FORT BRAGG, N.C. (April 30, 2014) -- In 1997, an 18-year-old girl was picked up for her first day of drivers training by her 45-year-old instructor in Rome, Italy. The instructor then sexually assaulted the student. After threatening to kill her if she reported his actions to anyone, he abandoned the girl in an alley, leaving her to find her way home. That night, the victim told her parents about the sexual assault and they pressed charges against the instructor. The instructor was convicted and sentenced. A year later, the Italian Supreme Court overturned the sentence stating that because the young girl wore tight jeans, there was no way the instructor was able to take them off without the help of the victim, therefore, making the act consensual. The Italian Supreme Court decision and statement caused outrage and protest in Italy. Women of the Italian Parliament showed their support for the victim by wearing jeans to work. Since then, Denim Day has become an annual event for many around the world.
The Army recognizes April as Sexual Assault Awareness Month and on April 25, in an effort to raise awareness, more than 1,300 Paratroopers from the 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division wore denim jeans as part of the brigade's Denim Day.
"Our goal is to spread the awareness of erroneous views about sexual assault by having Soldiers understand why they are wearing denim on April 25," said Staff Sgt. Aanjali Anderson, the 2nd BCT Sexual Harassment/Assault Response and Prevention (SHARP) victim advocate. "This is an opportunity that many units don't get: a creative chance to understand one of the Army's focal points."
In an effort to do something different for her brigade, Anderson thought it would be a good idea to teach from more than just a slide presentation.
"I had to do something different; I had to do something that all the Soldiers could get involved with," said Anderson. "I knew we were all going to be together, so it would be cool if we could all be together in jeans and get some sort of training that actually hits home to people."
I wanted to ensure that every single person in this brigade knew that this was Sexual Assault Awareness Month, she said.
With the help of the 44th Medical Brigade, Anderson included two sessions of Relevant Realistic Interactive Theater (R2IT) training. The training is a form of Sexual Harassment/Assault Response and Prevention training that offers a new way to educate Soldiers on how sexual assaults happen. It includes theatrical performances by actors who interact with the audience while in character.
"It depicts a fictional sexual assault where the audience will be able to ask the cast questions towards the end of the show," said Anderson. "This will give leaders and Soldiers the chance to really see the mindset of someone who intentionally or unintentionally commits these acts."
Anderson feels that the show pushes her Paratroopers to open up and ask hard questions and express their thoughts. She said that most of the audience said they could relate to seeing a similar situation before.
"People just don't know what to do when they find themselves in these situations," said Anderson. "Now that we can sit down in civilian clothes and watch something like that happen and talk about it, it's a lot more effective than being in uniform and watching a (slide show) that we watch every day."
"At the end of the skit, the audience was asking questions like 'Why didn't you have a plan?' and 'Why didn't you say stop when she said no?' The characters have to remain in character and have to answer the questions," said Anderson.
Spc. Louis Wise, an infantryman with A Co., 2nd Battalion, 325th Airborne Infantry Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division, didn't know what to expect when he was told about the R2IT.
"I didn't come in with a whole lot of knowledge of what was going on," said Wise. "Coming in I assumed that we were going to be involved in a skit where someone was going to get sexually assaulted and then move on to another training block."
Wise said the most impactful part of the training was seeing the situation escalate to an assault. Being able to interact and ask questions at the end helped him get a better understanding.
"We were able to come up with ways of risk reduction and what can be done to prevent sexual assault," said Wise.
Anderson said the biggest achievement of Denim Day was teaching Paratroopers how they can stop sexual assault from happening, whether as a bystander or through their personal behavior. Thanks to the support from across the brigade, Anderson said that she is motivated to make Denim Day an annual event for the 2nd BCT and hopes that it will spread to other units and gain the support of many more Paratroopers.
"Before we did it, I never heard of any other unit doing it," said Anderson. "I hope that it will go and other people will catch on because (slide shows) and sitting in a classroom is just fine, but when people can read the story and wear jeans and understand why, they are able to tell others why."