Denim Day Shows Locals They’re Not Alone

 Denim Day Shows Locals They’re Not Alone

By Katie McFadden

In the summer of 1998, an 18-year-old Italian girl was raped by her 45-year-old driving instructor. A year later, the perpetrator was released after the Italian Supreme Court overturned his sentence because the man had argued that because she was wearing tight jeans, it would have required her to remove them, so the sex was consensual. In protest, women across Italy showed up to work the next day wearing jeans. That protest in 1999 began Denim Day. April marks Sexual Assault Awareness Month, and April 26 was the annual Denim Day to combat victim blaming and educate others about sexual assault. On Saturday, April 22, local resident, Theresa Racine, organized Rockaway’s own Denim Day event to bring awareness to sexual assault and domestic violence, and to bring healing to those who have experienced it.

On Saturday, Racine brought together the community to the Hammels Playground for a day that included a memorial to victims, resources, speeches from survivors, and healing activities like Zumba, Yoga and even self-defense.

Racine has been working on Denim Day events since 2015 but wanted to bring a big event to Rockaway for two reasons. “The first was because I feel there are a lot of survivors and people who have not dealt with the pain in their heart, so I wanted to do this to maybe help one or two souls get some healing. And two, I see a lot of division in the Rockaways. I wanted to see diversity and to see everyone come together in a spot where you would not normally see everyone. It was a beautiful thing to bring everyone together.”

The event opened with Racine speaking about the origins of Denim Day. “Victim blaming is happening every day. Whether it’s somebody wearing a short dress, somebody wearing tight jeans, the way you dress should not be a reason why you get raped,” she said. Racine then shared her own story of being raped by her stepfather when she was adopted, and by others in her lifetime. “If you are a survivor of domestic violence or sexual assault, you are not alone,” she said.

After the singing of the National Anthem, Racine told all attendees to open giftbags left on their seats. They contained cards that can help people test their drinks to see if they were drugged. They also received whistles that they can carry to sound an alarm if they’re in trouble. Everyone was also able to take home a pair of jeans. Inside the pockets of the jeans was the number of the National Domestic Violence Hotline (800-799-7233), for guests to utilize if they need to.

As a memorial to victims, MC Mia Carastro asked everyone to pick up a piece of chalk and write words supportive phrases around the Hammels basketball court, like “You are Not Alone.” Within minutes, the entire park was filled with loving words.

All were then invited to participate in a Zumba class led by Veronica Caicedo, who teaches at the YMCA. “I think this is a wonderful opportunity to get the community together to address the issue of sexual violence. We need to be together and make sure we fight together and are not afraid to speak out,” Caicedo said.

The event was full of resources, including the FBI, which spoke and provided stats. “In 2022, the NYPD released rape incident reporting with CompStats. There were 466 rape incidents. And we all know that is under-reported, so there are many more,” the FBI representative said. “Children are the ones that are targeted most. We offer events like this so the community can come together and build a safe space for survivors.”

Officer Michael Guerrini of the 100th Precinct’s Domestic Violence unit shared the ways in which the police can assist victims, working with Safe Horizons, by providing resources, panic buttons, and showing up when victims need it. He also shared an example of a success story of a woman, now living in Long Island, who got sober and escaped a long cycle of abuse.

Enchantress Shane Kulman left guests with a mantra to tell themselves. “I am peace, I am joy. I am loved. I am light. I was born in this body, and I have a light and because of that light, I am not afraid of anyone or anything,” she said.

Survivors of sexual assault and domestic abuse were then invited to share their own stories. Visol Smith of Rock Safe Streets shared that domestic violence is something that affects everyone, and in many circumstances, men aren’t believed. “As a survivor, as a man, I’m going to be the man that’s not afraid to speak up,” he said. “Before you put your hands on a woman, go get help, leave, walk away.”

A woman named Elizabeth shared that her abuse started in a relationship in her teens and followed her through her life. She encouraged seeking out help to heal, rather than carrying that burden. “Get the help you need because it’s important to heal,” she said. Another person named Mercury shared their story of being abused as a child and encouraged finding ways to heal to break the cycle of abuse. Shereen Fuller, who was an immigrant, shared her story of being raped and abused, but left folks with some hope, as she shared that with help, she turned her life around, becoming a paralegal that is about to take the Bar Exam, and buying a five-bedroom house upstate for her kids to live a good life. “You can build your life back up again,” Fuller said. “Don’t always think you’re stuck.” Finally, Ron Savage shared his story of being raped by a hip-hop legend, and another survivor, Simone. Sang “What’s Love Got to Do With It?”

The event ended with a yoga class led by Sonia Moise, a self-defense class led by Moises Reyes and more. Guests were provided with food and water donated by Whit’s End and Stop and Shop. DJ Andrew Hays and DJ Rhythm Selector J kept the tunes going. Miguel and Judy Torres helped take photos. Racine says Sadie Wilson, Sarah Bruno from Partnership for Parks and the Ocean Bay Development were all a big help in making the event possible. The 101st Precinct was also a big help in collecting jeans to be donated. Racine is grateful for all of the support. “Thank you to all of our sponsors who came and made it great,” she said.

Rockaway’s Denim Day was a success. “It was amazing,” Racine said. “So many people came up to me afterward and said we need more of this.” She plans on making it an annual event in Rockaway.

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