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Wauwatosa East's McKenna Nerone collects denim to raise awareness about sexual assault

Denim Day becomes larger than expected

Mayor Kathleen Ehley presents Wauwatosa East High School senior McKenna Nerone, 17, with a proclamation across from Wauwatosa East High School.

Mayor Kathleen Ehley presents Wauwatosa East High School senior McKenna Nerone, 17, with a proclamation across from Wauwatosa East High School. Photo By Peter Zuzga

April 24, 2013

For McKenna Nerone, a senior at Wauwatosa East High School, collecting jeans to raise awareness about sexual assault began as a simple class project. She never thought she would speak with Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett, give a speech in Madison or receive donations from businesses as far away as St. Louis Missouri.

Nerone's goal was to collect 1,050 pairs of jeans for Denim Day, held Wednesday, but she got more than she bargained for when she collected 1,800 pair. Denim day began after the Italian Supreme Court ruled that a man convicted of raping an 18-year-old girl couldn't have gotten her tight jeans off without her help.

When the honors program at East called for a service project, Nerone chose Denim Day because she wanted to start a conversation about sexual assault.

"The schools talk about how to prevent pregnancy, HIV and AIDS, and not how to prevent rape," Nerone said.

She started a Facebook page, contacted businesses and went door-to-door meeting people and talking about her project. What followed was an outpouring of support for her cause, hundreds of donated pairs of jeans and Facebook postings telling personal stories about sexual assault.

Nerone was invited to Madison by State Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen to give a speech about Denim Day and her efforts.

She attributed her success to the positive nature of her message, the amount of work she put in and the fact that people want to make a difference.

Denim Day culminated in every pair of jeans being tied to the soccer field fence at East.

"It's amazing that people are talking about it now," Nerone said. "It's great just to see that - the whole point of the project is to get people talking. People are stopping and honking, and it's been great to see people do that."

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