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Professor examines the intersectionality of assault

| Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Salamishah Tillet, associate professor of English and Africana studies at the University of Pennsylvania, discussed sexual assaults on college campuses and how they relate to race during a presentation titled Rape, Culture and Post-Race America on Monday evening.

As a freshman in college, Tillet said she was raped by her boyfriend, a senior fraternity member.

“He was a man who I repeatedly said no to when he pressured me to have sex with him,” Tillet said. “One day he stopped listening.”

After the rape, Tillet said she initially acted as if it didn’t happen. She said it took almost five years for her to realize she “could no longer run from this trauma.”

“I finally mustered up enough courage and strength to publicly acknowledge that I had been raped,” Tillet said. “I knew my case would be a long shot because I was just within the five-year statute of limitations, and I knew most rape cases ended in a not-guilty verdict. Nonetheless, I wanted to assert my right to press charges.”

Although the prosecutor believed her story, Tillet said at the time of her rape, the “No Means No” rape clause was not yet in place. This meant that there had to be evidence of physical violence for a rape charge, and consequently, her case was not brought to court.

“My story fell into that no man’s land of believability but not criminality,” Tillet said. “Justice, it seemed, was for another day.”

Tillet said “a flood of self-doubt resurfaced” because of the lack of charges, and she was “faced with the reality of [her] invisibility.”

To make matters worse, Tillet said people often “spat words of disbelief in the face” of those attempting to raise awareness for the issue of campus rape, writing them off as “troublemakers and rabble-rousers.”

Tillet said the rights of women and African Americans have frequently been infringed upon in the past, which she said contributes to the difficulty of combating rape as an African-American woman.

“Because African Americans, indigenous communities and women were historically denied access to the rights and rituals of citizenship, they were essentially unprotected by rape laws,” Tillet said.

Tillet said African-American women continue to be particularly vulnerable to sexual violence.

“Though students experiencing sexual violence on college campuses are diverse, students of color are still disproportionately victims of rape, and they are still less likely to report the assault,” she said.

In her experiences, Tillet said a large obstacle in fighting rape culture after her rape was the lack of platforms and programs aimed at combatting sexual violence.

“There were no real spaces in which you could talk, in which women could publicly advocate and feel safe,” Tillet said.

In response, Tillet and her sister co-founded A Long Walk Home, a nonprofit organization that uses art to empower young people and end violence against women. In addition, Tillet spreads her story through “Story of a Rape Survivor,” a multimedia performance Tillet wrote and produced about her experiences.

Tillet said further advocacy and education is necessary to continue the fight against rape culture.

“To do anything less is to put our campuses and our country at great risk,” Tillet said. “In other words, we have everything to lose.”

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