Dawn Helmrich is the founder of Milwaukee Denim Day. Denim Day’s Mission is to end victim blaming and promote awareness about sexual violence in our communities. Helmrich is this week’s guest on WTMJ Conversations.
A partial transcription on Helmrich’s appearance is provided by eCourt Reporters, Inc.
LIBBY COLLINS: Tell us a little bit about Denim Day and why it’s important for the City of Milwaukee.
DAWN HELMRICH: So, Denim Day is a day for people to wear jeans or denim in some way or another to support survivors of sexual assault. And how Denim Day came about was that a young lady in Italy was raped by her driving instructor. She was able to have him arrested, he went to court, he was convicted. He appealed the conviction, and the case went all the way to the highest judge in the Italian parliament. And that judge overturned the case saying that because she was wearing tight jeans and had to physically remove them herself that she was giving consent.
So, the women of the Italian parliament took to protest that by showing up on the steps of the highest court all wearing tight jeans in protest. That’s how Denim Day started, and it trickled down to Los Angeles, California, where an organization called Peace Over Violence decided to really highlight Denim Day as a sexual assault awareness day and a day to help survivors who have experienced victim blaming to feel supported.
And so, I was at a national conference, a national sexual assault conference, heard about this and decided that I really needed to bring it to the City of Milwaukee. And so that’s what I did.
LIBBY COLLINS: So, tell us what — what we’re supposed to do for Denim Day? What would you like to see everyone do?
DAWN HELMRICH: Well, I’d like to see everybody wear jeans or denim of some sort. There’s a Facebook page that you can go to and like and you can upload pictures of yourself in jeans or in denim of some sort with a supportive quote, just saying, “I believe you,” or, “I stand with you,” anything that survivors can, you know, see and hear that will help them feel like they are being supported by you.
There’s about 3,500 likes on the Facebook page. So, a lot of those people are survivors, so it’s great for them to be able to have that kind of support.
LIBBY COLLINS: What would your experience have been had you had that kind of support when you were raped?
DAWN HELMRICH: Oh, probably a lot different. I probably would have — I probably would have healed a lot quicker. I probably wouldn’t have felt so much blame on myself and so much negative self-talk about what — what my role and responsibility in this whole trauma experience was. And I would know that I was not alone, because it took me a really long time to realize that there is a large presence of individuals that have experienced trauma like this.