How TikTok users address sexual abuse at times of Covid-19

4 min read
Foto: Unsplash/ Jurica Koletić

The last 29 of April has been celebrated the DenimDay, a campaign in honor of Sexual Assault Awareness Month. The movement began in 2011 when it was officialised by Patricia Giggans, the Executive Director of the Los Angeles Commission on Assaults Against Women (now Peace Over Violence), who made Denim Day an annual event, in every April. Wearing denim jeans and disseminate the idea behind has become an international symbol of protest against sexual assault and sexual violence.

The idea behind the DenimDay shaped after a ruling by the Italian Supreme Court who overturned, in 1998, a rape conviction on an eighteen years old girl by a forty-five years old man. The conviction felt when the justices sustained that, since the victim wore "because the victim wore very, very tight jeans, she had to help him remove them... and by removing the jeans... it was no longer rape but consensual sex" as reported by the assaulter, she must have helped who raped her to take her jeans off. The Italian Supreme Court stated in its decision "it is a fact of common experience that it is nearly impossible to slip off tight jeans even partly without the active collaboration of the person who is wearing them". This implied that she manifested consent and that the charge does not have sense any more.

It was a shameful page in Italian legal history. The day after the prosecution retired the charge, a woman of the Italian parliament came to work wearing jeans in solidarity with the victim and holding placards that read "Jeans: An Alibi for Rape". As a sign of support, the California Senate and Assembly followed suit. Since then, the association Peace Over Violence of Los Angeles, started the movement Denim Day, as a local campaign to bring awareness to victim blaming and destructive myths that surround sexual violence has grown into a movement. American women started a protest square wearing tight jeans and they began the longest sexual violence campaign in history. From that day, the Denim Day became a symbol asking everyone to make a social statement by wearing jeans, as a visible means of protest against the misconceptions that surround sexual violence. In Italy, every May, the Guess Foundation Europe  sponsored by The Circle Italia, organize the Denim Day in order to support the Di.Re association (Donne in rete contro la violenza).

This year, during quarantine period, lots of young women and men have decided to break the silence through the popular social media TikTok, showing how even a social media that is famous for its recreational use can become a tool to spread a message and raise awareness among the public. The Tiktok social media, is a popular application created to generate short music clips or small parodies in playback but, the last 29 of April many of its users have chosen to eclipse the traditional everyday carelessness to focus attention on a particularly delicate theme, namely #DenimDay. TikTok became an opportunity, a social vehicle chosen by a disproportionate number of women and men who have suffered abuse, harassment or violence to speak up to the world that they are no longer victims, but survivors. These brave young kids have all decided to expose themselves publicly following a defined format with some common traits.

  • The music: First of all the music choose is always the same, a song by Imagine Dragon “It’s Time” playing now don’t you understand, I’m never changing who I am
  • The clothes: The most of them have shown the clothes they wore at the time of abuse: torn jeans, overalls, skirts, sweatshirts shouting to the world that it was not their fault.
  • The message: Some of them have drawn to the clothes “Did I say yes?”; some of them cried, but most of them sing, dance and smile. The climax of these videos could be different but the message behind is to “what has happened to you does not define you” and to give hope to those who have recently suffered violence or who thought that it was their fault because of what they were wearing at the time of the abuse, since wearing tight clothes does not mean express consent!

While there is an obvious relation between reduced social contacts and the speed at which the disease spreads there is little knowledge and a general lack of tools to understand the social effects of the containment and social distancing measures. For instance, how will social distancing measures effect our societies? How containment measures will affect identities of the most vulnerable young people?

The correlation between the social isolation and the impact on the personal identities it has not still properly explored, but considering the observable social effects of the pandemic crisis this represents an urgent call for the inclusiveness in policy and media in the face of this public health emergency.