[TRIGGER WARNING: This post discusses sexual assault]

Did you know that April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month? This campaign is an annual way to raise public awareness about sexual assault and how to prevent sexual violence. Are you looking for a way to get involved? Maybe the answer is in your closet!

This Wednesday, April 29th, is the 21st annual Denim Day, which is a symbol of protest against misconceptions about sexual violence. The campaign began as a response to an Italian Supreme Court case. In 1992, Italian courts sentenced an attacker to jail for rape. The accused appealed the conviction, and the case was overturned by the Italian Supreme Court, which ruled in favor of his release.

According to its statement, the Italian Supreme Court determined that the survivor was wearing tight jeans that the attacker would not have been able to remove without help from her, which thereby implied consent. Following the ruling, women in the Italian Parliament wore jeans to stand in solidarity with the survivor. This act inspired Denim Day, on which wearing jeans becomes a visible means of protest and a call to action against erroneous attitudes toward sexual violence.

Committed to the cause

Our Two Chairs team is committing to wearing jeans or denim to show our support for survivors and be a part of this educational movement to raise awareness around violence issues.

Part of our mission at Two Chairs is lessening systematic issues with access to mental health care, one of which is stigma. We want to make our spaces feel safe for survivors to receive the care they need, and part of that is standing against destructive myths and misconceptions that often stigmatize victims of sexual violence. We recognize that trauma can have significant impacts on mental health and social stigma should not stand in the way of receiving care.

Raising awareness about sexual violence matters

According to the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network, someone is sexually assaulted in America every 2 minutes. Nearly 1 in 6 women and 1 in 33 men in the United States have experienced attempted or completed rape in their lifetime. The Denim Day campaign urges all individuals to challenge our thinking in relationship to sexual violence and inspire awareness toward destructive attitudes and myths that perpetuate sexual violence in our culture. Wearing jeans is a message to survivors that we stand with them in protest of the cycle of silence so as to challenge and transform rape culture. One survivor described, “Denim Day echoes the strength and courage of survivors and provides a brave space to uplift their voices and engage everyone in bringing awareness to sexual violence.”

Trauma has a significant impact on mental health

For people who experience trauma like sexual violence, the mental and psychological impact can often outlast the physical impact. Experiencing sexual violence can lead to various psychological outcomes, like post-traumatic stress disorder, depression and/or suicidal thoughts or actions, anxiety disorders, sleep disturbance, social withdrawal or isolation, feelings of shame or guilt, eating disorders, flashbacks or nightmares, and avoidance of certain places or situations related to the incident. Some people could even develop a substance use disorder as a means to escape or cope with the resulting overwhelming emotions. Seeking professional mental health treatment can be helpful in addressing these adverse outcomes.

What does recovery look like for victims of sexual violence?

As a clinician who has worked with various populations from college students to combat veterans, I have learned that sexual violence is not discriminatory. It can happen to anyone, across genders, ages, ethnicities, etc.

As stated above, while surviving sexual violence can result in similar symptoms to surviving other traumatic experiences, I have noticed that sexual trauma can come with the extra territory of being scrutinized through socially prejudiced, victim-blaming attitudes that serve to fault and isolate survivors. Where I may see social support when a person experiences combat trauma, a car accident, or a natural disaster, survivors of sexual violence may instead experience self-blame, abandonment, and shame. For example, I have had a client share that even after reporting to their mother about their older neighbor sexually assaulting them as a child, the client’s mother responded with pity and empathy for the assailant. I have had another client whose parents still do not believe they were ever assaulted by a family member, even 30 years later. Often, these prejudices can lead individuals to feel powerless or withdrawn.

Recovering from sexual violence can take time. Having a nonjudgmental, safe space to process what has happened can help in healing the psychological impact on individuals. In the room, a therapist would work with the client on learning self-soothing techniques and increasing awareness of inner strengths that would help serve as coping mechanisms. Counseling can assist with processing the painful memories related to the trauma as well as challenging the beliefs that have come about from them, so as to build awareness of the trauma impact on individuals’ lives and how they view others or the world around them. Working with a trauma-informed therapist can help individuals reconnect to the aspects of life they may avoid after sexual violence in order to regain quality of life and a sense of self-reliance. Ultimately, the goal would be to empower individuals and lessen the sense of helplessness or isolation that can result from experiencing sexual violence.

That being said, the field of mental health has also taught me that part of addressing the personal clinical concerns of individuals often involves challenging the institutionalized injustices that are pervasive in our society. For me as a clinician, addressing the trauma impact of sexual violence does not stop at the interpersonal level I am engaging in within the counseling room with a client, but also on a socio-ecological level by partaking in campaigns like this one, that serve to bring awareness to and challenge rape culture.

Social justice work calls attention to how social and cultural factors do impact psychological health. Counseling at its core is about helping people change. Thus, how can I do that work without partaking in efforts that bring about the social change that inevitably permeates the therapy room?

Help us raise awareness on Denim Day

If you have been inspired by this information and are wondering how to get involved, we have some suggestions on how you can! You can visit this website to get resources for how to participate in Denim Day on April 29th. For example, you can rock some swag, whether it’s buttons, t-shirts, or stickers that show your support. You can also download or create posters or flyers with information on them and post them in visible locations to spread awareness.

You can also use your social media platforms to spread the word! Most importantly, you can wear denim and encourage others in your community to do so as well. The link listed also provides avenues to donate to support rape prevention education efforts as well as services for sexual violence survivors.

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If you or someone you know is seeking mental health care, you can reach out to our Care Coordination team at [email protected] or by phone at (415) 202-5159.

If you or someone you know is experiencing an emergency or crisis and needs immediate help, call 911 or go to the nearest emergency room. Additional resources can be found here.