- Cassandra Kester
- (951) 371-6860
(SACRAMENTO) – This week, the Assembly unanimously approved Assembly Bill 939, the Denim Day Act of 2021 by Assemblymember Sabrina Cervantes (D-Corona), and sent it to Governor Newsom for his consideration. AB 939 would remove an existing provision of law that allows the manner in which a survivor was dressed to be admitted as evidence of consent in a sexual assault case.
“I want to thank my legislative colleagues for their support on this important measure. AB 939 makes it clear that an outfit never provides consent, ever. To even consider whether a survivor’s manner of dress should be admitted as evidence of consent wrongly scrutinizes the actions of the survivor, instead of placing that scrutiny where it truly belongs—on the actions of the perpetrator,” said Assemblymember Cervantes. “Sexual assault is the most underreported and under-prosecuted type of crime. We must ensure that survivors are not subjected to a justice system that re-victimizes and re-traumatizes them and that our justice system protects them when they seek justice.”
For every 1,000 survivors in the U.S., only 230 report the sexual assault perpetrated against them. Of these 230 survivors, only 80 have cases that go to trial, and less than 5 will ever see their perpetrators serve time in jail or prison.
Current law fails to consider the power imbalance that exists between a survivor and a perpetrator. Continuing to allow the manner of a survivor’s dress to serve as evidence of consent often deters survivors from reporting the alleged assault at all. Furthermore, allowing the survivor’s manner of dress to be admitted as evidence of consent upholds the stereotypical and erroneous belief that survivors somehow invite the crimes committed against them by the perpetrator.
Every year in April as part of Sexual Violence Awareness Month, people around the world, including in the California State Legislature, observe Denim Day as a symbolic protest against a 1998 decision of the Italian Supreme Court. The Court ruled that because the survivor in the case wore jeans when she was sexually assaulted, the jeans could be used as evidence that she consented to the sexual act. The Italian Supreme Court overturned this ruling in 2008.
A bill similar to AB 939 was enacted in Florida after a 1989 rape case in which the perpetrator was acquitted by a jury after the fact that the survivor was wearing a skirt was admitted into evidence. New Hampshire also prohibits a survivor’s manner of dress from being admitted as evidence of consent.
Assembly Bill 939 fulfills the premise of Denim Day here in California by making it clear that a survivor’s manner of dress can never be used as evidence of consent in a sexual assault case.
The bill was approved with bipartisan support by both houses of the State Legislature and will next be sent to the Governor’s Desk. You can find more information about AB 939 here.
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Sabrina Cervantes is a mother who proudly represents the 60th District of the California State Assembly, which encompasses the cities of Corona, Eastvale, Jurupa Valley, Norco, a portion of Riverside, and the unincorporated communities of Coronita, El Cerrito, and Home Gardens. Cervantes serves as Chair of the Assembly Committee on Jobs, Economic Development, and the Economy.