Trigger Warning: This article includes testimony of sexual assault, violence and trauma.
I hugged my rapist the other day. I had to. It was either I hug him, or the entire room full of my friends would know something was up; I do not want anyone to know something is up.
People tell me they “cannot wait to see the change I will make in the world.” I am an activist. An unapologetic feminist. But how can I make change when I cannot even talk about this?
The other day I wanted to share an article with a friend, so I read the author’s words to her, including, “I didn’t think it was rape.” I froze. I had read this story before and not reacted. Those were not even my words. But uttering them made them my reality. I really didn’t think it was rape until I wrote down what happened.
I used to read articles with “trigger warnings” and think to myself how horrible it would be to have to reconsider whether or not I could read a piece of writing because of something in my past. In the days following my assault, I wondered if I would be “triggered.” If I were, what response would it evoke from me? What even constitutes a trigger, I wondered.
I hate that word. “Trigger.” It is as if someone is pointing a gun at me and threatening to fire. I do not know which part of me they will shoot, and how much it will hurt. This is what being a survivor is like for me: not knowing when I will get shot.
I know myself. I know what makes me happy, and what makes me sad. I know how I react in all sorts of situations. What I do not know, though, is what will trigger me, and how I will react. Will my body tense up like it did when he hugged me the other day? Will I shudder when a mutual friend sends me a snapchat of them together? Will I cry when my mind wanders to dark places as I walk to class? The worst part of this all is that he took part of me away and replaced it with a part of me I do not know, and that I do not like. My own reactions are out of my control.
I am a senior. I am the girl who did not write a thesis so that I could take classes in totally different fields, so that I could contribute one last year to my favorite student groups, and most of all, so that I could enjoy senior spring. I am determined not to let him ruin it for me. I will go to the party my friends throw even though I know he might be there. Sometimes, I can forget that he exists and that this happened, and I have the greatest times of my life. Sometimes, I cannot. As much as I do not want to give him the power to affect me, I have no control over that.
I used to be so sad that this was my last year; I just wanted to be in this wonderful, idealistic, intellectual bubble with the people I love, forever. Now, I console myself by counting down the days until May 25th.
When I hear the statistic the White House is throwing around these days, “One in five college women has been assaulted,” I think about how I almost escaped unscathed. I almost graduated college without becoming a statistic.
Lena Sclove shed a much-needed light on sexual assault at Brown, and the university’s unjust policies regarding it. I admire her. I am thankful for the awareness she has spread, and the conversations she and others have sparked. Two of my friends who know about my assault (few do) discussed Lena’s story while we sat at the same table in public. One said, “I cannot even imagine what it’s like for Lena to walk around campus afraid of running into her rapist.”
Well, that “unimaginable” scenario is actually the reality for many people who have been sexually assaulted by someone in their college community.
That said, I appreciate the attempts at empathizing. My friend realized I was uncomfortable and asked how I was, adding, “Of course I’ve been thinking about you and your experience throughout this whole thing, but I haven’t thought about how you must feel hearing all this.” I am so ambivalent, because I do not want to denigrate my friends’ good intentions, but intent cannot make up for the emotions these comments trigger. I do not want your pity. I do not want you to think about me every time you hear a story about sexual assault. I do not want to be your token rape victim.
So, I ask you, let us continue to fight for justice. Let us continue this discourse. Let us also be careful of how we go about doing so. Understand that everyone is different; some survivors may want to talk about sexual assault on campus, and some may not. I want my best friends to know that this is something that happened to me, but does not define me, and my experience should not be compared to others’ on this campus or in this world. I also want to have these discussions, but when I am prepared for them, not unexpectedly when we are sitting in the GCB on a Friday night.
You never know who around you may have survived sexual assault, and you do not know what could trigger them. Please be cautious and conscientious of what you say in informal discussions with friends. That girl behind you in the Blue Room could be a survivor. So could that guy sitting next to you in the SciLi.
After all, I am that “fun senior” who you would probably never guess is a survivor.
I am one in five.
I will proudly and defiantly wearing a red “IX” on my graduation cap this weekend, and I hope my peers will join me.
By An Anonymous Contributor
(Red tape and printing have been and are being purchased out of students’ pockets. The total estimated cost is $70. If you would like to donate to fund this action, please contact Lorin Smith at firstname.lastname@example.org)
Cover Photo via Daphne Xu