a ruling by the Italian Supreme Court that found a victim’s fashion choice implied consent. In solidarity, the YWCA of Kaua‘i and the Zonta Club of Kaua‘i, along with allies of sexual-assault survivors across the globe, continue to wear jeans as a visible reminder that we must still prioritize the needs of survivors, and that there is never an excuse to harass, abuse, assault or rape. Harmful attitudes are still pervasive in society, and we have much work to do in countering these damaging beliefs and misconceptions about sexual harassment and consent.”
Among the audience listening to the words, the YWCA of Kaua‘i had Stefani Iwami, the YWCA clinical director of sexual assault services, and Amber Barbieri, the YWCA crisis intervention manager, attending the readings.
“The YWCA staff will be wearing denim to honor the day,” said Renae Hamilton-Cambeilh, YWCA executive director. “We at the YWCA are happy to stand with the Zonta Club on Denim Day to spread the message that what a woman is wearing or not wearing has no relevance to sexual violence. By continuing to focus on the victims’ behaviors — what was she wearing? Was she drinking? Etc. — we shift the responsibility for sexual violence onto the victims instead of holding offenders accountable for their actions. For too long, incorrect cultural norms have led to victim-blaming, which enables sexual assault to continue in this country. To really move the needle toward ending sexual assault, victim-blaming and long-standing myths and misconceptions must end. We hope this event helps to bring awareness and long-lasting change.”
Lori Benkert, president of the Zonta Club of Kaua‘i, said the club’s membership selected to attend because of the group-size limitation were proud to wear denim.
“We stand here today to support women and men who have survived sexual assault, and support their continued healing,” Benkert said. “Denim Day grew out of a 1998 Italian Supreme Court decision that overturned a rape by a 45-year-old man who was the driving instructor of an 18-year-old girl because she wore tight jeans. The court ruled that the jeans were too tight to be taken off without help, so it was considered consensual sex.
“Enraged by the verdict, within a matter of hours people all over the world were outraged, and wearing jeans became an international symbol of protest against erroneous and destructive attitudes and myths surrounding sexual assault.”
Melody Lopez is a Zonta Club member, but voiced the opinion of Catholic Charities.
“There is no excuse in a woman being sexualized, harassed or assaulted because of her physical appearance, status or sexual identity,” Lopez said. “All women should be treated with dignity and respect. At Catholic Charities Hawai‘i, advocacy for social justice is part of our mission and core values. We believe that social justice calls us to be a community of hope that works to achieve the common good, promotes individual rights and responsibilities, and advocates on behalf of those with the greatest need. That includes the protection of those who may not have a voice, including all victims of sexual violence.”
Dennis Fujimoto, staff writer and photographer, can be reached at 245-0453 or firstname.lastname@example.org.