Shattering the Silence
A Rape Survivor Speaks Out
Like many people on campus, I have been instructed almost since birth to avoid dangerous situations. I don't walk in alleyways by myself, or travel around at two in the morning, or go with strangers into isolated areas. None of this advice however, designed for use against a hypothetical, psychopathic, stranger rapist, protected me from the brilliant, popular, future Ivy League student I thought was my friend.
The rape happened one afternoon during a summer program. We were in my room preparing for class. When he finished, he asked me how it was. After I told him to go away and leave me alone, he laughed, kissed me and left, completely oblivious of what he had just done.
I was too ashamed, too hurt and too confused to tell anyone what had happened. I thought that it was my fault, that I had somehow "led him on."
Life went on, except that I was split between being the good student that everyone else saw and dealing with the emotional trauma I carried with me.
The impact of rape on the lives of rape survivors goes beyond the time it takes to utter the word "rape." Four letters cannot possibly communicate the pain from the slaps, the hair pulling and the slamming of my head against a wall. They do not express the feeling of suffocation from being pinned down by someone 100 pounds heavier than me. The word does not begin to describe the month of pain and bleeding, the days of constant nausea and vomiting, the flashbacks and nightmares or the stress, anger, hurt and fear.
I was raped the summer before my senior year in high school, but I didn't say, "I was raped" until after I arrived to college.
My mind defined rape as a criminal act committed by a stranger, not by a friend. The first people I told about the incident shared my definition. An older college student did not understand why I was upset. She thought it was great that I had "lost my virginity during a fling, because there was no emotional attachment." An adult who taught health education couldn't comprehend "why such a smart girl would let something like that happen" to her. A close friend called me a slut.
It was only after another friend urged me to get counseling that I was finally able to see my having been raped for what it was.
Even though I now consider myself a rape survivor, very few people know that I have been raped. This is partly because I don't want to share the most traumatic event of my life with casual friends. But perhaps most importantly, I still fear that I won't be believed.
The emotional pain caused by someone else's disbelief or belittlement of an incident that robbed me of my voice is too difficult to bear.
In the past few weeks, I have heard many unsettling comments reflecting misconceptions of acquaintance rape. The remarks have ranged from jokes such as, "Harvard doesn't have date rape because Harvard students don't date" to plain misinformation: "If sexual assault is so prevalent, then how come I don't know anyone who's been raped?"
I wonder, what would distinguish a rape survivor from anyone else? Forty-two percent of acquaintance rape victims tell no one about their assault, according to one study. No one who knows me, except for the few people I have confided in, knows that I am a rape survivor.
People do not see me in the middle of the night when I'm crying in frustration, they only see the me that walks with them in the Yard or laughs with them in class, the "non" rape survivor.
When I first confronted the man who raped me, his only comment was, "You kept on saying no, but I thought that you would change your mind once I started." He never thought the incident was a rape--even though I fought to keep him from penetrating me--nor did he consider himself a rapist. His friends assured him that I was lying.
A year ago, this information would have caused me to blame myself further for what happened. Now, I just get angry. What am I angry at? Harvard's first-year orientation, where we received only two-minute sound bites and emergency whistles from the peer support groups, the lack of information from many students who are supposed to be well-educated and the general disregard for a subject that is too important to be ignored.
Rape at Harvard will not cease to be an issue once the last murmurs from the coverage of the recent alleged incident die down. It is a subject that must be fought with information and compassion, not passivity and ignorance.
Editors' note: The author is a member of the class of 2001. For reasons of safety and privacy, her name has been withheld.