I will never forget my first real experience with sexual assault. One of my best friends texted me in the early hours of the morning telling me she was not safe and needed me to come get her. The text woke me up and I was shaking as I grabbed my keys and ran to my car. As I drove to her location, I was terrified about what I would find when I got to her. When we arrived back at my home we did not talk, I just helped her get comfortable and let her sleep. When she woke up, we started the long process of understanding what happened and began the healing process.
Shortly after that experience, another close friend of mine confided in me that she had been sexually assaulted at a party off campus. Neither of my friends ever reported their experiences and the men who forever changed their lives still walk around free of any consequences. In the weeks and months that followed these experiences, conversations with women around campus and at other small liberal arts colleges revealed that many students had experienced similar acts of disrespect and violence. These survivors said that they had not reported the assault because it did not seem like a big enough issue, or they were afraid of what would happen if they did. It shocked me how normalized sexual assault has become on this campus and how many of the people I love have experienced it.
One of my friends blamed herself saying that she had put herself in a situation where she was an easy target, “I was wearing a tank top,” “I had a little too much to drink,” “I should not have gone out in the first place.” There is never an excuse for someone to sexually assault another person, and it is never the survivor’s fault. My friends still struggle with the lasting effects of their assault in both their personal identity and in their romantic relationships.
One friend said she “felt less worthy and dirty.” She still struggles to feel worthy of love in her relationship. As a friend and ally of many survivors, I often feel helpless and heart broken during conversations about sexual assault and the healing process. I do not know how to help my friends through their pain. So many of my friends never thought it could happen to them, but it did anyway. Many young women I know have wondered if they will be the next name on the growing list of survivors. Before entering college, the thought would never have crossed their minds.
Standing with survivors is critical for the health of our generation. The healing process is long and many of the people we spend our days with are going through it. It can feel difficult at times and we do not always feel as though we have the tools to help our friends. The best thing I have found as an ally is to listen to survivors. It takes so much courage for survivors to share their stories. If help is asked for, step in where you can. Know that each person deals with their experience differently. When on campus, or out in the world, act with compassion. You never know what someone is going through. If you are out and about on the weekend and something seems off, say something, step in, do not just be a bystander. It may feel weird to say something, but I would personally rather feel weird for a couple minutes than regret saying nothing later. Watch out for your friends. The biggest priority should be getting everyone home safe at the end of the night.
Tarana Burke will be on campus soon to discuss the “Me Too” movement. The movement has given voice to millions of survivors and has opened the door for more conversations surrounding sexual assault on a national level. Many survivors have come forward after years of silence because of this movement. The work she has done will hopefully help educate attendees on the topic of sexual assault.
I urge the campus to support this speaker by attending her presentation. Our attendance at this event shows our dedication to survivors and for the safety of the community around us. I also encourage the members of our campus community to critically think about the topic of sexual assault both on our campus and in our generation.