Rape and Sexual Assault Next Door (Trigger Warning)

I am a rape survivor. I am a Bryn Mawr student, and I know this is not my school’s program or my school’s dialogue, but it is my school’s problem. If my voice doesn’t belong here, I understand, but I thought it might be worth a try. Bryn Mawr has no public place or campus-wide movement for these voices in the way that your mission has allowed for Haverford, and I’m not sure with our current college environment or administration that we can. This is for a lot of complicated reasons that make me very upset with the place I’ve been forced to call home, reasons that might be familiar to you, probably because they’re familiar to anyone who has grown up in our rape culture.

We really don’t talk about rape in our own bubble, partly because being a single-gendered institution (at least in name) we deal with rape and sexual assault on different terms than would a co-ed institution. This process typically involves silencing actual dialogues about actual situations and replacing them with archaic notions of prevention and fear-mongering. Rape has become wrapped up in the same dialogue as abortion and feminism. In fact, I’m pretty sure that the campus groups associated with these issues tie them together in similar forms of activism. Everything surrounding rape on our campus has to do with preventative measures, at least in terms of how our administration chooses to deal with them. We receive a rape whistle our first week on campus – the rape whistle is the common butt of a lot of shared jokes. If you’ve been to Bryn Mawr at night, you’ve noticed that in comparison to Haverford or Swarthmore, our campus is lit up like a nuclear Christmas tree. We continually hear about how we are sitting ducks, living in institutionalized innocence and ripe for the corruption of the outside world, defenseless to its violence. “Lock your doors, carry pepper spray, don’t talk to strangers, don’t let men into the dorms, don’t drink anything you didn’t pour yourself, actually don’t drink at all, don’t consume drugs that alter your perception, don’t wear low-cut outfits when you’re visiting the tri-co, don’t go to parties in groups less than 5, follow the buddy system at all times, CONSTANT VIGILANCE.” Because we are women (some of us). Because we are defenseless (if you haven’t given us the tools to be and think otherwise, sure). Because we are trained to exist in fear, and be steeped in that fear, and face these situations with extreme fear.

My own experience was on my campus. I was raped in the fall of my freshman year, right in my dorm room. I met him at a party. I was sober (and I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had to say that I was sober, because my sobriety has been in question, because the fact of whether or not I was sober was something that was needed to legitimize what was done to me). He followed me back to my room and I pretended to write my number on a post-it note. He locked the door and hit me in the back of the head and raped me. He entered me with a plastic bottle before entering me himself. He hit me in such a way that my left kidney is still damaged. He told me repeatedly that I was a slut, and he wasn’t going to hurt me if I told him that I liked it.

I can’t say that I remember the exact order of the steps I took with campus officials. I did go to my dean the next week. I did see a counselor. The term used was “sexual assault.” It was reported on the school record as “sexual assault,” which probably looks a lot better than an incident of rape on the school record. And that fear that had been festering? It worked. I was terrified of what had happened, I was terrified of what the tiny campus would think of me, a brand new freshman, as a result of the incident, I was terrified of the shell my body had transformed into, and I was terrified of the memories that were already playing on repeat in my confused mind. Here’s how the fear worked: I pretended it was nothing. I tried my best to play it off. I lied about what had happened to get out of an exam with the college’s health center. I lied to the people around me so that the lessened version of the event that they imagined would become my reality. Sadly, it hasn’t. I lived with flashback nightmares for two years that reminded me in perfect detail exactly what happened every single night until I went through memory-replacement therapy. I told people that he forced oral, and then left. “Ugh, men are pigs” was the typical response I’d get, and I’d shrug and pick at the sleeve of the same t-shirt I’d been wearing for a few days. I threw out all my underwear. My customs person went and cleaned my room for me.  I buried myself in other people and other things, picked up a few bad habits, and thought that I could go on with my life if I ignored what had happened to me. The college certainly wasn’t going to help, so why bother? My dean said I was only the second student she’d had who had gone through that kind of experience. Therefore, she said, she didn’t have much definitive advice. At the time, I didn’t really care. I didn’t really care about anything, so I didn’t think twice about the fact that I was being turned away from support and told to keep quiet. I was advised not to speak to anyone about what had happened, as it would distress my peers. Okay, I said, and I went back to my room.

