By Nicole Dial
City News Reporter

“No!” echoed off the walls of Santa Cruz City Hall last Wednesday as Santa Cruz residents raised their voices against rape and sexual assault for the annual Denim Day demonstration.

The international protest is a chance to raise awareness and counteract myths about sexual assault.

In 1999, the Italian Supreme Court overturned a previous ruling, acquitting a man charged with rape. The court decided that because the victim was wearing tight jeans, she must have helped the man get them off and therefore the sex was consensual.

There was a huge outcry in Italy and worldwide, and Denim Day began as an immediate protest to put an end to misconceptions about sexual assault and to show solidarity for rape victims.

For Bonita Mugnani, executive director of the Survivors Healing Center, this was an opportunity to take a stand and speak out against the issue of sexual assault in Santa Cruz.

“The critical need for change is huge,” she said. “The more we speak out and make ourselves heard, there is the possibility for change.”

Santa Cruz has the fourth-highest rate of forcible rape in California, according to the U.S. Department of Justice.

Attendants of the demonstration were confronted with a haunting art exhibit scattered around the City Hall courtyard. Pictures of sexual assault victims from young to old seemed to follow the attendants with their gazes and their traumatic accounts of their encounters of sexual assault.

Kristie Clemens, director of domestic violence services for the Walnut Avenue Women’s Center, said that art can be just as loud as words when it comes to expressing feelings and thoughts about rape and abuse.

“Art can be a wonderful medium for healing,” Clemens said. “It shows the community what [the victims] have to say.”

Also lining the walkway in the City Hall courtyard were small violet paper flags with a big message of community voices speaking out against sexual assault. Posters and stuffed jeans with information counteracting general misconceptions about sexual assault also greeted attendants.

Speakers addressed the crowd in front of a backdrop of jeans hanging from the roof, one for each month of the year with the exact number of how many women were sexually assaulted in Santa Cruz.

One woman led a call-and-response chant to express her empowerment as a woman, while another gave a brief demonstration of self-defense.

Other community members and groups such as the Walnut Avenue Women’s Center, Survivors Healing Center, and Women’s Crisis Support offered information about sexual assault and where to find help at several tables.

Diana Carpenter, sexual assault department manager for Women’s Crisis Support, was excited about the community turnout.

“It’s truly a grassroots movement,” she said.

Awards were handed out to the local Sexual Assault Response Team (SART) which includes the District Attorney’s office, law enforcement, victim witnesses, advocates and allies, all of whom have played a dedicated role in investigating sexual assault cases and assisting victims.

“[SART] holds our community tightly in their hands,” Carpenter said as she recognized them for their efforts in the local community.

UC Santa Cruz and the campus’s Rape Prevention Center hosted its own Denim Day demonstration in the Quarry Plaza to educate passersby. With paint-stained fingers, UCSC students decorated 250 donated T-shirts with slogans and symbols of sexual assault awareness.

Awareness was the ultimate goal for Cody Thacher, peer educator coordinator for the Rape Prevention Center, as he and several others worked to educate students and spread the word.

“It’s really great to see people come out to support this,” Thacher said, “and want to challenge myths about rape.”

_If you or someone you know has been sexually assaulted, contact the crisis line at (831) 685-3737._