In the 1950s, teenagers who identified with film actor James Dean wore denim jeans as a symbol of their rebelliousness and individuality.
But if workers at more than 45 Columbus area businesses break their normal dress codes Wednesday to wear blue jeans, consider them rebels with a cause during the second annual Denim Day campaign.
Their cause is to raise awareness of rape and sexual assault.
The goal is to persuade local residents to spend at least a few minutes discussing the controversial topic with family, friends or co-workers, according to Domestic Violence Action Team coordinator Marla Morse.
“This subject is not easily discussed,” admitted Kelly Benjamin, action team chairman. “But hopefully, we’ll persuade folks to talk a few minutes and listen to the myths and the facts.”
The numbers don’t always tell the whole story, Benjamin said.
During the past four years, there has been an average of one rape investigation a month conducted by the Columbus Police Department, according to the department’s annual reports.
Statistics from the same period provided by the Bartholomew County Sheriff’s Department indicate a sexual assault investigation is launched about once every other month.
But since the U.S. Department of Justice estimates that 68 percent of rapes are never reported, Benjamin said she feels these figures understate the number of cases.
When the federal estimate is factored in, there is likely a rape occurring in Bartholomew County an average of once every 12 days.
On the state level, Indiana leads the nation when it comes to sexual assaults against teens, Morse said. She cites a recent study showing that 17.3 percent of Indiana high school girls had been raped, compared to the national average of 10.5 percent.
And what about the national level?
“The reality is that there are over 500 rapes a day in the United States,” Benjamin said. “That’s one every two minutes.”
A listing of all Columbus-area businesses officially participating in the Denim Day observance is scheduled to appear in Wednesday’s Republic.
The observance of Denim Day stems from the April 22, 1992 overturning of a conviction of a driving instructor convicted of raping an 18-year-old student in Rome.
After the Italian Supreme Court concluded the victim’s jeans were so tight that she had to help take them off, the justices ruled the sex between them was consensual.
The judicial decision was met with international outrage. The day after the decision, the women in the Italian Parliament came to work wearing jeans in solidarity with the victim.
The following month, legislators, activists, and ordinary women and men from Italy, Europe, and the United States inaugurated the “International Jeans for Justice Day” to symbolize the global protest as well as their continuing endeavor to combat sexual violence.