I didn’t get to move out of that room. I slept in the same bed where I was raped for the next  seven months. My roommate got to move out for reasons I have never entirely understood. Another person on the hall told me the strain of my erratic behavior had been getting to her, and she needed to get away for her health. I don’t know exactly what the truth of her getting to leave was, but I still wonder what kind of an administration knows a student was raped in her bed, and then leaves her in it. I fell asleep every night staring at the same spot on the ceiling that my eyes had focused in and out of during the rape. And every day I walk to class under that window, I walk the same route I walked when I was trying to get him to stop following me, I see the same places I associate with that night, I see the same students. The Bryn Mawr bubble is a way we joke about our surroundings, but it terrifies me. My triggers are inescapable. Every single day is a goddamned struggle and I’m in my final year at college. I passed the three year anniversary by sleeping for twenty six hours. I wish I could say that I had the strength to stand up for other students on this campus who have experienced the same things that I have, and while I’ve made efforts in the past, I’ve had to pass them on to other people who were stabler than me. Every time I think I’m okay, I’m not, and it’s taking me a long time to convince myself that this is okay, and not something I should hate myself for, or tell myself is shameful and disgusting. I’m in awe of the survivors I see who are able to organize and plan and be activists who seek justice for what has happened to them. I wish I were at that point. I wish I had been at that point three years ago so that the man who raped me could face some kind of justice for what he did.

I know other survivors on Bryn Mawr’s campus. One was assaulted by another Bryn Mawr student, a fact that this college’s administration clearly could not handle as they had no idea how to even label the incident, since same-sex sexual assault is just as baffling to them as their understanding of same-sex sexual relationships. Most of the other Bryn Mawr survivors, though, were raped by male Haverford students at Haverford. They have gone through Haverford’s policies, and they were just as lacking as Bryn Mawr’s, although it’s good to see that Haverford at least has some kind of policy in place. Bryn Mawr seems to still think that because we are all nice women here we can figure out some way to work it out. Bryn Mawr seems to think that because there are no men on campus, there’s no reason for us to have to deal with rape as a real actual situation, or its aftermath. I don’t have to see my rapist every day, because he was not a student, he was a completely random stranger, and I know how fortunate I am for not having to see the actual person again, much as I fear walking into him some day. I know other rape survivors who have had to see their rapist in person again, because that person continued to take classes in the tri-co, because that person was not expelled for their behavior, because that person did not face any reprimands for their actions. Rape is, in my experience, the absolute worst crime that can be committed by a human being to another human being. I wish sometimes that I had been killed, because living with what happened seems to be a much worse punishment. I don’t understand, and I’ll never understand, how our colleges let us down so much. I’m excited by what you guys are doing at Haverford, and I hope that Bryn Mawr picks up the example.

Advertisements

2 thoughts on “Rape and Sexual Assault Next Door (Trigger Warning)

  1. Thank you so much for sharing your story.

    We’re here to offer support in any way you think might be helpful. We hear there’s no support group at Bryn Mawr, but you can email survivorsupporthc@gmail.com to get involved in SOAR. We can also help you start a support group there.

    We set up this blog because we wanted an anonymous space that was hosted off-campus. It’s really simple to create one, and it has a certain amount of autonomy from the administration. If you (or other survivors at Bryn Mawr) would be interested in having your own space, we can set one up for you in ten minutes if you email consentissexyhc@gmail.com.

    Otherwise, you’re always welcome here.

  2. Reading your story, I am filled with outrage, not just at the deans, but at the rape culture and lack of institutional support which pervades the Haverford and Bryn Mawr Campuses (I cannot speak about Swarthmore, as I have little experience there). I fervently hope that someone or a group of people at Bryn Mawr will have the initiative to speak with the deans which allowed this situation to go without being addressed in any meaningful way. This story has inspired me to see this culture as an issue of social justice and empowered me to be more involved, and for that, I thank you. I can hardly imagine how hard it must have been to put that in to words, and I admire your courage in doing so. I hope to see that it was not in vain and that people will do something in response.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s