SHARE

Content Warning: This piece includes language and content about sexual assault that some readers may find triggering or upsetting.

Two summers ago I was sexually assaulted. It is a memory I do not relive often, and to be completely honest, one I have probably avoided dealing with fully. Despite this, I remember with all-too-vivid clarity the feelings that came next; I remember rushing to get my things and get out of that apartment as quickly as possible; I remember the previous night’s mascara smudged on my face and streaking as I stifled sobs in the elevator; I remember seeing the judgmental look on the pharmacist’s face as I asked her for an emergency contraceptive; I remember spending the entire day rocking myself back and forth, as though the movement could stave off the memories. Afterwards, though, I got myself together, I showered hoping that I could wash the night off, and put on fresh makeup as I waited for my roommates to come home from their weekend away. I had no intention of telling them, or anyone, about my night.

Before the “incident”, I had always disdained people who chose to keep quiet about their experiences. I thought it was silly of them to blame themselves and refuse to come forward about them. I never understood the idea of “silent” sexual assaults – it’s not the “victim” after all who should be indicted, it’s the perpetrator. The true show of strength would be to come forward, I thought. I didn’t understand.

In House of Cards, a character voiced, “the person who got attacked just gets attacked all over again” – her story is one I have heard time and again. So many women get berated for lying when they claim rape; others are told that they are simply afraid of wearing the scarlet letter they earned for themselves. Think that this issue isn’t prevalent on campus? Have you, or anyone you know, ever defended a friend saying “but, he’s so nice” or “that’s so unlike him, I just can’t imagine him doing that?” I know I have. It may be a true thought, but one that in no uncertain terms discredits the injured party.

For me, however, these fates were not the ones that scared me. Rather, I was afraid of being called a victim. We sympathetically refer to those who have been sexual assaulted as “assault victims” or “rape victims,” and before my incident, I used the same rhetoric. But I refuse to see myself as a victim. Having been raped does not define me, and I resent the idea that someone might think that it does. The very term “victim” sounds to me like it confiscates any strength that I have, that it seizes my pride and pigeonholes me into being prey. I am not prey and I am not a victim. I am alive, and I am okay and getting more okay every day. The idea of people looking at me as if my defining characteristic is something pitiable terrifies me. Of course, it is very possible that I am alone in that concern.

I voiced this issue to a friend of mine a few weeks ago, and she asked me the very wise and legitimate question, “Well, what would you like to be called?” And the truth is that I don’t know. What a unfulfilling answer, huh? I might not be sure what feels okay, but I do know how much it grates against me every time the term “victim” is used. No one means it offensively, yet it is like no other word that anyone has ever used to describe me. Not bitch, not bossy (sorry, Sheryl), not anything else. It is uniquely painful to know that is how people think of you.

Probably because of this, I rarely tell anyone what happened to me – many of my (wonderful and supportive) closest friends still do not know. Every time I have told a friend about my experience, I have done so after strictly demanding that they not react. Maybe I don’t really mean what I am asking for, and just don’t want them to feel obligated to feel bad for me.  I choose to act as though we do not need to talk about it, because I am too strong to need that charitable discussion. I mention this because I am not the only one who feels this way. We hear ad nauseam that 1 in 4 women are sexually assaulted during their academic careers, but few of us can name 200 CMC’ers, or even 5, with that experience. Perhaps because others, like me, wish they were too strong for the discussion. So, we flippantly talk about sexual assault, we use clinical statistics and facts about rape to explain it, and we call women “victims.” We never talk about what it feels like. And truthfully, it is an impossible demand to expect anyone to do so. Instead, behind these numbers there is me, and dozens of others, gritting our teeth while everyone “sympathizes” for our statistic.

You may not know it, but you might have friends who have felt the same things as I have. Perhaps none of your friends have had this experience. But, as is true in many terrible circumstances, you really cannot know that. It’s an upsetting, uncomfortable thought, but I ask you to be cognizant of the people around you. It may be unsaid, but know that like me, there are others that quietly flinch each time rape is mentioned. Those friends are no longer passive observers sympathizing with whatever sexual assault lesson is put in front of them, but injured parties who choke up every time something forces them to conjure up a night they wish they could bury into non-existence. What they need, whether or not they have told you, is for you to remember rape culture is not clinical, it is not a disease, and they are not a statistic – what they need is your sensitivity. Know that even if they seem strong about it, it is important that you realize that it is something that might still affect them. For me, it probably always will.

I guess by asking to make this article anonymous, I am continuing to do what every person I used to see as weak does. I am joining that loud and stifling silence. It brings quite the quandary really: I refuse to be seen as a victim, but I plead for compassion. It is a smothering Catch-22, and one that perhaps is unfair to those around me. But even two years later, I can’t help it. I refuse to be a victim, and I beg the world around me not to make me have to look in the mirror to see that weak, mascara-smudged reflection of me I saw in the elevator that day.

24 COMMENTS

  1. I don’t care whether you choose to be anonymous: You are brave for sharing your story and brave in doing it with conviction. Thank you for sharing your story and advancing the conversation we have on this campus about sexual assault and rape. It’s long overdue.

