Content warning: This story discusses rape and sexual assault.

University of Maryland community members commemorated Denim Day on Wednesday to raise awareness about sexual assault victims and combat victim-blaming.

Denim Day, which falls during Sexual Assault Awareness Month, has been recognized internationally on the last Wednesday of every April since 1999 to support sexual assault survivors. Campus Advocates Respond and Education to Stop Violence — an office that provides confidential advocacy, therapy services and workshops — tabled on Tawes Plaza and outside Stamp Student Union with resources about Denim Day and sexual assault awareness.

Denim Day originated in Italy after an 18-year-old girl was raped by her driving instructor. Years after the instructor was convicted, the instructor appealed to the Italian Supreme Court, which ruled the act was consensual because the girl’s jeans were too tight to be removed on their own.

A day later, female members of the Italian Parliament wore jeans to protest the ruling. The court did not reverse its 1999 decision until 2008.

[UMD students emphasize survivor strength, allyship at Occupy McKeldin]

“The history of Denim Day is about empowerment,” Maria Ahmed, a CARE outreach peer, said. “Survivors are survivors no matter what they wear.”

The table at this university’s weekly Farmers Market featured keychain-making materials, a spinning prize wheel and general information about Denim Day. Outside Stamp, community members could write supportive messages to sexual assault victims on pairs of jeans.

Messages on the jeans included “You are not alone” and “I believe you.”

For Ahmed, a senior community health major, Denim Day provides a way to dismantle traditions that discourage talking about sexual assault.

“It’s a difficult topic of course, but that doesn’t mean we don’t talk about it,” Ahmed said. “We should be able to communicate freely and openly, and only then are we able to start removing those age-old traditions and ideas.”

Community members gathered around the Tawes Plaza table to create keychains with colorful tassels, markers and denim-covered charms. Some students, such as Rachel Odumade, drew designs on the denim charms.

Odumade, a sophomore public health science major, had not heard about Denim Day before visiting the Farmers Market table Wednesday. For her, the day means spreading awareness about sexual assault — especially on college campuses, where the topic might not be talked about or recognized as seriously.

[2 UMD events hope to highlight sexual assault on campus]

“It’s more common than people think it is,” Odumade said. “[Victims] don’t know how to speak up or how to approach it because of victim-blaming or just having internal things that make their experiences feel invalidated.”

Liv Sevy, a sophomore philosophy, politics and economics major, said Denim Day’s story has always been important to her because of the justice system’s shortcomings with cases of rape and sexual assault.

“There’s certain occurrences that you hear, and it’s almost like, ‘I can’t believe that happened,’” Sevy, who is a volunteer with CARE and helped table at Stamp, said. “The story of Denim Day is one of those stories.”

While Denim Day is an annual and international celebration, CARE assistant coordinator Charlotte Sheffield said she hopes to facilitate dialogue on this topic beyond a single day.

“This is an important day to spread awareness and it is also a continuing conversation that we can engage in throughout the year,” Sheffield said.