My year becoming a survivor, supporter and activist
Letter to the Editor | Thursday, August 27, 2015
This past year, three of my close friends became victims of sexual and physical assault. I became a victim, and then a survivor, of dating violence, sexual harassment and stalking. The ability to be a normal college student was taken away from me. Every week, I had at least three of the following: police interview, Title IX meeting, meeting with the Office of Community Standards, meeting with a lawyer who was investigating a Title IX case, meeting with an administrator, meeting with my resource counselor or meeting with my case manager. Sometimes I didn’t even know whether the meeting was for my case or for a friend’s case. So naturally, my first priority, and the main topic on my mind most of the time, was not when my dorm dance was, what exam I had coming up, what parties were happening this weekend or how our school was doing in sports. It was rape, sexual assault, physical assault, the broken legal and school systems, Title IX legislation and the sheer number of survivors who never experience justice. I saw “The Hunting Ground” twice at my school and both times sat in my chair thinking, this is the world I am living in right now. The world I see that others don’t. A world of abuse and brokenness and college campuses letting rapists go free so that their sexual assault statistics stay low. It’s a world I never asked to be a part of, but now my eyes are opened, I can’t help but feel called to action.
The fact that 100,000 college students will be raped next year is disgusting. The fact that my school currently only recognizes dating and domestic violence to be physical, when the federal definition encompasses physical, verbal, emotional and cyber abuse, is just plain wrong. The fact that so many men in our country believe they have the right to physically and verbally violate women and men in a way that profoundly changes the victim’s life is horrifying. But most people do not feel called to action until it hits home, and in fact, stand by and watch dating abuse or sexual assault occur without stepping in. An excerpt from Judith Herman’s book “Trauma and Recovery” explains this phenomenon: “It is very tempting to take the side of the perpetrator. All the perpetrator asks is that the bystander do nothing. He appeals to the universal desire to see, hear and speak no evil. The victim, on the contrary, asks the bystander to share the burden of pain. The victim demands engagement, and remembering …”
I lost many “friends” last year, as some decided to side with my abuser, or asked to be “left out of it.” They claimed that my abuse wasn’t their issue, and they shouldn’t have to address it. My argument is this: Intentional complacency in the face of violence is the same as condoning it. If you don’t speak out, you are supporting the abuser. It’s that simple. This is especially relevant considering that my abuser has seven other victims that he has sexually, physically and verbally abused and assaulted. These other women were harassed, blackmailed and threatened the same way I was. Had someone spoken up for even one of the other seven women, I can’t help but imagine that I might not have been an abuse victim. But I am not going to let there be a ninth victim.
My friends and family have asked me when I’ll go back to normal. I don’t think I ever will. Once you see the psychological trauma that survivors of assault and abuse endure, or even experience it yourself, you can’t go back. So now I’m moving forward and trying to determine how I can best create change. I would love to be a part of the grassroots activist movements educating students about their Title IX rights and pushing for stricter state and federal legislation. We’ll just have to see what’s in store for my future!