  2. I could have written a lot of this myself. Thank you for speaking out on behalf of survivors on the 5Cs and on behalf of survivors everywhere. Sexual assault is a crime that never truly ends, a fact that I and others like me are reminded of every time we cringe when a friend flippantly talks about being raped by a final exam, every time we white-knuckle and bloody-lip our way through scenes of sexual assault in books and on screen, every time cases like Steubenville make their way into the media and strangers all over the country disparage and mock us for our experiences.
    This doesn’t mean that sexual assault survivors are forever broken. It just means that recovering is a process, a slow and arduous one that can last for years, but a process nonetheless. We are not weak because we can be triggered, we are not weak because we remain silent in an environment that is unimaginably hostile to survivors of assault, we are not weak because we ask for the support and strength of others to remain standing tall.
    We are not weak. We are not victims. We are survivors. It’s time for us to be recognized for how strongly we stand instead of how badly we were hurt. To the brave author of this piece, again, thank you thank you thank you.

  3. Thank you for sharing your story – your willingness to speak out is a great example of the kind of strong, well-spoken, brave CMC student I think we all strive to be. Hopefully your piece sparks a lot of meaningful change!

  4. I was sexually assaulted at the 5Cs a little over 2 years ago, and I remember the terror I felt when I thought I would see him (and see him I did). But more than that, I remember the terror I felt that someone would find out and then I would be the broken victim that everyone walked on eggshells around. That’s why I was silent for so long–I didn’t want the hushed whispers and the “oh poor things” that I saw happen to other girls to happen to me. I wanted to her seen as a strong “survivor”, not a broken victim. I kept quiet out of my fear of my rapist and my fear of losing my identify and becoming a victim. Thank you so much for sharing your story! So many of us can’t.

  5. Thank you for speaking out. Voicing any opinion takes courage. It doesn’t change the stigmas that still exist in our society, but maybe using “survivor” instead of “victim” could help change the script and create compassion without victimization.

  6. I wanted to tell you your article meant a lot to me as someone who was sexually assaulted. I also struggle with feeling like a statistic, and I still have told virtually nobody. But your anonymity in authoring this article does not make you weak. This article shows how strong you are and I just wanted you to know that it really meant a lot to me to read it. It is a conversation too many people in the 5Cs avoid. Thank you.

  7. When it happened to me I think I was just too stubborn to accept what had happened and identify it as rape or sexual assault — even though I knew that it was — because I was so terrified and uncomfortable with, as you explain, having to take on this social conception that we have of what it means to be a victim, and the powerlessness that’s associated with it. I didn’t think that it would be believable to other people that I was raped and so I sort of wouldn’t even let myself believe it. That’s how powerful that fear of judgment was; even trying to broach the topic to two of my closest friends, the responses I got began with something like “That’s not rape, don’t joke about that…” or “What you were thinking?/How did you let that happen?” And it’s so hard when that’s someone’s first reaction not to just give up and shut up about it. In this sense, although the personal process of understanding what it entails to be a victim/survivor is super important, it’s just as important to remind others who aren’t in that position to trust and support survivors, because without that, I and others with similar experiences are going to keep staying silent about it because it’s just not worth it to have to fight with someone to prove the validity of my experience to them.

    So I guess the hardest part for me has actually in a way been, firstly, to *accept* that I am victim, and that my experience was real and legitimate and I can’t excuse it away — or let others excuse it away. And then, secondly, to define my own conception of what it means to me to be a victim that can include the strength and perseverance that has had to follow after being victimized.

    To the author: Thank you for sharing and for creating the space for these conversations to happen!!

    • Exactly. Being a victim doesn’t mean being weak; victims are not weak. It doesn’t mean being helpless. By identifying yourself as a victim, you aren’t restricting yourself to being *only* a victim.

  8. Yes, thank you so much for inspiring others to share their experiences. We need to continue to foster safe spaces to start really talking about this issue… putting narrative behind the experience rather than perpetuating the disavowal that the impersonal statistics enable and the hyper-focus on victimization, which denies agency for the incredible survivors of sexual assault that are clearly among us. Proud to be a CMCer in this moment.

  9. Im probly gonna take some heat for this, I understand that. I should preface this with the fact that Im not trying to offend anyone, Im just curious and its something my male-brain cant fathom.

    Why dont women come forward more often and out the perpetrator? Why protect him so often? I get the ‘being afraid’ argument to a degree, but if everyone knows, I think you’ll suddenly find more men on your side willing to protect you against the perpetrator (also authorities and what-not). This baffles me immensely. Now Im aware that I might get a public shaming for this (hence anonymity) but I personally doubt that majority of cases would result in most people screaming “you were askin for it!” if there is evidence to support the claim. At the very least you put a mark on his reputation so that other women are warned of him.

    Well now, everyone tell me how Im wrong and part of the problem.

