A sea of blue jean-covered legs filled streets on Fort Irwin as Soldiers, Families and civilians donned their denim in support of victims of sexual assault, April 10.
The 2014 Fort Irwin Denim Day Walk provided the community, here, an opportunity to walk while wearing jeans to show solidarity with victims of a crime that affects women and men. Soldiers from every unit at the National Training Center and Fort Irwin assembled in formations with unit guideons at the front, waving in the breeze. Family members brought babies in strollers and doggies on leashes. The entire group walked on several streets, passing two schools and getting high-fived by students.
The event was part of the Army-wide program, Sexual Harassment/Assault Response and Prevention, which is implemented at Fort Irwin. Because sexual harassment and sexual assault violate everything the United States Army stands for, including Army Values and Warrior Ethos, the service aggressively addresses sexual assaults by first focusing on prevention through education and training.
According to www.denimdayusa.org, Denim Day was originally triggered by a ruling by the Italian Supreme Court in 1998 when a rape conviction was overturned, because the justices felt that since the victim was wearing tight jeans she must have helped her rapist remove her jeans, thereby implying consent. The following day, women in the Italian parliament arrived to work wearing jeans in solidarity with the victim. Since then, wearing jeans on Denim Day has become a symbol of protest against erroneous and destructive attitudes about sexual assault. Communities across the nation can make a social statement with their fashion by wearing jeans on this day as a visible means of protest against the misconceptions that surround sexual assault.
Just before the procession, NTC and Fort Irwin Chief of Staff Col. Richard Wilson addressed the crowd and reminded them that April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month. This year’s theme
is “Speak Up! A voice Unheard is an Army Defeated.” Wilson stated that the reporting of sexual assaults has increased throughout the Army and at Fort Irwin. The key to reporting is dependent on trust, said Wilson.
In a KNTC radio interview, NTC and Fort Irwin Commander Maj. Gen. Ted Martin mentioned that the Army is confronting the problem of sexual assaults directly.
“We recognized there was a problem and we went on the offensive,” Martin said. “This is an Army operation, so we’re not going to sit on the defense – we’re going on the offense.”
The Denim Day Walk on Fort Irwin spanned 1.3 miles and took approximately a half-hour to complete. At the end, units reconvened and conducted SHARP briefings. The units assigned to Installation Management Command, here, gathered around Lt. Col. Jose Naputi, Fort Irwin Provost Marshall. He thanked the group for supporting the event and explained that getting informed is critical to reducing incidents of sexual harassment and assaults.
“Take the information home and share it with your families,” Naputi said.
The NTC and Fort Irwin SHARP coordinator, Lt. Col. Heather Levy, explained during a KNTC radio interview that leader training includes instruction on how to respond to sexual assaults. She explained that company commanders and first sergeants must be knowledgeable in policy, be aware of their command climate, and understand what actions are required when responding to an incident.
Levy also talked about the type of help a victim can expect when reporting an assault through the 24-hour hotline, (760) 401-3074.
“You will get someone, professional and caring, 24-hours a day, seven days a week,” Levy said. “They’re not going to ask your name or start calling your company commander. They’re going to ask how they can help you and they’re going to show you what we offer and what this post offers to assist you in overcoming this trauma, seek an investigation and justice – if that’s what you want.”