12/23/2013 10:32 pm ET Updated Feb 22, 2014

Remembering the Real Victims of Rape

In the past few weeks I've seen an amazing number of news articles and editorial pieces about the supposedly difficult, unjust lives led by men accused of rape.

These articles portray the same rape narrative: A college girl (usually white and straight, probably drunk) alleges that an academically/athletically successful male peer (always straight, rarely drunk) has raped her. The accused male is shocked and angered by the allegations against him, demands a legal team to defend himself, his future is so bright that he doesn't want it to be derailed by these allegations. At some point, he usually states that he has friends who also have had false rape accusations brought against them, and he will battle against the odds to prove his innocence. Eventually, we never know why, the girl withdraws her allegations, proving the man's innocence and we proceed to commend him for his struggles.

These articles portray survivors as lying women who have vendettas against their alleged attackers; there is neither empathy nor sympathy toward the victim. We never hear about the victim's aspirations, successes, hopes, or even her/his suffering. The only victim we see is the accused, and unfortunately, this is the narrative that I hear over and over again.

Despite the historic numbers of women and men who are coming forward as survivors of gender-based violence, people continue to use the same victim-blaming rhetoric that has existed for centuries. Instead of focusing on the actual issue of rape, people have been caught up in a witch-hunt to unearth "false rape reports."

Studies have shown that many college students think that nearly 50 percent of rape reports are false. In other words, students think that half of the people who say they have been raped are lying.

In reality, only 2 to 8 percent of reported rapes may be false.

Statistics often come up for debate, so here's an exercise: Think about the last time you heard about sexual assault or sexual harassment, either in the media or during a conversation. Now, think about how many people involved in this conversation, questioned the assault. Maybe they doubted whether it counted because the victim was drunk, maybe they questioned why the victim waited so long before coming forward, maybe they said the victim should have fought harder to get away, the list of comments is endless. All of these comments and thoughts and harsh questions, are signs of someone doubting an assault. This is the 50 percent statistic at work.

Now, let's look at the 2 to 8 percent statistic: Think back to when you were in college or high school. Your life and your peers' lives were probably consumed with schoolwork, friends, athletics, part-time jobs, family, partying, and dating. How many people did you know who wanted to spend this time hiding in their rooms, avoiding half of campus, seeing a counselor once a week, being harassed by their fellow students, or filing a disciplinary charge against someone?

This is what life after rape is like. This is what Rape Trauma Syndrome can look like. This is not the life normal people want to lead.

Rape is not bad sex. Rape is violence.

When a victim withdraws a legal or disciplinary case against a perpetrator, this does not mean that the victim was lying about the rape. It usually means that the victim is afraid.

As a survivor, living in silence is terrifying, but sometimes being "out" can be even more horrific. I've found that the retaliation, harassment, and abuse that survivors receive after they are out is often more traumatizing than the rape itself.

I didn't withdraw from Amherst College because I was raped -- I withdrew because of my mistreatment after I went forward about my rape. Recently, my nightmares haven't been about the night I was raped. Now, my nightmares are about the reactions to my rape. On a loop, I see myself trapped in the endless white hallways of the psych ward, sobbing silently as voices taunt me. They're the voices of all the rape doubters who have told me that rape doesn't happen at Amherst, that I should have fought harder and yelled louder, that I was dirty and deserved to be locked away...

These are the types of voices I've encountered after speaking out.

I can barely imagine what the women and men who speak out against a sport team, the military, a fraternity, a celebrity, or any other powerful entity, must hear.

How can we blame and doubt victims who redact their stories when they receive harsh backlash just for seeking justice?

How can we blame victims for recognizing the painful truth that society is against rape victims?

We shouldn't blame them, but we do.

We misinterpret their fear as a sign of lies, and we commend the people who inspired that fear.

For the first time, survivors are speaking out about our experiences and demanding our rights to safe support, free from retaliation. In return, we've been treated worse than the people who made us survivors. If there is any chance for change, it cannot ride solely on the backs of survivors. It has to come from everybody.

Every person with a shred of decency and compassion needs to realize that survivors are not liars. A small percentage of men and women rape, just like a small percentage of men and women are murderers. Also, like murderers, rapists do not deserve to be doctors or company executives or actors or athletes or any other role in our society. The people who deserve these roles are the women and men who are survivors, who fight every day to keep going, and who have actually struggled against society's injustice.