On Wednesday, January 16, 2013, Annie Clark and I, together with Melinda Manning, Landen Gambill as well as another strong survivor, completed and filed an Office for Civil Rights and Clery Act Complaint against The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC). After 12 weeks, over 2,500 hours, and over 70 stories heard since the article announced our filing, we five and our allies will initiate a long battle to protect the University and the fellow Tar Heels that we love.
But, this complaint is not only bigger than me and all five of us, it's much larger than UNC and North Carolina.
I came out as a survivor in October of 2012, reading the powerful stories of Angie Epifano, Dana Bolger, and the other strong survivors who fought back at Amherst College. I had already heard over nine stories that semester, and I realized that each of stories I heard, while on different dates and at different places, had three common elements: shame, silence, and betrayal. Most of my friends are survivors, and while I am thankful that I have support and am no longer feel alone in my struggles, I still wish every day that I never had to hear "me too," again. There are too many stories that linger in silence, and justice is not just in a conviction.
It's time we recognize the real problem.
One cannot deny that 2012 was laden with breaking headlines around violence, but as much as I am hopeful that 2013 will be a better year, things are not getting better.
Headlines around Steubenville and Dehli have revealed that, while the media are taking a greater interest in covering sexual violence, we as an audience are not demanding that they address it as the bigger picture. As Annie highlighted in her Huffington Post blog, sexual violence is not a single issue campaign, and we cannot keep isolating the trends that are vividly before us.
There have been and will continue to be survivors, and their stories will continue to remain in silence until we address the shame around coming out as a survivor of sexual violence. Students will continue to feel disempowered to report, and we will continue to blame victims until there is a collective understanding that sexual violence requires a discussion and a response that is more than a policy checklist or single-story uproar. There have been countless before us that have been fighting to make things better, but we are still fighting the same battles. The time has come for all of us to take action.
You do not have to be a survivor, a therapist, a lawyer, or a politician to demand and mobilize change. It's now, at 20-years-old -- before I earn a J.D. or even a B.A. -- not even a year after my assault, and only months after the realization of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, that I declare that I am not sitting back any longer.
Time and time again I have been asked if, if I could relive March 2012, if I would have not gone to that party, or if I would have reported and done things differently.
The answer is no.
I am not filing this complaint because I want to seek closure for my own assault, or because I want to speak the voices of every survivor and champion my own agenda.
No, this is not about me, or about my assault. This is about all of us.
While I would never wish my experiences on anyone, I will say that even if you think you're small and don't understand how you can help, you can and you are instrumental.
As Annie reminded me when we filed the complaint, "You are stronger than you know."
We all are.
We must begin to demand that sexual violence be addressed as an epidemic that impacts every member of our community.
This culture of hostility is not felt just among students, but among an entire community.
This isn't about us, this isn't about just Carolina -- it's about the national epidemic of sexual violence. UNC will stand on the right side of history, and I want this complaint and all of us speaking out to start a national call to action.
Challenge yourself to think about how each of us perpetuates silence, and how by ignoring the bigger picture, we are letting sexual violence continue happening.
Speak out, sign our petition, and share why this matters.
It's time that our fight reaches the national agenda
Be the change.
Follow Andrea Pino on Twitter: www.twitter.com/@andreactually