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I am 21 years old. Five people I know have shared with me that they were raped, but who knows how many I am unaware of.
I want to give a trigger warning here, because in writing this piece, I don’t want to root up pain for survivors or loved ones of survivors out there. And I want you to know, I’m writing this for us.
Growing up, rape and sexual violence evoked a sickening fear in me with every mention — a reaction that came long before any sex-talk or elementary school maturation night. I remember taking a bath, maybe three or four years old, and my mom warning me not to let anyone touch me inappropriately, even an uncle. At age eight, I heard about my cousin’s neighbor who was arrested for having child pornography. As eleven-year-olds in sixth grade, with barely a sense of what sex even was, my friends and I all anounced that we would rather die than be raped. Barely 15, I lay in bed, heartbroken and haunted by the story of Elizabeth A. Smart, a 12-year-old girl who was kidnapped from her home, brutally raped, and sexually assaulted for nine months before being rescued. When I was a college sophomore living abroad for a year in Hong Kong, a man followed me and my friend down dimly lit streets with a manic grin on his face. The two of us only escaped on a well-timed train. But later on separate occasions several months apart, a different friend and I were both groped on the very vehicle of my previous rescue.
Anyone reading this who thinks I or my experiences are an anomaly is both blissfully and unsettlingly ignorant. I say “blissful,” because you don’t know the inescapable harm and danger women (and people of other gender identities) face; “unsettled,” because you could very well be part of the problem. And I can’t help but resent your removedness — I resent that you live a life removed from, with a blind eye turned to, these tragedies.
Every 73 seconds, an American is sexually assaulted. A 2015 survey found that nearly 50 percent of transgender people are sexually assaulted in their lifetimes. Twenty-six percent of female undergraduates experience rape or sexual assault through physical force or violence. That’s roughly 13 women in your large General Education course, or one in your seminar.
One in six American women is a victim of rape or attempted rape. One in six. Take a group of women: Let’s say your sister, close friend, two random classmates, a cousin, and your mom. It could be any one.
How grateful I am for the Me Too and Time’s Up movements, which have shed a little more light on what so many have experienced. Sexual assault, rape, violence, are as pervasive as they are depraved. As damaging as they are vicious.
But the world has repeatedly told me that sexual violence doesn’t matter. While there are a lot of tasteless and sickening jokes out there, the rape and sexual assault jokes stab my heart and put a knot in my stomach like none other. Shows like “Family Guy” and “South Park” crack rape jokes that could only be funny to those who don’t get what rape is, or are capable of committing the atrocity themselves. As a young girl, my cousin recounted to me, crying with laughter, fictional “comedic” YouTube videos of women being sexually assaulted by TSA workers. In high school, a football player told me point blank that sexual assault “wasn’t a big deal,” as he dismissed the numerous sexual assault allegations against Donald J. Trump. And in 2018, 50 U.S. senators, including the two from my home state, told me the same thing when they voted to confirm Brett M. Kavanaugh onto the Supreme Court. Many other Americans loudly agreed.
So what does this have to do with Harvard? We’re woke. We opposed Kavanaugh’s confirmation. We have Title IX and that extra “Interim Other Sexual Misconduct Policy” to account for conduct that falls outside of the new Title IX regulations. Harvard and its students all care about sexual violence, don’t they?
Well, maybe you didn’t catch Twitter accounts from the past year like How H* Failed Me, which share in horrifying volume the mass of individuals who have experienced sexual violence at the hands of Harvard affiliates. Or maybe I wasn’t clear enough that a good chunk of those five people I mentioned at the beginning are Harvard students. And from what they’ve told me, so are their rapists.
I’ve barely been at Harvard for two years. To already know so many who have suffered at the hands of my peers evokes deadening pain I cannot describe. Experience and statistics tell me rapists are often not the men following you down the street, but those we know.
So to everyone reading this, rape and other sexual assaults are not rarities that occur outside of your sphere of influence — though that should not make a difference in your awareness and determination to stop it. Sexual violence is a rampant part of your life and the lives of those around you, whether you currently recognize it or not.
A quarter of female undergraduates have been raped or violently sexually assaulted. Harvard is no anomaly. What are you going to do about it?
Annabelle J.L. Finlayson ’22, a Crimson Editorial editor, is an Applied Mathematics concentrator in Adams House.
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