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The Very Bad Thing Is Always a Big Deal

By Rachel C. Talamo

The Very Bad Thing began with broken glass. Full to the brim with blue raspberry Rubinoff and wobbling through a sea of sweaty teenagers, I didn’t notice the shattered lamp on the floor in front of me until it sliced into my sole. Before that point, the party made me feel like I was doing high school right. Then I started bleeding.

Cue The Boy. He noticed me, drunk and woozy next to the staircase in the front hall, and sat me down on the steps. He left briefly and returned with a wet paper towel for my gash and a Band-Aid. He was a varsity athlete with an impressive reputation around school. I was grateful, flattered, and 16.

He held my hand and gestured me up the stairs. I trusted The Boy to take care of me, so I crawled up behind him. He led me into a bedroom and shut the door.

Without warning, he threw his mouth on my lips and my shirt on the ground. My arms felt numb and foreign as I tried to keep his hands off my bra clasp and my body. I was unsuccessful. I tried to push him, but my strength failed me. My “I don’t want to” was slurred and futile. As his hands reached my shorts, the door flew open. My friend and his girlfriend stumbled in, saw us, and apologized. I thanked them, grabbed my shirt, and tripped out the door.

The next morning, I found the friend who had interrupted The Very Bad Thing. I needed him to know that I didn’t want it to happen, and I felt sick that he might’ve thought—or worse, told—a version of the story that painted me as an eager participant.

I let the contents of The Very Bad Thing spill out of me, desperate for him to see it for what it was. He didn’t.

“No, don’t say stuff like that,” he said. “The Boy’s a good guy. You were both just drunk.”

This was a slap, and I felt The Thing seep back into me like poison. Shaking, I found my best friend and handed him The Very Bad Thing.

“It’s not a big deal,” he said. “The Boy’s a good guy.”

My friends grew angry with me for telling them, and when they begrudgingly passed on to The Boy why I didn’t want to be at parties with him, The Boy hated me. “For good reason,” my best friend said. The Very Bad Thing ripped through my stomach and settled there for three years.

A few weeks ago, I sat in on an OSAPR workshop, and the two women who ran it made clear that many women at Harvard experience Bad Things and are told they aren’t serious or real. That night, I spoke to three people I love, and they each told me The Very Bad Thing Was Not Okay. “It Was a Big Deal,” they said. I cried as my stomach loosened and expelled The Very Bad Thing.

Last week, I handed my Bad Thing to another friend, and she handed me hers. This month last year, during a time known as The Red Zone for women, she was raped. She told A Boy that she did not want to have sex, and he responded with The Very Bad Thing. No one interrupted him. A few months later when she confronted The Boy, telling him she was still spiraling from what had happened, he responded with an answer that seemed designed to shield him from legal harm.

“I don’t think it was his first rodeo,” she said.

The other day, another friend got into an argument with her boyfriend. He shoved her to the ground and left. Scraped and bleeding, she asked his friends to help her. “He’s just stressed out,” they said. “The Boy’s a good guy” is what they meant. “Boys will be boys.”

According to Harvards Campus Climate Survey on Sexual Assault and Misconduct, about 31 percent of undergraduate women are sexually assaulted by the time they graduate, and the numbers are even worse in the LGBQAN community. Only 16 percent of Harvard undergraduate women think the University would be very or extremely likely to take action against offenders. Roughly 75 percent of women who experience non-consensual penetration do not file a formal complaint. The report also noted, “the most frequently cited reason for not reporting [sexual assault] was the belief that it was not serious enough to report.”

About a third of respondents said they didn’t report because they felt nothing would be done in response.

I’m not surprised. Harvard—everywhere, right now—has a systemic problem. And it won’t be fixed by telling women to come forward. Publicly, everyone can agree that sexual assault and violence against women are abysmal. Large community conversations or newspaper statements encourage women to report, but the message that hits home most is heard in passing conversation, over dinner, at parties. Every “I don’t believe you,” every “she was drunk” or “he’s a good guy” or “boys will be boys” reaffirms the belief that men who do this always have an excuse, that the women who are forced to hold onto Very Bad Things have caused trouble.

The Boy is many men, and he will do it again, he will show others they can do it again, if we keep talking like this. If we want to fix this problem, our community must carry the burden of proof. We must take these stories at face value because the stakes are too high; the practices we will perpetuate otherwise are just too horrible. We need to show those around us that we will be different, that we will be the friends who listen, that The Boy never has a right to do this, that The Very Bad Thing is not okay.

Rachel C. Talamo '18, a Crimson editorial writer, lives in Winthrop House.

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