Culture Tufts

#ItHappensHere

The author of this piece, a Tufts student, has requested to remain Anonymous. This piece deals with the sensitive issue of sexual assault. 

Over the past 24 hours, Angie Epifano’s story of being raped while attending Amherst College – and the lack of administrative support – has been covered by Jezebel, shared on Facebook walls, discussed by In the ‘Cac on Twitter and on this website, and crashed the Amherst Student website.

Angie’s experience is not a single, dreadful occurrence; sexual assault is an issue that exists on all of our campuses, including Tufts. The Clery Act requires all colleges and universities that participate in federal financial aid programs to keep and disclose information about crime on and near their respective campuses; the 2011-2012 report published by Tufts shares that on the Medford/Somerville campus, there were only two reported sex offenses (forcible), compared to 10 the previous year and 7 in 2009.

This number is not correct. This number does not reflect the number of sexual violence (encompassing both sexual assault and rape) survivors that exist on this campus and experienced sexual violence on this campus. I know that because I have spoken to a number of students who are unreported. I know that because I’m one of those unreported students.

It happens here.

My sophomore spring, an identity was forced upon me, and I will never be able to shed it. I became a survivor of sexual assault.

It never occurred to me, the trusting girl whose mother always said never to let boys in her room, that the boy who I allowed into my dorm room to “apologize” for his past wrongdoings would refuse to leave and sit on top of me, forcibly attempting to have sex with me. My physical and mental strength were enough to overpower my would-be rapist. This strength was not enough, however, to stop the pain that would be inflicted during the assault– mainly emotional.

It is often said that after a traumatic experience, memory lapses are normal–a way of coping. The chaos that ensued after the assault is a blur to me. After the assault, I can tell you that I didn’t sleep at all for three days. I can tell you that I called a friend who was across the country and sobbed and sobbed until I think that even he didn’t know what to do but cry and be angry. I can tell you that I put on the bravest face I had when my brother and sister-in-law visited that weekend, but it cracked when I had to confront what really had happened and tell the story to the fraternity president who informed me that he “was not surprised” and had “heard stories about this kid before” and “want[ed] to help [me] but wasn’t sure how to go about it because going to the police would result in a lot of emotional chaos and drama, as well as create more problems within the fraternity”.

Later, the president would tell me that since there was no physical proof and that it was my word versus my assaulter’s, the best conclusion (in terms of keeping me safe) was for me to stay away from the guy and the fraternity, and for the guy to stay away from me, essentially forcing me to be removed from any and all activities that could involve the house or the brothers, including some Greek life activities. Over time, it became apparent that my experience was similar to that of a survivor’s account at Wesleyan. No one called my pepetrator out for his actions, and their silence clearly stated that I should move on. My friends stopped inviting me out if our groups overlapped, and I lost a group within which I felt comfortable and a part of. The survivor writes, “It seems they’d rather pretend I was never really their friend than address the fact that their “bro” assaulted me.” I had the same experience.

I know this because my identity now includes the word “survivor” in it, next to Jewish, feminist, athlete, and White female. I know this because at the time, the sexual assault policy at Tufts had not been revised and I was fearful that reporting the incident would lead to stigmatization, negative mental and emotional consequences, and more. I can tell you that two of those things happened anyway.

Do you know what happens when you become depressed and have endured a traumatic experience? It’s as if normal time has stopped, collapsed. The normal routines that I had became repeated actions of me looking for things I’d lost, realizing it’s dinnertime and I hadn’t started any homework, and hadn’t been to class for 5 days.

It’s realizing that I was lying about going to my internship, sacrificing all that I’d worked for and essentially stalling the research that I was in charge of. I didn’t remember anything from week to week – if someone asked me what I had done on any given day, I would have no idea. I enveloped myself in my room, using the fact that the sun went down so early as an excuse for my napping and staying inside as often as I did.

I slept through my sophomore spring of college. People tell me that it was an amazing year, that there were so many fun experiences. I hardly remember what happened most of that semester, except through pangs of nervousness that occur when I’m in a place like the library where it’s very likely I’ll run into the guy or his brothers. Except through quick heart palpitations that override my usual rational, logical thoughts when I am anywhere near where I may have to confront or see the boy who ruined a significant amount of college for me.

