The Oklahoma House of Representatives made a symbolic gesture Thursday that was an encouragement to those who advocate for victims of sexual assault.
One described it as “a huge step forward.”
Rep. Tess Teague authored House Concurrent Resolution 1001, which officially recognized “Honor Denim Day” in Oklahoma.
She also pushed through suspending the House floor rules allowing legislators to wear denim for the day.
“I wanted to bring this type of awareness to the Capitol,” Teague told Free Press just before going into the House chamber. “Sometimes we don’t see stuff like this up here and so I wanted to be able to make a statement.”
Denim Day is a part of National Sexual Assault Awareness Month.
For those who have been working for a greater understanding across the state about sexual assault and domestic violence, it was an important arrival.
“It shows community. It shows that our government is in support of victims and survivors of our community,” said Karla Doctor.
She is the Senior Officer of Sexual Violence Prevention and Response for the YWCA Oklahoma City.
Doctor said the House resolution was “a huge step forward in our state.”
The root of the special emphasis goes back to the 1970s when women in England held marches protesting their treatment as they went about their daily lives.
The origin of Denim Day itself was the 1998 Italian Supreme Court reversal of a lower court’s rape conviction.
In his ruling statement, the chief judge argued that the victim’s jeans were so tight that must have assisted the attacker, therefore it was not rape but consensual sex.
In fact, the 45-year-old attacker had only wrestled one leg out of the 18-year-old victim’s jeans in the attack. He threatened to kill her if she told.
Women in the Italian Parliament were enraged by the ruling and protested by wearing jeans to following sessions for a time.
In response, the California Senate and Assembly did the same.
On April 26 each year, Denim Day is a part of Sexual Assault Awareness Month meant to raise awareness of the persistent problem of sexual assault throughout the world.
MacKenzie Masilon is the rape prevention coordinator for Oklahoma Coalition against Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault.
The coalition sponsored the symposium at the capitol that day to inform legislators and Capitol visitors about prevention.
“We have a high, high rate of women who are victimized in the state of Oklahoma because we, as a state, as a people are not willing to admit that these are problems that our women face,” said Masilon. “And so, we aren’t willing to talk about it.”
She said that the declaration of the day was a positive step forward for the Legislature. But she wants the body to provide more funding for prevention education and support of victims.
“Prosecutors need to get on board, too,” said Masilon.
“Right now nationwide about 2 percent of sexual assault perpetrators will see jail time,” she said. “That’s uncalled for.”
YWCA Oklahoma City
The historic name for YWCA was “Young Women’s Christian Association,” and was started to promote a healthy life for young women.
In Oklahoma City, the organization’s large, multistory building provided recreational spaces for young women and dormitory-type living quarters downtown. It was a safe, first landing spot for single young women to live as they moved to the city for work.
Now, the old building is gone, and the new facilities are devoted to the new purposes of training and providing an emergency shelter for victims of sexual assault and domestic violence.
Yvonne Sharp is at the center of the YWCA’s biggest mission of providing education and support for girls and young women trying to navigate American culture and a state where sexual assault and domestic violence are a problem.
She told Free Press it was “absolutely the focus of our agency.”
“Domestic violence, sexual assault, and stalking are our primary focus for the services we provide,” she said.
Sharp pointed to holding perpetrators accountable as the biggest need from the state.
“One of our biggest goals is to try and get as many perpetrators prosecuted as we can,” she said.
“Statistically speaking in Oklahoma, we are the fourth in the nation for women murdered by men in single-offender, single-victim homicides,” said Brandon Pasley, senior director of specialized training for the YWCA Oklahoma City.
“According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, as of 2010 we are first in the nation for lifetime prevalence of domestic violence, sexual assault and stalking,” said Pasley.
“That means as a woman in Oklahoma, you are more likely to be assaulted by an intimate partner, physically, sexually, or stalked than in any other state.”
He said that the problem “affects us all” no matter where you are in the economic spectrum.
The Oklahoma House of Representatives has had its own share of sexual assault issues this year.
In 2017 two members, Dan Kirby and William Fourkiller, were reprimanded for sexual harassment, which is a type of sexual assault.
Kirby resigned his seat over sexual harassment of a female staff member.
William Fourkiller was taken off several committee assignments and banned from any contact with pages, who are typically middle school or high school students.