DA’s Office Attorneys and Staff Photographed Participating in “Denim Day”
April is nationally recognized as Sexual Assault Awareness Month. Yesterday, hundreds of members of the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office wore jeans in honor of “Denim Day,” an annual event that promotes awareness of sexual violence and victim-blaming.
“Victim-blaming is a destructive practice that has no place in modern society,” said District Attorney Vance. “I’d like to thank everyone at my Office who wore denim to support sexual assault survivors and raise awareness about sexual violence. If you or someone you know is a victim of sexual assault, please call my Office’s Sex Crimes Hotline at 212-335-9373.”
Denim Day was sparked by a 1998 Italian Supreme Court decision that overturned a rape conviction on the grounds that the victim was wearing tight jeans. The Court’s ruling suggested that a woman cannot be raped if she is wearing tight jeans because she must have helped remove them. Jeans are now worn worldwide on the third Wednesday of April in solidarity with Sexual Assault Awareness Month. Denim Day participants aim to raise awareness about the prevalence of sexual violence and victim-blaming in our society.
Sexual Assault Awareness Month
Sexual Assault Awareness Month, observed nationally in April, is dedicated to preventing sexual violence and raising awareness through coordinated events and advocacy. Since the first national observation of Sexual Assault Awareness Month in 2001, the National Sexual Violence Resource Center has provided resources to help individuals and organizations plan activities in their communities during April and throughout the year.
Rape Kit Backlog Funding
In November 2014, District Attorney Vance announced a commitment of up to $35 million in funding to eliminate backlogs of untested sexual assault evidence kits, or “rape kits,” nationwide, generating DNA evidence that will help solve cases in New York City, New York State and across the country. On April 1st, District Attorney Vance announced a formal request for proposals from jurisdictions across the country to apply for funding to test the kits in their backlog. The deadline to apply is June 1st. Successful applicants will be awarded up to $2 million for a two-year period to aid in analyzing untested, backlogged rape kits. Representatives of 40 jurisdictions from 26 states submitted Expressions of Interest earlier this year, indicating more than 70,000 untested rape kits within their jurisdictions.
Sex Crimes Unit
Part of the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office’s Special Victims Bureau, the Sex Crimes Unit’s experienced, specially trained prosecutors investigate and prosecute cases involving sexual assaults and other related crimes. Last year, approximately 78 percent of sex crimes trials in Manhattan resulted in a conviction, a 15 percent increase since 2010. The District Attorney’s Office recognizes that, ultimately, preventing sex crimes is just as important as prosecuting sex offenders. In order to raise awareness, the Office conducts presentations on healthy relationships and domestic violence at colleges and high schools across Manhattan throughout the year. Prosecutors and members of the Office’s Community Partnerships Unit discuss the impact of sexual violence, offer resources for victims, and provide tips on how to avoid becoming a victim of sexual assault.
This Sexual Assault Awareness Month, District Attorney Vance offered the following tips for staying safe and preventing attacks:
- Do not travel alone if you are in a vulnerable state, keeping in mind that sex offenders seek out vulnerable victims, particularly those who are very young, old, disabled, or visibly intoxicated.
- Do not leave a friend alone if he or she is in a vulnerable state.
- If you take a taxi or put your friend in one, note the license plate and call a friend to tell them where you are and where you are going.
- Be cautious when accepting alcoholic drinks. Be sure you know who is serving you, what they are serving, and how much you are being given.
- When meeting new people, arrange for it to be in a public place.
- If you are responding to an online ad for an apartment, job, or service, bring a friend to the meeting.
- Do not hold doors to your building for strangers, especially if you feel uncomfortable.
In the event that you or someone you know has been attacked, there are certain steps one can take to preserve evidence:
- Notify the police.
- Do not shower.
- Do not wash clothing or bedding.
- Get medical attention as soon as possible. The hospital will conduct a “rape kit” to collect evidence as well as providing treatment for potential STDs and pregnancy.
- If you believe you have been drugged, a toxicology kit can be administered at a hospital. Do not be afraid to have this test, even if you have used recreational drugs.
Witness Aid Services Unit
The Manhattan DA’s Witness Aid Services Unit (“WASU”) provides a variety of court-related services, social services, and counseling services designed to meet the needs of crime victims, witnesses, and their families. WASU also provides information related to the prosecution of the case, assists victims in understanding the criminal justice system, and provides information regarding crime victims’ rights.
WASU, working collaboratively with prosecutors, assists victims in overcoming the emotional trauma resulting from victimization, and provides advocacy and support throughout the criminal justice process. WASU has 32 staff members and includes Social Services, Counseling, and Notification departments, and a Victim Assistance Center. Spanish-speaking staff is available in each of the departments; interpreters for many other languages, including American Sign Language, are also readily available. All services offered by the unit are free of charge.
For the convenience of victims, WASU provides services in the Manhattan District Attorney’s downtown, Harlem, and Washington Heights Offices, and can be reached at 212-335-9040. Services are also available through the Manhattan Family Justice Center at 80 Centre Street.