Last year, at the start of October, I sat down to a table in the dining hall and picked up the newly released issue of Frankly Speaking. Across the header in large font was an eye-catching title: “It Happens Here”. Along with many other students at Olin, I took in the account of rape and allowed it to permeate my thoughts for a few days. I participated in discussions, watched the mild aftermath, and soon fell back into a comfortable lull. I let the story quickly become a distant memory, unaware that soon I would experience an assault of my own.
I am coming forward (albeit anonymously) to also admit that I was sexually assaulted. At Olin. By a fellow Oliner. I was not drunk. I was not at a party. He was someone I knew and trusted. I assumed that meant I was safe.
This article is one that I have struggled with writing for a long time. It is happening now in light of incredible support from OSL, both in my personal healing process and in the writing of this article. It is also inspired by my need to let other Oliners, who may be in similar shoes, know that they are not alone.
Let’s face it: we go to a very small school. For the most part this can be comforting. It feels safe and homey. But to someone who is a survivor of assault and must see their perpetrator almost every day, it can also feel suffocating. I’ve been in his classes. I’ve sat at his lunch tables. I even phrase these sentences as if he has more of a right to be there than I do. It’s hard not to.
Since coming out to some of my closest friends about my assault, I have found several other students who have experienced assault or rape themselves. Whether at Olin or not, this is a situation that should not go overlooked. Our school is full of survivors. Survivors who brought the skeletons in their closets with them to college, or survivors like myself, who entered college in ignorance of the dark possibilities.
It’s hard for me to write this article, because it feels like my larger goal falls into two juxtaposed situations. On the one hand, I believe it is important to share my own story– letting other Oliners who are survivors of sexual assault know that they are not alone. On the other hand, I feel a need to focus on prevention and bystander interference. This is where my story falls short in reaching my point. I was not drunk. I was not at a party. I promised a boy he could sleep over as a joke, allowed him to coerce me into letting him through the door. Then I froze up and pretended I was asleep after he ignored my attempts to push him away so that it wouldn’t wake my roommate.
I also feel like I owe everyone explanations, as if it’s important why I don’t use the word rape, or there is some obligation for me to provide evidence, to validate my experience. I fear that some of you will read this and call me “the girl who cried wolf.” I understand to some level that I shouldn’t need to validate my experience with assault to all of you, but the larger part of me knows that saying that is much easier than feeling it. Anyone who has survived an assault and then experienced the culture of victim-blaming and slut-shaming that we live in understands how hard it is to tell anyone their story. How hard it is to convince yourself that it was real, that it was a valid trauma, that it is okay to tell people and they won’t blame you for your own assault. If we could be more aware of the guilt and shame that survivors may already be feeling, we wouldn’t be so quick to push more upon them. We could make this community one in which survivors feel safe to seek the help they need.
My hope is that the community can begin some very important discussions in light of this article’s publication. Recently, the honor board attempted to start a discussion about rape at Olin on the Sexuality mailing list. The results were, for me, incredibly disheartening. After three on-topic posts, the conversation quickly derailed to a different topic, leaving the opportunity for incredibly thought-provoking discussion behind. Why do we find it so difficult to talk about this important subject? How can we hope to incite change, when we are so quick to sweep the issue of assault under the rug?
We need to start a discussion about how we treat each other within this community and how we practice both prevention and recognition of this issue. Although parties and alcohol were not a factor in my experience with assault, I know that they are statistically a common factor in college cases. Keep an eye on your friends. Be aware of how much the people around you are drinking and how in control of their own decisions they currently are. Even outside of parties, I’m sure that there are ways we can prevent assault. My being a survivor barely makes me any more capable than the rest of our community of figuring these techniques out. I don’t have the answers, but I’m ready to start targeting the questions.
There is so much more we could be doing to look out for each other, to build a safer home where assault occurs less and to create a space where survivors feel comfortable enough to seek the help they might need. OSL has done so much for me throughout my healing process, and I honestly wish other Oliners recognized how valuable a resource – not only Alison, Nick, and Rae-Anne – but the whole R2 team are.
OSL provides a talk with BARCC (Boston Area Rape Crisis Center) every spring that students can register for. This year it falls on March 3rd from 7 PM to 9:30 PM. Although it will likely be too late to sign up by the time this is published, I hope that those of you reading this consider signing up next year, or alert OSL if this type of programming is something you want to see more of at Olin. At the very least I hope you take a moment out of your day to think about the people you care about and how you might make Olin a better place for them, both to prevent sexual misconduct and properly recognize its aftermath.
If you or someone you know needs help, call this 24-hour Boston area rape crisis hotline (800) 841 – 8371 or visit www.barcc.org/help/