Shabel Castro, a junior in the Macaulay Honors College at Lehman, is the Bronx winner of the 2013 Denim Day New York City writing competition, titled “Telling the Truth About Sexual Violence.” One winner was selected from each borough. Castro received a financial award and a proclamation from Bronx Borough President Ruben Díaz during the Denim Day NYC Rally, held on April 24.
Castro says that when she saw the ad for the competition, she knew she had to enter. Peace Over Violence, a non-profit organization in Los Angeles, started Denim Day in 1999, after a 1998 Italian Supreme Court decision to overturn a rape conviction on the argument that the victim was wearing tight-fitting jeans at the time of the assault; therefore, she could not have been raped.
“I was shocked when I heard about this case in Italy, but not necessarily surprised,” says Castro, who at the time was following the Steubenville Rape Party trial. She says she was angered by the media’s and public’s sympathetic view of the plight of the rapists. To top things off, during a discussion on sexual violence in her introduction to criminology class, she heard some of the same victim-blaming and rapists-sympathizing comments echoed by her mostly female classmates.
As Castro writes in the essay, she was surprised to hear many of the women in the class argue that how a woman dresses, behaves, and speaks should be considered in cases of rape. She found that the culture of blaming the victim was alive and well even among college-educated women.
“With this op-ed, I wanted to show how even as college students we can often find ourselves partaking in the vicious rape culture mentality, one where we blame the victim and try to place the burden and responsibility on them,” explains Castro. “I wanted to highlight how we have the power to redirect such conversation and how our campuses are a perfect medium to do so.”
Castro is working on a double major in business administration and sociology. Her goal is to study law upon completing her undergraduate degree in 2014.