24th Apr 2019

Denim Day 2019

Wednesday, April 24th is Denim Day, a worldwide demonstration in support of sexual assault survivors through the adornment of jeans. The movement began in 1999 as a response to the Italian Supreme Court’s declaration that a 45-year-old driving instructor’s violent sexual assault of his teenage student must have been consensual because “the victim wore very, very tight jeans.” The ruling was finally, mercifully overturned in 2008—Denim Day continues as a yearly international protest against the misconceptions surrounding sexual violence.

Victims of sexual assault often experience post-traumatic stress disorder, exhibiting signs of depression, anxiety, and isolation. A child who witnesses these behaviors in a parent might mistakenly (yet understandably) feel as if they don’t care for them, which can be frightening and confusing. This phenomenon, when a parent or guardian’s first-hand trauma begins to impact the child, is referred to as “inter-generational trauma.”

Pathways LA strives to keep all children free of trauma through prevention systems, by using the Strengthening Families framework to increase family strengths, enhance child development, and reduce the likelihood of child abuse and neglect. In cases where the parent themselves is a victim of trauma, such as sexual assault, inter-generational trauma can be alleviated through the Pathways LA trauma-informed care workshop series. These evidence-based, expert-led trainings help childcare providers recognize the signs of trauma in children they care for—this also offers an opportunity for providers to speak with parents to learn more about their circumstances, and refer them to additional support resources as needed.

Trauma occurs when the body can’t cope with a stressor, and the nervous system goes into “fight or flight” mode, maintaining a state of high alert for a perceived threat or attack. This can cause a disruption of the typical functions of the nervous system, often resulting in post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

When survivors of sexual assault experience PTSD, they literally relive the traumatic experience as it comes into their consciousness—it is as if they are still in the traumatic moment, without any control over their body. This can affect every part of their life, causing mood swings, jumpiness, irritability, and insomnia.

Those experiencing PTSD while parenting face additional burdens, often attempting to shield their children from the symptoms while suffering in silence. Despite these efforts, many children are able to pick up on parental distress, and that stress can prove contagious. As children try to process stressful situations they often act out, which compounds the challenges for parents, creating a cycle of stress for the entire family.

So what can be done to end inter-generational trauma? Fortunately, research has proven that the pattern can be broken when parents are willing and able to access resources that assist in their individual well-being and the recovery. Pathways LA’s trauma-informed care trainings serve as an important first step in the many multifaceted process of healing and strengthening the family unit.