Denim Day raises awareness of sexual assault

Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett and Zilber School of Public Health Dean Magda Peck

Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett and Zilber School of Public Health Dean Magda Peck

The University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee is joining the city and other local colleges and universities in marking Denim Day, Wednesday, April 23.

denim_day_j3Magda Peck, founding dean of the university’s Joseph J. Zilber School of Public Health, is co-chairing the citywide observation along with Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett.

Denim Day, an international awareness day, is part of Sexual Assault Awareness Month in April. The goal is to change attitudes toward sexual assault, support survivors, and focus on education and prevention. This year’s event is focused on how sexual assault affects college students. Community members, students, staff and faculty are encouraged to wear denim to show their support.

“Sexual assault is a public health issue that can result in a lifetime of consequences for survivors, including depression and post-traumatic stress, which are linked to higher college dropout rates,” says Peck. “I applaud my colleagues in higher education who have already pledged support for Denim Day on their campuses, and ask the entire Milwaukee community to join.”

“The statistics around sexual assault are sobering,” says Barrett. “Denim Day is about survivors and community members standing together to support those who have been assaulted and making a statement against the misconceptions that surround sexual assault. I encourage employers, organizations and individuals throughout the community to get involved.”

denim_day_j2Denim Day is an international movement that started when a woman was blamed after she pressed charges after being forcibly raped by her driving instructor.  The case was dismissed because the chief judge decided that because “the victim wore very, very tight jeans, she had to help him remove them, and by removing the jeans it was no longer rape, but consensual sex.”

The Obama administration’s establishment in January of a White House Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault is very encouraging for those working on college campuses, says Sue McCarthy, assistant director of the UWM Women’s Resource Center.

“This has ramped up attention to the issue and will be a big part of enhancing training for law enforcement, prosecutors and the judiciary,” she says.  That, in turn, will encourage reporting and prosecution of those committing sexual assault.

At UWM, as well as other campuses, such assaults on or off campus are often not reported.  UWM police reports from 2012, the latest year available, show two forcible sex offenses reported that year.

“Hopefully, the low numbers reflect success in prevention programming,” says Assistant Police Chief Greg Habeck. However, he adds, “we recognize the likelihood exists that there are victims who do not report incidents.” In addition to police, students may report assaults to the Dean of Students Office and other campus entities, he notes.

“We strive to be as open as possible to accept all sexual assault complaints,” he says, “and officers are trained to properly investigate such complaints.” However, he adds, victims are encouraged to report to other offices on campus if they are more comfortable with that. “We hope any sexual assault victim will take advantage of reporting opportunities and other resources available so they can be treated in a manner that serves them best.”

The Campus SaVE Act amendment mandates that schools do more extensive awareness and prevention programs, and UWM has a number of these in place. In addition, key members of the UWM Police Department, Norris Health Center, Women’s Resource Center, University Housing, Dean of Students Office, LGBT Resource Center, and Office of Equity and Diversity Services work together on issues related to sexual assault. Campus police also collaborate with the Milwaukee Police Department’s Sensitive Crimes Division and the Sexual Assault Treatment Center.

Nationally, says McCarthy, estimates are that only about one in 10 campus sexual assaults is reported to police, and that statistic is probably accurate for UWM.

The majority of sexual assaults that occur on or near campus, as at other universities, involve alcohol or drugs, she says, and often victims blame themselves, or don’t think of what happened to them as a sexual assault.

“They may blame themselves because they feel like they made a decision (such as drinking) that increased their vulnerability,” says McCarthy.  However, she adds, “The law is very clear that having sexual contact with someone who’s too intoxicated to give consent or can’t put the words together to object is sexual assault.”

Most often, the person committing the assault is someone the student knows, though often not well, says McCarthy. Rather than calling it date rape as in the past, it’s now termed “acquaintance rape,” or “non-stranger rape,” and is far more prevalent than attacks by strangers.

While such acquaintance rape is often stereotyped as random, research shows that 63 percent of those involved are repeat offenders. “There are a number of offenders floating under the radar who are going undetected and free to re-offend,” says McCarthy.

Dispelling myths, along with prevention and education about sexual violence, are critical, she adds. “They’re all pieces of the puzzle.” Wisconsin’s drinking culture certainly complicates the relationship between sexual assault and alcohol, says McCarthy. Without awareness and even with it, people are often reluctant to confront victim-blaming behaviors, she adds.

Public health education has changed attitudes toward smoking, and she says she hopes the same type of systematic effort will change attitudes toward violence against women.