    • I understand the confusion; the author of the piece even said she held similar feelings until she was assaulted, not getting why more people didn’t speak out. I wouldn’t say the problem with naming the perpetrator is being told you were asking for it; the problem is, especially at a school like this, the people who commit sexual assault are just “ordinary people.” They’re the people you hang out with and have class with and are friends with. When you say that person raped you, others are going to inevitably come to his defense: “I know him, he’s a good guy, there’s no way he could have done that” –> “She must be lying.” From my perspective, the concern isn’t that the victim will be blamed for asking for it; it’s that she’ll be blamed for lying about it.

    • I don’t like that you assumed people (women) were going to react in a particular way to your statement. It seems like you are asking a question, that’s a good thing. Don’t assume that we can’t react rationally to a question like this.

      I would say there are also ten million reasons why women don’t come forward in a situation like this, sometimes it’s a man in your family, say your dad, and he has all of the power to make or break your life. Say it’s a cousin or close family friend, no one wants to hear that their son or friend did that. Say it’s a guy that’s a star
      of your school’s favorite sports team, who you went on a date with once, and
      then avoided until he ended up at the same party as you and handed you a drink
      and the next thing you remember is waking up in his bed and having no memory of what happened.

      I didn’t fully understand either, even though I was a survivor of sexual assault by five different men in my life, until I tried to protect a friend in a domestic abuse situation last year and ended up getting attacked myself. When the police officers came to arrest the person who attacked us both, they didn’t ask any of the important questions like, “What happened? Are you alright? Do you want to consider pressing charges?” rather they asked, “Do you need medical attention at this time?” and after I said no they promptly left the scene without taking any
      statements at all. Multiple people had been attacked in this incident, and they
      were aware of this because of the 911 call, but did not investigate further. A
      day or so went by with me trying to decide whether I should press charges, “Was
      it really that bad? I mean he only choked me. Maybe I was just caught up in the
      moment at the time and it really wasn’t that bad. I’m being dramatic. Oh wait, I
      only have scrapes, no bruises, will they believe me when I tell them? At least
      there were some witnesses… but he’s their friend, will they tell the truth? I
      mean I’m not trying to ruin his life.” These thoughts all ran through my head
      ten million times before I decided ok, the fact is he did assault me and I was
      certainly afraid for my safety the safety of those around me, that in itself
      justified pressing charges. After I decided to press charges, the police officer told me that it was unnecessary, that because the person who assaulted me was blackout drunk they wouldn’t take his crime very seriously, that public intoxication and battery assault were virtually the same charges anyway, and that I should wait until something like this happens again to consider pressing charges because then it would be a valid concern for my safety. The officer actively belittled the entire incident and my worries about my safety. After I went through all of those self-doubts on my own, an officer of the law proceeded to tell me I was being dramatic, and completely fulfilled all of my fears. If this is what happens to someone in a domestic violence situation, I can only imagine what it must be like for a survivor of sexual assault to try and go through this process, because I know if I had tried to report one of my sexual assaults when I was younger and an officer acted like that I would not have gone through with it, and I would never have gone back to the police for help again.

      These are, in my experience, some of the reasons that we don’t come forward.

      • Could’ve gone without that first paragraph, but thanks for the rest of that. Now back to what I logically cant get around:

        And again, not TRYING to offend anyone, although I probly will. I get that in cases where its questionable, or it wasnt something THAT bad (sorry for the wording, you know what I mean) that you might not want to come forward. But in instances of rape, full-on rape (not sexual assault, harassment, something that cant quite be defined, or something along those lines), where there are no shades of grey and he has undeniably committed an evil while of sober mind….Why keep silent then? There’s evidence, there’s no reason. If the star of your favourite sports team who everyone adores does that, maybe hes not the Wonderboy everyone thought he is. Who cares about not ruining his life if hes a rapist?!? And not just REALLY drunk and trying to grab girls’ butts, but a rapist.

        • California Penal Code 243.4.(e)(1) Any person who touches an
          intimate part of another person, if the touching is against the will of the person touched, and is for the specific purpose of sexual arousal, sexual gratification, or sexual abuse, is guilty of misdemeanor sexual battery.

        • What’s the context? That didnt clear anything up for me. Im no expert on Rape Law, but Id id be willing to bet Misdemeanor Sexual battery is a lesser offense than full on rape.

  10. Thank you for sharing this really compelling piece. It is tiring to hear excuses for rape.
    You are so brave for sharing your story.
    By the way, are students (criminals) who commit rape or sexual assault expelled? Just curious…It seems there should be a hard line consequence.

  11. I understand. And you just helped me understand something about myself. I had a lot of residual issues following my assault, and they began right around the time I realized that’s what had happened to me. I’m wondering now if being told I was a victim and believing I was a victim encouraged that self destructive behavior. Maybe if I had believed instead that I was strong, that I was going to recover, and most importantly that I was still just a normal kid and that it didn’t change my identity, I wouldn’t have behaved that way. No way of knowing, of course. But no kid should have to look around a classroom and think “I can’t be happy like they can, because what happened ruined me in some way.”

  12. You are a rape survivor. We use the word to describe people who have been through cancer, so I think it is more than appropriate. You are strong. It is a strength that comes from necessity. You need to be strong in a way that most people will never need to be.

  13. Thank you so much for coming forward. I truly appreciate all you have to say and can tell you you are not alone.

Comments are closed.