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.