Santa Monica Hosts the City's 3rd Annual Denim Day Event to Commemorate the Campaign's 20th Anniversary

The Commission of the Status of Women member Elena Christopoulos introduces City of Santa Monica staff members, in an effort to recognize their efforts to protect residents against acts of sexual violence.April 24, 2019, Santa Monica City Hall ( Jackie Sedley/The Corsair)

The Commission of the Status of Women member Elena Christopoulos introduces City of Santa Monica staff members, in an effort to recognize their efforts to protect residents against acts of sexual violence.April 24, 2019, Santa Monica City Hall ( Jackie Sedley/The Corsair)

On the evening of April 24, people flocked to Santa Monica City Hall decked in denim jackets, jeans and t-shirts. This crowd’s matching attire was no coincidence; all arrived to attend the city’s third annual Denim Day gathering. Santa Monica’s event was organized by the Commission on the Status of Women and included a multitude of speakers, performances and tabling by various sexual violence activist groups.

Started by Peace over Violence executive director Patti Occhiuzzo Giggans in 1999, Denim Day was initially developed in response to a court case in Rome, Italy. In 1992, an 18-year-old girl in Rome was raped by her 45-year-old driving instructor, and although he was initially sentenced to jail, the instructor appealed his sentence in 1999 and got his conviction overturned.

In an official statement, the Court claimed that because the victim was wearing tight jeans, she must have helped the instructor remove them, which is an act of consent and therefore does not constitute the event as rape. The women of the Italian Parliament were infuriated by this verdict, and conducted a protest while wearing jeans on the steps of the Court. Shortly thereafter, legislators in Sacramento conducted similar protests, which led Giggans to do the same and eventually spark a movement.

Patti Occhiuzzo Giggans, executive director of Peace over Violence, saw in this “travesty of justice”—as she calls it—an opportunity for protest and advocacy. Giggans organized the first official Denim Day in Los Angeles in April of 1999; 2019 marks the 20th anniversary of the campaign.

“Denim is almost a democratic wardrobe…I’d like us to think of our denim as our social justice fabric. We actually can say now that we have a warrior costume, and it’s made of denim,” says Giggans.

Santa Monica city officials used this gathering as an opportunity to vocalize their support for sexual violence prevention movements, as well as to educate attendees on the types of support that the city offers the community. Mayor Pro Tempore Terry O’Day vocalized his pledge and dedication to ending sexual violence not only in Santa Monica, but around the world, in an effort to better ourselves and future generations.

In addition to the mayor, Santa Monica City Attorney Lane Dilg spoke about the need for communities to come together to combat large scale issues like sexual violence. Dilg went on to explain that the City Attorney’s Office offers victim resources and enacts prosecution cases involving domestic violence, sexual groping and other misdemeanor cases.

“If anyone you know experiences anything awful in their lives…they deserve our support,” said Dilg. They deserve our institutions to be institutions where they can come and feel safe and have a safe space, and that’s something that we in the city of Santa Monica are committed to.”

For John Erikson, president of the Hollywood Chapter for the National, making progressive moves toward sexual assault prevention requires the inclusion of people from all walks of life, as well as changing the cultural conventions of masculinity.

“It is critical that we make sure men are involved in this conversation, because we need to learn and promote healthy masculinity in every walk of life. We need to change the culture and it starts with changing toxic masculinity,” said Erikson.

When considering the political climate of today that fosters movements such as #MeToo, Giggans believes that Denim Day really helped ignite support for survivors and education within public institutions that has allowed the development of other movements. In her eyes, Denim Day should act as a reminder to stay educated and to support survivors, not solely on April 24th but year-round.

“For us to continue to look at the ways that we can challenge rape culture and dismantle rape culture, that is going to make our world a so much healthier and safer place for everyone,” said Giggans.