Local organization hosts an event near City Hall in order to spread awareness about sexual violence.
By Cassandra Nava, Editor-in-Chief
A sea of denim coated the steps of the Robert F. Deaton Civic Auditorium in downtown Los Angeles on National Denim Day in an event hosted by a nonprofit organization called Peace Over Violence.
Police officers occupied City Hall’s South Lawn — where the rally was originally meant to take place — due to a man wielding a knife on the governmental property. The event found a new home directly across City Hall, in a shaded area just outside of the Los Angeles Police Department Headquarters. On the 23rd anniversary of National Denim Day, the first in-person rally in the last two years hosted over 100 people. Patricia “Patti” Giggans established Denim Day in Los Angeles, sparked by a notorious Italian court case in which a rapist was found not guilty after stating the victim acted out of consent in removing her jeans. To stand with victims of rape and garner attention to sexual abuse, victims and allies participate in the fashion statement on the last Wednesday of April — Sexual Assault Awareness Month.
“Now that we’re coming out of the pandemic, we realize that sexual violence is an epidemic,” said Giggans, donned in a sweater stating “Believe Survivors.” “Because of the pandemic, we are learning more and more what goes on behind closed doors. That’s why this is our theme this year: ‘There is still no excuse and never an invitation to rape.’”
Giggans, executive director and CEO of the nonprofit, joined Peace Over Violence in 1985 and spearheaded the Denim Day movement in 1999. This year, she celebrates not only the anniversary but also international recognition, as Zimbabwe became the latest country to join the movement.
Michelle Morales opened up about her past traumas as she shared how Peace Over Violence’s resources helped her. After being sexually assaulted by her mother’s boyfriend from ages five to 12, Morales felt silenced as she feared that outing the incident would cause legal repercussions to her undocumented mother. After giving birth to her daughter at 25, she took up Peace Over Violence’s therapy services and demanded justice — eventually sending her abuser to prison for a sentence of 180 years.
According to the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network, every 68 seconds a person is sexually assaulted in the United States. Nationally, one out of six women have been victims of attempted or completed rape.
Former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa spoke to community members, sharing his long history with the holiday. Villaraigosa was the first mayor to declare Denim Day in Los Angeles and will serve on the Peace Over Violence advisory board.
Peace Over Violence was recognized this year as well, as a spokesperson for Mayor Eric Garcetti awarded Giggins with this year's Denim Day recognition and a certificate celebrating 50 years since the inception of the nonprofit.
Local organizations attended the event, while speakers stepped up to the podium to honor the community’s fight for awareness. Patima Komolamit, Shelter Program Director at the Center for the Pacific Asian Family, spoke on the importance of equity within resources for victims of sexual abuse. Komolamit commented on how the pandemic heightened the silence of Asian-American people who have experienced sexual abuse, due to the rise of hate-crimes.
“There are deep roots of violence that are embedded not just in the seams of our clothing, but within the folds of our skin,” said Komolamit. “Today, I have hope for a full revitalization of our power and a reclamation of wearing whatever the hell we want without fear.”