How I’m Fighting Rape Culture With Denim

by Stewella Daville

Denim Day is an international movement that grew out of protest to a 2010 rape case that was overturned because the judge said that the survivor’s tight jeans meant that she must have helped her rapist remove them. Every year, people wear denim on Denim Day as a way to fight rape culture and raise awareness of sexual assault. Join Fashion Week Brooklyn this year on April 27.

For the past three years, I, Stewella Daville, have been recognized in the fashion industry as a high fashion model. I have had an amazing career, modeling for designers including Kenya Smith, Ellington Hughs, John Ashford, Thomas Lavone, and hat designer Harriet Rosebud. I have also had the experience of a lifetime in traveling to Paris. The highlight of my career was being published in two international magazines in the same month: I was published in the March issue of Harpers Bazaar UK and GQ UK for designer Thomas Lavone. What I hope to achieve in my modeling career is to be discovered and signed by a reputable modeling agency. Having this opportunity will be a stepping stone towards my goal of becoming a more successful editorial/commercial model.

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I, Stewella Daville, am also Tiffany Daure’, and I am a sexual abuse survivor. I have often wondered how other people cope with abuse or domestic violence. For me, I realized that it was important to tell my story. Telling my story has allowed me to better cope with my experience. It has also opened my eyes to the fact that I am not alone. I, too, am a SURVIVOR!

I have been through a lot in my life, from physical and mental abuse to verbal abuse. I often questioned why bad things were happening to me and nothing made sense. However, I learned that after 27 years of not talking about it, and suppressing the memory, that I can still overcome the obstacles. I am empowered and have risen above it all, as a result of having the best support system ever. During those dark times, my family helped me to see things clearer. They have helped to shape me into the person that I am. They have taught me that bad things happen to good people, and that I am still loved. I have learned to love myself and be the best me I can be. I continue to grow stronger with each day.

A year ago, I saw a Facebook post from Jerry Jordan Brown, model coordinator of Fashion Week Brooklyn about Denim Day NYC. I immediately contacted him and shared my story. He then contacted Rick Davy, founder of FWBK, and we all agreed that I would be the perfect Denim Day campaign model representing FWBK. From there, Mr. Brown and Mr. Davy arranged for me to do interviews and share my story with many, including Laurie Cumbo, who is a council member from the 35th district here in NYC at the Borough Presidents Office.

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My story began at the age of seven years old, when I was sexually abused by my father. It was just a typical daddy/daughter day at home, watching movies, eating, laughing; and then it happened. All of a sudden, my daddy began to touch me. I thought to myself, was Daddy supposed to be touching me like that? I felt as if I did or said something wrong, like this was some sort of punishment, so I said nothing. I also said nothing because he told me that I shouldn’t tell anyone. I felt sick, not knowing if it would happen again, and then it did. I still said nothing; I was afraid and confused. Then, one day, he got caught and went to jail. Everything else from that point is a blur. No one talked about it — it was just one of those unspoken things.

He was prosecuted and then deported. After the entire ordeal, my father never really tried to reach out to me until my teen years; and even then, I still had no words. I wondered what he was thinking; maybe he didn’t think it was that big of a deal. I realize I will never know his thought process. All I know is that something was psychologically wrong with him. I eventually got over it and stopped questioning why, because who knows why? He reached out again when I was 19. It was brought to his attention that I was having a baby the next year, so he wanted to talk and to have the opportunity to meet his grandson. My response was, “No, thank you!”

Being a victim of sexual abuse affected me growing up. It was hard having relationships. I eventually opened up and fell in love with my high school sweetheart and had a beautiful baby boy, who is my pride and joy. My son is the true love of my life. I look at him every day and say to myself, How does a parent, or anyone for that matter, hurt someone so precious? When I shared my story with my son, who is now 15 years old, he cried, hugged me and said, “No one will hurt you again, Mommy; I got your back.” We then cried together and a weight was lifted as we smiled at each other and exchanged the words, “I love you.”

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When I’m asked how I feel about my dad, my response is, in my heart I should love him because he’s still my father, but the reality is I truly dislike him (hate is a strong word). If I had an opportunity to say anything to him, or for him to know anything, it would be, “Dad, I want nothing to do with you, but I forgive you.” I would not have been able to move on if I did not forgive him. I chose to forgive, because I did not want to walk around with hurt in my heart, or to feel scared anymore. I am a strong, black, beautiful woman who is in charge of her own destiny and is taking life one day at a time, and feeling great about it!

I have accomplished a lot in my life thus far, and all I can do is to remain positive and know that if dark clouds are in the sky, that there will be a clear blue sky ahead. My mom always taught me to do the right thing and be good to others. She was right! To my supporters and readers, thank you for taking the time and for following me on social media. I would also like to thank those who continue to love and support me by coming to watch me at a fashion show, or by joining me in any of the Denim Day Events, especially the Denim Day Walk, which for another year I am proud to be apart of. Please be sure to join me in the Denim Day NYC walk across the Brooklyn Bridge to City Hall to raise awareness about Sexual Abuse and Assault on April 27, 2016. We will gather at 9am at Cadman Plaza Park. It is always rewarding to meet and speak with men, women and children about sexual abuse.

I would also like to thank my family for always being my cheerleaders, encouraging me, supporting me and most of all loving me unconditionally. Finally, I would like my readers to know that they should never give up. Strive for what you want and don’t let anyone or anything get in your way. I am 34 years old now, and no one will tell me I’m too old to model. You’re never too old to accomplish your dreams; that’s why IT’S YOUR DREAMS, NOT THEIRS! And always remember you’re not alone. Find someone to talk to, because the clear blue sky is waiting for you. Lastly, remember to pray. Whatever God you believe in, put him first, because he will ensure that everything falls into place when the time is right.

Denim Day NYC “I Am Not Invisible” Campaign Video from CTM Sisters Productions on Vimeo.

Top photo via Pixabay/PDPics. All other photos via Stewella Daville and Fashion Week Brooklyn

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Founded in 1993, BUST is the inclusive feminist lifestyle trailblazer offering a unique mix of humor, female-focused entertainment, uncensored personal stories, and candid reporting that tells the truth about women’s lives.

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