Ninth-grader Britny Helmrich has one message for sexual assault survivors: It's not their fault.
A student at Wauwatosa East High School, Helmrich rallied her peers together April 27 in honor of Denim Day, a day that encourages communities to wear jeans to support sexual assault survivors and to educate others.
The campaign was triggered by an Italian Supreme Court ruling where a rape conviction was overturned because the justices felt that since the victim was wearing tight jeans, she must have helped her rapist remove them, thereby implying consent.
The following day, the women in the Italian parliament came to work wearing jeans in solidarity with the victim, according to the campaign's website, denimdayinfo.org. Every April, communities are encouraged to wear jeans as a visible means of protest against the misconceptions that surround sexual assault, according to the website.
Denim Day falls in April, which is Sexual Assault Awareness Month. The annual campaign hits close to home for Helmrich, who's own mother, Dawn, was raped at 21.
'Instead of hiding, she wanted to make a difference for other people,' Helmrich said of her mother, who started spreading awareness of sexual assault in the Milwaukee area a few years ago.
Her daughter followed suit, recruiting her peers at Longfellow Middle School to wear jeans and stickers in support for the day. She estimated 20 people joined in the first year and about 100 the next.
This year, there were so many people wearing T-shirts, stickers and jeans it was hard to keep count, said Helmrich who wore a pair of jeans and a top with the words 'Denim Day' printed on it.
Helmrich said it's likely there are students at her own schools who are survivors of sexual assault.
'People shouldn't be scared and afraid to say something,' she said, adding Denim Day organizers hung fliers up around the school with information about sexual assault and options for those who may need help.
'Days like this unify the student body and promote social awareness,' said Kelly Roberts, who plans and coordinates advisory period at the high school. 'Many East students are involved in socially conscious causes. We are fortunate to have such an eclectic mix of kids here.'
Roberts said every week, during advisory period, which runs for 30 minutes every Wednesday, classes take time to cover topics that aren't part of regular curriculum. Topics include gratitude, preparing for college, or celebrating school or individual success, she said.
'Students are welcome to plan advisory lessons as well,' she said. 'Britny came to me with Denim Day, something I was familiar with because we had recognized it in the past at East. She did all of the work. I merely helped her get the message out.'
Denim Day was recognized throughout the area April 27; Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele and Milwaukee County District Attorney John Chisholm announced the county's participation. County employees were encouraged to wear denim to work and share photos on social media.
The county also collected optional donations from employees who chose to wear denim. All proceeds collected benefited Daystar Inc., a Milwaukee-based nonprofit organization that provides supportive services and transitional housing for women who are victims of sexual and domestic violence.