Brown Sexual Assault Series: “How can I make change when I cannot even talk about this?”

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

Cover Photo via Daphne Xu

  1. What does the red tape IX (the roman numeral 9) stand for on the graduation caps? The V =5 so is it supposed to be I/V (like one out of five)? I apologize for not recognizing this use of symbols in your act of defiance…
    My only advice (which I feel urgent to express) is do not hug your rapist (ever again) until he has acknowledged his crime, apologized for it, and you actually want to forgive him. The moves you make to shine on and cover up his crimes will come back to haunt-harm you later in life as unresolved, repressed, triggers that can lead to depression and suicidal feelings. You do not have to “out” yourself or be like any other victim of sexual assault, but he is getting a free pass to rape other women, as well as never learn how he hurts women if he doesn’t believe he raped you, and he will not learn how he can stop that behavior through your silence and may even feel encouraged by your hugs. People will not see you as a token victim if you speak out, they will se you as an advocate. A powerful survivor and not a victim. Triggers are the first things you recognize… you will know what they are and when they are coming over time if you don’t know already… So when your heart rate increases and your body tenses, listen to that and act immediately to get yourself into a safer situation. Pay attention to your red flags. They are not discouraging you from social activities, they are ensuring that you can navigate and enjoy them. Statistically, women drinking with men in college is a set up for date rape, sad to say, so women should go out in groups with a designated driver, responsible for keys as well as making sure nobody hooks up (until they are in full possession of their faculties= sober). Men will adjust to the rules if women establish them. This is before and after college. Your friends if they are real will learn how to be sensitive to you, but they won’t know what that sensitivity requires if you’re never honest with what that is. You can say you have no idea how to talk about the subject and that talking for too long stirs up too much and ask for patience. But people need to make an adjustment now and should want to. When and if they continue to be insensitive and oblivious which is inevitably what happens in life, you can simply remind them, that when they step on your (proverbial) toes it hurts. You shouldn’t have to carry the hurt. It needs to be given back to the person who assaulted you. He should carry that alone.

    I am a survivor of childhood molestation by a “family friend” as well as sexual harassment from a College Don, two different doctors hit on me during pap-smears so I no longer trust male doctors, as well as sexual assault and rape. None of it defines me.

    I think your article is very important and everything you wrote needs to be said.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

bluestockings magazine
WP-Backgrounds Lite by InoPlugs Web Design and Juwelier Schönmann 1010 Wien