June 17, 2019 | 78° F

Denim Day fashion show stylishly protests victim blaming

Photo by Nicka Giza |

 The Rutgers Programming Association (RUPA), Rutgers No More, Scream Theater and the Office for Violence Prevention and Victim Assistance (VPVA) all helped organize a denim-themed fashion show on Tuesday, and the event was as much inspiring as it was stylish.

But the models featured in the show weren’t voguing down the runway clad in denim on denim simply in the name of fashion. 

“The Denim Day campaign originally began because of a ruling by the Italian Supreme Court. A rape conviction was overturned because the justices felt that, since the victim was wearing tight jeans, she must have helped her rapist remove her jeans, thereby implying consent. The following day, the women in the Italian Parliament came to work wearing jeans in solidarity with the victim. The Denim Day campaign is a response to this case and the activism surrounding it. Since then, wearing jeans on Denim Day has become a symbol of protest against erroneous and destructive attitudes about sexual assault," said Imani Ali, a School of Arts and Sciences junior and volunteer crisis response advocate and marketing coordinator for the Special Events Board at VPVA.

To start off the fashion show, the models staged a re-enactment of the Italian Supreme Court ruling. As the voices of those once hurt echoed throughout the multipurpose room, it was clear that Rutgers students are done putting up with victim-blaming. Instead, many staff and students came out and showed the crowd that what someone chooses to wear does not warrant assault.

Maddy Zijdel, a peer education coordinator for the VPVA, came on stage with a powerful smile that reflected her outfit. 

“The outfit I wore was to represent the children who are survivors of sexual assault. I love Disney, so I tried to portray that passion in my outfit. Sexual assault can happen at any age, and it is time to end this,” Zijdel said. 

After walking on stage with her Mickey ears and light up shoes, Zijdel reminded the audience that no matter what age you are, no means no. 

Another inspirational advocate and supporter was Donald Moore, the assistant director of Fraternity and Sorority Affairs, who donned a denim jacket decorated with statement buttons to represent the organizations and individuals he cares about, such as the Multicultural Greek Council and veterans who are victims of PTSD and Military Sexual Trauma (MST). He also wore a Martin Luther King Jr. pin as April 4 marks the 50th anniversary of King's assassination. 

 "To add to the outfit, I wore my red shoes and red cap that says, ‘I met God and she’s Black’ and my shirt who lists alum who are people of color and graduates of Rutgers as well,” Moore said to the audience.

There were also a variety of advocators for sexual assault awareness at the fashion show, including those who want to speak up for LGBTQ rights. Lisa Smith, who is the coordinator for Domestic Violence Services for VPVA, is also a University liaison to the LGBTQ community and serves as an advisor to the Queer Student Alliance. Like the others, she said she hopes to help put an end to the stigma and violence that plagues these minority communities. 

Several performers added another element to the creative and passionate show. Fatima B. Hanne, a School of Arts and Sciences junior, read an original poem called “Catching Fireflies.” Her voice, literally and figuratively, spoke volumes, as she advocated for those who do not always have a voice in this world. She revealed that she too had been affected by sexual assault and encouraged other victims to let themselves shine when they’re feeling insecure or afraid. Many of the performers reminded the audience that their body is their property, and no one should have access to it without consent. 

The Rutgers community, staff and students that participated in the show encouraged everyone to speak up for those who are afraid to use their voice, and the show helped raised awareness and provided accessible resources, helping establish Rutgers as a safe space for victims. No matter what you wear, whether it be jeans, a skirt or a tank top, consent has nothing to do with what you wear, and it is time to continue the conversation. 

Elizabeth Leoce

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