POWELL: A survivor's call to action

One of the main reasons survivors don’t report is that their peers do not support them

I’m a survivor and it took far too long for me to feel supported.

I grew up in an environment where topics like consent and healthy relationships were never discussed. I was taught to believe in the classic rape myth: rapists are strangers who jump out of bushes.

I met the man who raped me at a fraternity party (no, he was not a member of Greek life) my first semester in college. The assault did not happen that night, but a few weeks later, after I ran into him at another party. I knew I had said no, that I had cried, and that I ran back to my dorm afterwards. I did not associate my assault with the word “rape” because no one had ever explained to me what actually constitutes rape. I knew what had happened to me was wrong, but none of my friends seemed concerned; they thought I was being dramatic for thinking what happened was anything but “miscommunication” and “regrettable sex.”

I did not allow myself to associate the word “rape” with what had happened to me, until after I had watched a video in a class during my second semester of second year, where a girl described her sexual assault — and I felt like I could have been the one speaking. It had been a year and a half since I was raped, so even though there is no statute of limitations in the criminal justice system and the Sexual Misconduct Board still had jurisdiction, I felt that reporting would just cause me more mental and emotional damage. I had no evidence and I believed that I would be blamed and attacked for reporting, especially since “friends” of mine had already showed what victim-blaming behaviors my peers could be capable of.

So why haven’t I, and countless other survivors, reported our assaults to the police or administration? Some have heard negative things about the Sexual Misconduct Board. Some are afraid of retaliation by their perpetrators. Some find the criminal justice system is too harsh an environment for survivors. Some, like me, didn’t realize what happened to them was a crime because this country does such a poor job of educating people on this subject in middle school and high school; by the time we get to college, we are ill-equipped to handle these situations. But there is another reason why so many, including myself, choose not to report.

Because of you. Maybe not you reading this (although there are some individuals I can think of who made me not want to report), but you as a collective group, you as a society, you as my peers.

After I justified to myself that I was right in thinking what happened to me was horrible, I confided in people I considered to be friends and I felt attacked by the victim blaming questions and statements. “Well, had you been drinking?” “Are you sure you said no?” “He probably didn’t understand. Just let it go.” “Are you really considering ruining someone’s life over this?” “Stop being overdramatic, stop playing the victim, and get over it.” I wanted to scream, “What about my life? Why does he get to ruin my life? Why should I have to carry this around by myself?”

We live in a culture that perpetuates rape. Many of us in the advocacy community assert this and are met with objections like, “That’s so stupid. No one thinks rape is okay except for rapists.” Unfortunately, this is not actually the case. You might not intentionally support perpetrators over survivors, but many of you manage to do so anyway. “What were you wearing?” “How much did you drink?” “Why were you walking home alone?” “Did you scream?” These are all common victim blaming questions. These questions make us doubt ourselves. We don’t doubt that the event occurred; we doubt that we are blameless for what happened. Victim-blaming takes the responsibility away from the perpetrator and places it on the survivor, thereby re-victimizing him or her. When you re-victimize a survivor, you trigger them and cause them to relive the assault and the pain that comes with it. Many of us fear these questions that our society deem acceptable and choose not to report to protect ourselves.

Many of you say you stand with survivors, but do you really? Take some time and evaluate what you say and how you act in regard to this subject. Recognize any defensiveness you may feel upon reading this article and channel it toward making constructive change. As a survivor, it is so angering to see some of the same people who blame me for my rape speak out on how horrified they are by the way Jackie’s friends acted in the recently published Rolling Stone article. We all play a role in rape culture, and I hope this column serves as a wake-up call for those who are passive in countering it.

This is a call to action. Recognize that this culture exists and actively work to change it. I support survivors, today and every day. Can you say this honestly too?

Emily Powell is a fourth-year in the College, a member of One Less and an intern for the Women’s Center's Gender Violence and Social Change program.

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