“The CDC is looking at the problem of violence against women as a public health issue,” says McCarthy. We need to change the culture that says this is acceptable.”


Campus Resources

A number of campus resources are available to students. The Women’s Resource Center has prevention, education and counseling information on its website at

The UWM Police Department has personal safety tips on its website at

The Norris Health Center offers information on counseling services at

The City of Milwaukee and local organizations and individuals supporting Denim Day Milwaukee are highlighted at Chancellor Michael Lovell and Dean Magda Peck are among the leaders featured.

UWM is holding a number of anti-gender-violence education and awareness events as part of Sexual Assault Awareness Month. Upcoming events include:

Networking Symposium for Milwaukee Area Interpersonal Violence Research
Friday, April 18, 3-5 p.m., UWM Union, room 240
 A networking event and poster presentation symposium for the general public and researchers who do work on interpersonal violence and related topics, featuring a presentation by Debra Fields from the Sojourner Peace Center.  Light refreshments will be served.  Sponsored by the UWM Interpersonal Violence Research Group, UWM Women’s Resource Center, and the UWM Center for 21st Century Studies.
Free Event
For more information, contact RaeAnn Anderson at

Ending Sexual Harassment
Friday, April 18, 3-5 p.m., Bolton Hall, room 196
According to research conducted by the American Association of University Women (AAUW), nearly two-thirds of the college students surveyed said they had been subjected to sexual harassment while at college. Federal and state laws and UWM policy prohibit sexual harassment. This workshop will provide participants with a working understanding of what sexual harassment is and what can and/or must be done in response to harassing behaviors. Sponsored by the UWM Women’s Resource Center and the Office of Equity and Diversity Services.
Free Event, Pre-Registration Required
For more information and/or to register, contact Sue McCarthy, UWM Women’s Resource Center, 414-229-2852 or

UWM Student Employees: This session is an approved UWM Panther Professional Development workshop.
Denim Day at UWM
Wednesday, April 23, All Day on Campus
Believe Survivors. Speak Out. Make Change. Help bring awareness to the dangers of victim-blaming behavior by wearing denim and an “Ask me why I’m wearing denim” sticker on this date. Stickers, “End Sexual Violence” bracelets and other free, educational items are available at the UWM Women’s Resource Center, UWM Union, room WG93. Sponsored by the UWM Women’s Resource Center.
Free Event
For more information, contact the UWM Women’s Resource Center, 414-229-2852.

Creeper: Stalking/Cyber-Stalking Revealed
Friday, April 25, 3-5 p.m., Bolton Hall, room 196
College-age women are at higher risk for all forms of violence against women; more than 50 percent of all stalking victims are women between 18 and 29 years old. Stalking and cyber-stalking are prevalent on college campuses nationwide and demand unique forms of intervention and response. How much do you know about stalking? Learn more about these issues and how to help victims of stalking behavior. Sponsored by the UWM Women’s Resource Center and University Information Technology Services.
Free Event, Pre-Registration Required
For more information and/or to register, contact Sue McCarthy, UWM Women’s Resource Center, at 414-229-2852 or
UWM Student Employees: This session is an approved UWM Panther Professional Development workshop.

UWM Campus and Communities United Against Violence Resource Fair
Wednesday, April 30, 11 a.m.-1 p.m., UWM Union Concourse
This fair provides information about resources available in Milwaukee and at UWM for survivors of sexual violence, creating a greater awareness about sexual assault through education, empowerment and primary prevention of violence. Representatives from campus and community service providers will be present. Denim Day stickers and work space for decorating jeans will also be available as a reminder to confront victim-blaming behaviors every day, not only on the date designated as Denim Day. Sponsored by UWM Norris Health Center with support and participation by campus departments and community partners.
Free Event
For more information, contact Doris Johnson Browne or Colleen Bernstein, UWM Norris Health Center, 414-229-4716.

Intersections: Women and Multicultural Film Series – “It Was Rape”
Wednesday, April 30, 1-3 p.m., Bolton Hall, room 196
Rape is wrong, illegal and reprehensible – and yet still tragically common. In this film, eight women tell their diverse personal stories of sexual assault, from a Midwestern teenager trying alcohol for the first time to a Native American woman gradually coming to terms with her abusive childhood. This event is part of a bi-weekly brown bag series at UWM showcasing and discussing issues related to women, multiculturalism and diversity. Sponsored by the UWM Women’s Resource Center, UWM Union Sociocultural Programming and UWM Multicultural Student Centers.
Free Event
For more information, contact the UWM Women’s Resource Center at 414-229-2852.