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Copenhagen student leads sexual assault awareness campaign through art

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COPENHAGEN — Denim Day was established in 1999 after an Italian high court overturned a rape case, saying the alleged victim must have consented because she was wearing tight jeans.

Since then, April 23 has been marked internationally as Denim Day. With April as Sexual Assault Awareness Month, Copenhagen Central freshman Drew Baker proposed a Denim Day art project.

“I just want people to know there are people here to help,” she said. “I want them to know they have a voice and they don’t have to hide anything.”

Miss Baker is enrolled in Lewis County Opportunities’ inaugural Youth Leadership Academy. The program asks students to identify issues their peers are facing and find ways to overcome them. Sexual assault awareness became her end-of-the-year project.

“My mom works at Opportunities, so I’m aware of what problems are going on in the community,” she said.

The 14-year-old’s goal was to bring Denim Day to Copenhagen. She approached art instructor Virginia A. Hovendon about an art project that asked students to research the effects of sexual assault and present a Denim Day-themed sculpture. One piece is the bust of a woman covered in jean scraps; another is of a woman wearing only jeans looking down in shame.

“Honestly, any topic that deals with sex and high school age students is touchy, no pun intended,” Ms. Hovendon said, adding art allows artists and viewers to understand the topics conveyed in the art.

“Some take it as a joke, but the people who need to be reached out to and need to know that people are here are taking it seriously,” Miss Baker said.

Students also wrote statements to accompany their pieces. Ms. Hovendon cited a laundry-line piece created by Emma Roberts and Sydney Greene.

“The idea behind it was that sexual assault was like the dirt on the laundry. You can try to wash it off as much as you want and it just won’t go away. Also, there are handprints strategically placed on the butt and in inappropriate areas to represent the unwanted touch,” Ms. Hovendon said.

The pieces will be on display in the school library until the end of April. A 5K also was organized and held Saturday. The event had six runners, which Ms. Ward said was a good turnout for the first year.

“Some people don’t feel comfortable talking about it, but I’m OK because I feel it is an issue that people should be concerned with,” Miss Baker said.

According to the 2011 National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey, New York state is home to 7 million sexual assault victims and survivors, of whom 19.97 percent are women who have been raped, 1.43 percent are men who have been raped and 75 percent are men and women who have experienced sexual violence other than rape.

A 2005 Adverse Childhood Experience Study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said in New York one in four girls and one in six boys experiences some form of sexual abuse.

To learn more about Domestic Violence/Rape Crisis Services, visit www.lewis countyopportunities.com.

Anyone seeking assistance can call the 24-hour Crisis Hotline at 376-HELP.

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