I woke up one day in yoga class late in the summer, and finally became myself again after therapy, a lot of self-reflection, and an inner drive to move on from something that dragged me deeper than I could ever imagine myself being.

I did not go to the administration because I feared a public intervention, a lengthy process involving the police, and confrontation of my assaulter. I did not go to the administration because when I asked the Counseling Center what the process was of reporting an assault, I was told that I would have to go to therapy, maybe leave school for a bit, and deal with the judiciary–made up of both students and faculty. I did not feel that these were safe places for me to go, ways to deal with the assault. And so I stayed silent.

It happens here.

I am writing this to share with you that Angie’s experience is not an isolated event: sexual assault happens every day. Every two minutes someone in the United States experiences sexual violence. About 3% of American men — or 1 in 33 — have experienced an attempted or completed rape in their lifetime. 1 out of every 6 American women has been the victim of an attempted or completed rape in her lifetime (14.8% completed rape; 2.8% attempted rape). About 2/3 of assaults are committed by someone known to the victim.* And I am part of those statistics. The statistics at Tufts are inaccurate representations of sexual violence.

I am writing this to share with my school, my peers, and the administration why I did not report the attempted rape and why I believe so many instances of sexual violence go unreported:

First and foremost, the information about victimization, sexual violence, and sexual misconduct policies are not easy to find online (in fact, they haven’t been updated since July 2011 and the sexual misconduct policy has changed since then), nor are they well explained to the student body. They exist almost as a “just in case” plan, items that come up when they need to be addressed but are unfamiliar and seldom recognized otherwise.

Second, the relationship between the administration and the students specific to this topic is lacking; the faces behind the policies are miscellaneous, adults and faculty members who seemingly don’t exist. Apart from the original open meeting with administrators last semester that was meant to introduce the new policy, I have not heard or seen anything that would help me understand the policy and who is working for the students. If clubs are doing anything, then I have not seen anything advertised.

At my freshman orientation, a series of skits were used to share information about parties, hook-up culture, and other “college-y” things like drinking; students were not held accountable for not attending, and the only thing I remember learning about sexual assault is that you and your best friend should run out of whatever fraternity you’re at giggling and stumbling after any form of assault or uncomfortable situation.

This past April, the administration and Health Services refused to allow survivors’ stories to be part of a gallery for Sexual Assault Awareness Month in Tisch Library. My voice was silenced by the very offices – the Office of Equal Opportunity, most notably – that were and are supposed to help me heal and move forward, because allegedly our statements beneath the unrecognizable photos we posed for pointed anonymous fingers at unnamed students on campus. Students at Tufts are perpetrators, and there is no denying this fact.

To be silenced to avoid an investigation and acknowledgment of these issues at Tufts was disturbing, hurtful, and disappointing, and ended up protecting the perpetrators.

A friend from Connecticut College posed a very relevant and important question as we discussed the Amherst “scandal”: In a collegiate reality where alcohol and the hookup culture are ubiquitous, how do we maintain the individual and sexual rights of individuals while simultaneously eradicating the culture of pressure, of entitlement, of deserved or improperly implied sexual intent that leads to sexual assault?

“This is not just an institutional problem, but a societal one. Visibility matters, allegiance matters: the same way marginalized groups benefit from allies, sexual assault survivors need advocates. We need to advocate for our friends and neighbors and schoolmates who are being assaulted. Rape speech between men and slut shaming between women all contribute to the culture.”

 It is with this closing commentary by my friend J.D. that I urge you to reach out to your schools, your friends, your peers. I urge you to be both allies and advocates and attempt to change the culture that surrounds us on college campuses and in society in general. I urge you to think about what it means to be sexually entitled, to be compassionate and caring about your fellow humans. Think about your own experiences and those of your classmates, and understand that many of us in these conversations may be perpetrators of, unwitting silent witnesses to, or even misinformed survivors of sexual assault. I urge you to be an active bystander and support survivors and teach one another – (this is not a hetero-normative or gender-normative issue!) – about primary prevention, getting to the source of the problem and reminding one another that “no means no”.

We must be conscious of the language we use and how we interact. Advocacy can start right now, as a prevention strategy. Advocacy starts with us.

One day, may we all be able to say, “It doesn’t happen here”.

*Statistics compiled from RAINN

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