This article, produced in conjunction with investigative journalism students at the University of Massachusetts, is presented as part of a larger series addressing issues related to sexual assault on college campuses.
Trigger Warning: This content deals with an account of sexual assault that some readers may find it difficult to read.
"I find it very fitting that I'm starting this journal today, a year after I was raped."
When Angie Epifano wrote these words atop a hill behind Amherst Regional High School in Massachusetts, her writing was her only escape from the "Amherst bubble" that was keeping the rising sophomore from healing. The journal would set the groundwork for a letter that would be published in the school newspaper and would spark a nationwide movement to address how sexual assault is handled on college campuses.
In these pages, Epifano, who has since left Amherst, tells a story of neglect, depression and strength.
May 25, 2012 -- On bus somewhere between Worcester and Springfield, Massachusetts; Going back to Amherst after couple days with friend in Boston
I find it very fitting that I'm starting this journal today, a year after I was raped. The entire point I started this journal was because of the rape. It had been meant for Africa, meant to record the thoughts, emotions, maybe the traumas of my time there, but Amherst took care of that. No Africa for the depressed girl. Hell, let's make her even more depressed by taking everything away from her. Keeping her locked on the site of her demons is a great idea, let's do that. Not that I'm bitter or anything.
I keep trying to focus on the good, keep myself busy, leave Amherst as often as possible, but it's difficult. Difficult to stay sane and happy and strong. I had been feeling strong, but now I feel vulnerable again. I'm dreading going back to campus today. It's funny, everyone else acts like it's just a normal day, but it's not. There's remembrance and fear and associations all whirling together right now, going into making this day "special." In a sick way I feel like this is a second birthday. On this day last year I was reborn and reshaped. Pushed and prodded, this is when the cracking began. Since then I've been trying to stop everything from leaking out of me and am working to patch things up.
You know, I don't feel strong, but I need to remember that I am. Especially today...
What she described as apathy from the administration brought her to a psych ward and resulted in her canceling her plans to study abroad in Africa. The plain-faced, light-brown journal was originally to be used to chronicle her trip abroad. In the end, it gave voice to her internal struggles.
"I could live with not being allowed to go to South Africa at the moment," Epifano later wrote in her article in The Amherst Student, "the country would be there for a while, but being forced to stay on campus in a dorm populated with men I did not know, that was the real psychological issue."
By the end of summer 2012, the journal was a testament to the trauma Epifano was dealing with.
May 28 -- Memorial Day at Groff Park Fields (park near Amherst College)
Funny how quickly everything changes, two years ago Groff was a faceless, terrifying name that seemed like it would pose an insurmountable challenge and would spell the end of my running career. Now it's just a park, just another destination. Another place to try to find solace.
Running's taught me how long a second is. These past few weeks have taught me how quickly things change. A month ago I was still "fine" and "normal." Two weeks ago my friends still went to Amherst and I was still a sophomore. One week ago I was still going to Africa. Oh how the mighty have fallen. Now I feel like I speak in clichés and bad quotes from spiritual guidance books. It's all about me, me, me, right now and I've never been comfortable with ungodly amounts of attention. There always seems to be another person looming behind me. Personification of trauma? I thought that person was gone. That was a stupid notion. Trauma never leaves.
I feel deranged now, like I have to spend every minute doing something, anything. Walks are meant purposefully. Books will better my mind.
Time online is planned out. TV shows and movies are fully engaged in and enjoyed. Conversations are with people I want to talk to. Writing (journaling) is supposed to help me heal. Boom. That's life. No time for anything else. This is life now. I no longer feel like creating art any more. My photographs are pointless. My drawings are tedious. Guess that's the depression; I'm back at pre-Psych Ward days. Yet again, thank you Amherst. Not that I'm bitter or anything. They keep telling me I'm not allowed to be bitter, they're helping me:
It's for my own good!
I still don't see it.
Epifano shared two large portfolios, packed with photographs, paintings and sketches dating from 2009-2011. The dates stop at May 25, 2011. But before she gave up what she loved, Epifano produced a 25-picture photo project which she said illustrates her life before, during and after the rape.
March 29 -- Picnic table by Frost Library at Amherst College; After meeting with sexual assault counselor, morning
I talked with a friend last night. A long conversation about what I want, what I should do; kind of convinced me that I should leave Amherst. I started looking into it last night, but I was instantly overcome by sadness. I'm not even sure about what; failure maybe? Or the fact that deep down inside I've come to realize that Amherst is my home and there are contingents of people here that I don't want to lose. I should look into living off campus and transferring to the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) in London. It doesn't hurt to look.
I talked with the sexual assault counselor this morning. She wants me to get better and sometimes I have moments when I don't want to get better just out of pure ornery-ness. She talked about this problem that humans have of wanting to leave a place because they believe that leaving will fix all of their problems when really they sometimes just carry the problems with themselves.
March 30/31 -- Early morning
So I just went on a date.
Nothing, I felt absolutely nothing. No emotional pleasure, no physical pleasure. I just felt like an empty shell. I didn't know what to say or do half the time. But I put on this façade of attraction; this fake cuteness that I didn't actually feel.
I just was not attracted to him, deep down though I really wanted it to work. I wanted to have feelings for him, because that would remind me that I can actually feel.
I just no longer feel like I can have any actual emotions for men again. With my first boyfriend after the rape I just felt nothing. I went through the motions because I felt like I had to. I don't want to end up that way again. I also don't want another man on campus to hurt me like He did...