The Morris County Sexual Assault Center (MCSAC), together with the members of the Morris Alliance to Prevent Sexual Assault celebrated New Jersey’s third annual Denim Day on Thursday in order to raise awareness for a cause that, in the eyes of many, flies under the radar of big government all too often.
The event, scheduled for noon on the Green, was held at Church of the Redeemer in Morristown due to the threat of rain throughout the day. It featured live music from Alan Grant and Primitive Soul, raffles and speeches from county officials, Morris County Sexual Assault Center representatives and survivors of sexual assault.
MCSAC representative Denise Lang explained the meaning behind “Denim Day,” which stems from the rape of a 17-year old girl in Italy. Courts overturned the ruling of a rape, stating that the actions must have been consensual, under the assumption that the tightness of the girl’s denim jeans meant that she must have aided in their removal.
Lang stated that sexual violence is a growing problem in Morris County; already, MCSAC has responded to 56 new cases of sexual assault since the beginning of 2011.
“From where we stand, it also is becoming a lot more violent,” Lang said. “We have a long way to go.”
Joining Lang in her advocacy was Morris County Freeholder Tom Mastrangelo, who issued a proclamation on behalf of the Freeholders to MCSAC for organizing the event for the third consecutive year.
“We’ve issued a proclamation for your organization today because of how seriously we take the crime of sexual assault here in Morris County, the State of New Jersey and everywhere else,” Mastrangelo said. “A situation like this is essential to improving the quality of life here in Morris County and everywhere else outside the county.”
Mastrangelo encouraged Lang and her organization to keep working toward a goal of eliminating sexual assault.
“I appreciate all the hard work your organization does, and I look forward to this organization growing,” Mastrangelo said. “Hopefully, the message keeps getting out and we have fewer victims of this terrible crime.”
Morris County Prosecutor Robert Bianchi was also on-hand to show his support for the cause, and was equally complimentary of the work of MCSAC.
“You cannot put a price tag [on it], even if it’s one child or one woman who was not sexually assaulted because of the work that these organizations do,” Bianchi said.
Bianchi also pledged publically that the Morris County court system would continue to get tougher against sex offenders to ensure that they are brought to justice.
“If you’re a person committing a violent act and you represent a danger in the community, you can be sure that we will be in the courtroom and going through that rigorous process to take this person out of circulation,” Bianchi said.
Lang pointed out the alarming statistic that 85 percent of all rapes are pre-meditated, and 85-95 percent of all sexual assaults are at the hands of somebody the victim knows. That rang true with many of the event’s speakers, who stood up and told their stories of survival to all in attendance.
One of the victims, who referred to herself as Brenda, told her story of an abusive father who took advantage of her sexually from a young age.
“I didn’t understand what was happening to me. He told me not to tell, and I didn’t,” she said. “He gave me alcohol and offered me drugs. There came a time when I knew what he was doing to me was wrong, I was ashamed and alone, so I kept the secret.”
Not until she had a daughter of her own, Brenda said, did she decide to confront her father and begin to speak out against sexual assault.
“Looking at her precious innocence made my nightmares and flashbacks come back,” Brenda said. “I didn’t want the abuse I suffered to spread to anybody else.”
Another of the survivors at the event by the name of Tony was also, in his own words, brought up in a “dysfunctional family” as a “product of incest.”
Tony, a former All-American football player at Penn State University, was first sexually assaulted by a family member while in the second grade.
“When I was a kid, I didn’t know where to go,” he said. “When my mom didn’t believe me, I didn’t know what to do.”
Tony repressed his past as a sexual assault victim until the birth of his daughter. That’s when it started coming back to the surface.
“When my daughter was born, I had all this buried. The nightmares started again, the cold sweats, the self-medication,” he said. “I got divorced and remarried, but it was related to that, because I couldn’t communicate. You push it back down in the box, but it kept coming out to the extent that my wife had had it.”
Since remarriage, Tony’s current wife called MCSAC on his behalf to help him confront his past. Since then, he told Patch, he has been able to open up and bring the issue to light.
“I figured I’d go to get her off my back. I didn’t talk much, but what I heard opened me up,” Tony said. “I started to share. I talked about things I thought I would never talk about.”
Tony, due to his history with the Penn State football program, was also affected when news broke over the summer of Jerry Sandusky’s sexual misconduct with several minors over his years coaching at the University.
“I’m intimately involved with the athletic department,” Tony said. “I kind of was torn with the way things had happened.”
Tony, however, has decided to let legal action take its course on the Sandusky matter while educating and advocating against sexual assault within the Penn State community.
“We have an education and awareness hotline and a website you can go to if you think something’s going on,” he said. “We’re just doing a lot of things. [The Sandusky incident] is no reflection of the university, the athletic department or the football tradition. It is what it is. Let the legal system deal with it.”
Brenda and Tony, like the other survivors in attendance, seemed to all agree on one theme: speaking up and speaking out against sexual violence and rape so that others can avoid becoming victims.
“Tell your secret until someone listens. Don’t push your truth aside,” Brenda said. “Don’t wait to get help. You deserve to heal.”
“If you think something’s not right, ask,” Tony added.