Los Angeles City Council President Nury Martinez, Mayor Eric Garcetti and three council members gathered Wednesday at City Hall in solidarity with sexual assault survivors to mark Denim Day, which aims to raise awareness of sexual violence.

`Wednesday we wear denim in support of the movement launched … in response to an unjust court ruling in 1988. Italian Supreme Court justices overturned a rape conviction, ruling that since the victim was wearing tight jeans, she must have helped the man who raped her remove them, thereby providing consent,” Martinez said.

“We’re here to stand with the victims of sexual assault. Sexual violence is not like having a scar for everyone to see, the trauma you have experienced is real and it feels like it never goes away,” she said.

Denim Day was launched in Los Angeles in 1999 by Patricia Giggans, executive director of Peace Over Violence. Now, at least 20 U.S. states recognize Denim Day during April, which is Sexual Assault Awareness Month.

“There are Denim Days happening all over the country and the world. This campaign has become an open source movement with new groups and more individuals joining in every year,” Giggans said.

Giggans noted that when the COVID-19 pandemic comes to an end, the world has to prepare for “the PTSD, the stories and reports of violence, child abuse, battering, because we know that home is not safe for everyone.”

She said her movement is meant to support survivors and tell the truth about sexual violence in all the forms that people experience it.

The themes of this year’s Denim Day is “Believe Survivors” and “We Protect Each other.”

“Let’s support survivors every day, commit to bystander interventions and preventions and invest in violence prevention in all its avenues of possibilities,” she said.

Garcetti noted that his proposed budget for the 2021-22 fiscal year includes an additional $1 million for the city’s Sexual Assault Response Team and Domestic Assault Response Team that serve victims of sexual abuse and domestic assault.

Tiffany Duvernay Smith, who works for the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority and who Giggans said exemplifies what Denim Day is about, shared her story.

“In 2006, at the age of 33, I started a relationship with the man who became my abuser. Of course, he was charming, and that slowly turned into manipulation, control, verbal, mental, spiritual, economic, emotional and physical abuse along with sexual coercion, which means to be pressured, tricked, threatened, forced in a non-physical way,” she said.

Smith said she was also arrested during that time, even though she was the victim.

“I was treated as the perpetrator and sentenced to three years probation, 52 weeks of anger management and over 400 hours of community service for something I didn’t even do,” she said.

Smith said she experienced years of “dysfunction” and became homeless after a $100 rent increase in 2010, when she was 36.

Help came in 2012 when she was referred by the Department of Social Services to an organization that offers services to domestic violence survivors. The group helped her leave her abusive partner, and she eventually was moved into her own apartment.

“I was determined to figure out why did I choose this person, why did I stay so long, and how to never choose him again in the next man,” she said.

Smith now works to help others as a systems reform advocate focusing on domestic violence survivorship, mental health stigma reduction, housing and services for people experiencing homelessness and criminal justice reform.

At 2 p.m., Peace Over Violence will hold a virtual survivor rally, which can be viewed at bit.ly/3vrxHh7.

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