Not in solidarity, but in support [trigger warning]

I was assaulted at Haverford.  It wasn’t very complicated; I drank to much, I couldn’t move, let alone speak, he raped me, and in the morning, when I could stand again, I went home.  No one knew; I don’t think even he knew.   And that was my choice.  I packed it away.  To me, the only thing worse than being raped was to allow my rape to shackle me in the way I had seen it shackle other women.  In my mind these women allowed themselves to victimized by this event by allowing it to control them.  They, even more than their assaulter, created their own identity as a victim.  That was something I would not allow.  I didn’t.  I boxed it away.  And for awhile, that was fine.  I went out.  I drank.  I had sex with men.

I’m not sure when it started exactly, but more than a year later, I started to get very nervous any time I got drunk.  It was barely noticeable at first, but it crept up on me, until it reached the point that almost as soon as I felt the buzz, I started to feel my chest squeeze in.  When people touched me unexpectedly, I flinched in fear.  Sex, even sober sex, started to make me feel panicky.

My partner at the time could hardly help but notice, and eventually strongarmed me into seeing CAPS.  It was difficult.  I didn’t like to talk about it.  But it did help.  I told some of my friends.  I told my partner, who was so, so understanding.  I talked to my dean, finally explaining why the past semester had been so hard.  Though I did not want to release my name, I made sure that my assault was a part of our statistics.  I acknowledged that it had happened.

Even though I had tried to put it away, tried to avoid being a victim, I had done exactly the opposite: I had victimized myself.  When I let the memory of this experience back into my life, I had to learn how to become a survivor.  I had to come to terms with the fact that my assault did not end when I walked home in the morning, but continued as I repressed myself, panicked, withdrew from my partner and my friends.  I had to learn to exist with this in my life, not just have survived, but to continue surviving.  And I have.

There are a few things I want to say with this:

I know those of you who are vocal at SOAR promote the use of the term “survivor.”  I am a survivor.  But for a time, I was a victim, and it had nothing to do with what anyone called me, or even just with the fact that I had been raped.  I was a victim because I was behaving like one.  I did not become a survivor until I truly had survived the experience and come out again whole, and continued to remain whole.  Don’t just promote “survivor;” teach those who are still victims how to become one.

Be thankful for those who are already trying to provide an infrastructure for survivors, whether formally or on a personal level.  Haverford’s community is not perfect, but when I have asked for it, the support I have received here has been incredible.

Do not fail to acknowledge the many, many individuals on this campus – students, administrators, faculty, staff – who are supportive.  You are not combating a conspiracy against survivors when you take on the administration.  You face an unwieldy, slow-moving bureaucracy that undeniably does not adequately address issues of rape and assault.  But that bureaucracy is made up of many individuals who want the same things you want.  Appeal to those individuals.

I want this to succeed.  A few years ago, after the incident on the Nature Trail, there was a similar effort.  But it petered out, for one reason or another.  And that time, the only member of the administration I found to be actively hostile was the one who should have been the most helpful: the head of the Women’s Center. As just one example, when I asked her about why Deans’ Panels did not release abstracts like Honor Council’s.  Weren’t they supposed to? Her response was roughly along the lines of, “I don’t care whether we are supposed to or not.  We won’t.  That’s not how we do things, and we’re not going to change.”

I very sincerely feel that if policies and attitudes surround rape and assault are going to change on this campus, a great deal has to change about the Women’s Center.  To start, the name itself is alienating.  There was a small campaign to advertise that the Center isn’t just for women.  If that’s the case, then change the damn name.  Call it Sexuality and Gender Center.  Give it an acronym like everything else at Haverford.  But stop being exclusive.  Similarly, the current head of the Center also tends to be exclusive or dismissive of men.  She is the point person to meet with survivors, yet how can you expect a man who has been assaulted to feel entirely comfortable?  Even as a woman, after my rape, she is the very last person I would wish to speak to.  The position requires understanding, attentive listening, nonjudgemental behavior, flexibility, and a willingness to defer to the wishes of the survivor.  Find someone suitable.

Finally, putting this campaign during finals was an extremely poor choice.  For starters, many people are too busy to even engage in the discussion you are trying to start.  Those that do engage have to do so on top of their workload.  But most salient for me is the fact that I and other survivors have to see these reminders every day.  I understand that it’s necessary, and I think it’s good to force our community to confront the issue.  But to wake up from three hours of sleep, already stressed, and a little more fragile that I would otherwise be, and to walk out of my dorm into a sea of reminders…  It sounds flip, but honestly, it is hard enough to cope with finals and it is hard enough rape – why the hell would you combine them?

I don’t know if you’ll post this.  My mentality about this is clearly not quite the same as yours, and I’ll admit I’m not subtle in some of my criticisms.  I wish I could post this publicly, but I can’t.  I just ask that you take this as I mean it – sincere, thoughtful, hopeful – and allow for dissenting voices to be heard.

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5 thoughts on “Not in solidarity, but in support [trigger warning]

  1. Yes. I am not a victim or a survivor myself, but of the issues addressed in this post that I can comment on, I agree wholeheartedly. In particular, this campaign seems to have begun with a hostile bent against the administration. Did SOAR send their letter to the administration or give them a heads up before starting this campaign? Why position everyone but SOAR as the bad guys here? I want the situation at Haverford with regard to sexual assault to improve, but I haven’t signed SOAR’s petition, in part because of how they have positioned the issue as an us versus them, survivors/allies versus harbors of rapists, situation. And as a male, I definitely agree that the name of The Women’s Center needs to change before I will feel welcome there.

  2. Thank you for writing this. I think you’ve brought up some important issues, and I appreciate the time you took to address them.

  3. I have to agree with the replier on this. Although I think this campaign has good intentions, every single man I have talked to feels personally alienated and offended. You can claim it’s about both sexes, but please back it up with actions to suggest it. Your posters are all about women except for one, and I had to see it 6 times to understand what I was reading (I was literally shocked when I realized it was in a male’s voice). The extracurricular one? That was beyond the pale. The one about not being afraid?

    How in god’s name am I supposed to not be afraid?! You’re scaring the living s**t out of me! You can claim it’s a good thing, but I see all of my friends hooking up and having fun, and I had just about worked up the courage to try it, and boom, I’m looking over my shoulder afraid I’ll get indited on a assault charge because I try to dance with someone. You have to be less jarring and explicit. I’m trying to get over paranoia (derived not because I hooked up with someone, because that’s never happened, but because of vicious social trauma from previous experiences), and I don’t think I can after this. It brings back too many painful rejections. I used to ask girls if they wanted to kiss me. Every single one turned me away because “that’s not how its done,” but that’s how I was taught. Then I saw my friends being spontaneous and I realized, hey “maybe that’s what girls like.” Well I guess they’re all assaulters, but at least I’m a good person. Lonely as all hell, but a good person.
    Edit :I know that was a tangent, but I really wanted to finally say what I feel. I would go to SOAR, but I can’t, because I’m not a survivor. I’ve been stepped on, spat on, chewed up and spit out by ever single girl I’ve ever asked out, but I don’t think that would count.

    I agree also implicitly with the last posters critique of the pledge. I refuse to sign it, because I don’t assault people based on my morals, not a pledge. It undermines the very message of this campaign.

    Also, none of my friends scream during sex. Most people here don’t like having the entire hall know what they’re doing. We can all guess afterwards but they take great pains to be very quiet. You seem to be suggesting people need to yell to establish consent.

    People can tell me the Women’s center is for both sexes, but I won’t believe them. If it’s true; change the name. That HAS to be a part of this campaign.

    • There’s a lot going on in this comment, but I’ll try to address as much as I can:

      1) I’m going to post more about gender and the posters in a blog post.

      2) I’m a bit confused about whether you mean the open letter to the deans or the “Got Consent?” poster in the DC. The open letter is to reform policy, not to keep you personally from assaulting people (although hopefully better policies will have the result of reducing sexual violence on campus).
      The “Got Consent” poster is a different issue. A psych major has informed us that public commitment increases follow-through. Signing that poster both puts a fuller definition of consent on your radar and encourages a culture of consent on campus as a whole. It’s trying to make you think about consent more and show clear support for consent on campus. We don’t see asking for commitments to getting consent as undermining either the campaign or individual morals, but you’re not obligated to sign it either way.

      3) The posters are “jarring and explicit” because nobody talks about things that are calming and mild. We needed to start a conversation, and the posters have done that. Also, sexual violence is “jarring and explicit” by definition. I don’t mean to be too snarky, but how exactly do you expect us to sugarcoat that? Rape happens here, and the campus needs to know it.

      4) We’re not saying people need to yell to establish consent. We think those posters (I’m assuming you mean YES! YES! YES! and YES, YES, OH GOD YES!) are funny and show *one way* of giving consent. You are welcome to give consent however you feel most comfortable. We mostly want it to be active and enthusiastic–but active enthusiasm can be whispered.

      EDIT: I removed a discussion of the Women’s Center and added “jarring and explicit.”

  4. We’re not comfortable changing the open letter at this point because we think it’s really inappropriate (unethical?) to change a petition that 320 people have signed. That said, we’ll make sure to bring up the name of the Women’s Center. It’s a really good point that the OP and commenters have made, and it deserves attention.

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