Recently, journalists from across the country have rushed to defend campus rapists and allowed men's rights activists to successfully infiltrate op-ed columns. For those of us who are survivors of sexual assault, we haven't been nearly as lucky.
These editorials, printed in outlets from the Los Angeles Times to the Washington Post, allege that we campus sexual assault survivors are "hyper-sensitive," "delusional," and the beneficiaries of a "conferred privilege." Bloggers and columnists have come out of the woodwork to voice concerns about how we can protect the poor rapists from our anger at having been sexually assaulted by them. Survivors have been largely absent from this conversation, save for the "#survivorprivilege" conversation started on Twitter earlier this week.
So, we are here to take the "privilege" of breaking down our experiences as campus sexual assault survivors for you. First, the idea that we are "privileged" to be rape and molestation survivors:
Have you ever seriously, with a straight face, told someone, "Wow, she was so lucky to have been raped. I hope my daughter gets raped, too!" No. At least we hope not. It's pretty widely accepted that being raped or molested is not a privilege, and it's deeply offensive to assert that we wanted to be sexually assaulted. Along with the depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, and panic attacks that we often go through, those of us who report our assaults are often betrayed not once, but twice -- we're sexually assaulted by a fellow classmate, and then, to make it worse, our university doesn't do anything about it, denying us and our fellow students the safety we deserve.
Secondly, those of us who speak to the media to talk about our assaults have the "privilege" of receiving death and rape threats. We tell our stories multiple times to reporters, recounting details that we hoped to never think about again, let alone tell the press. We sacrifice our schoolwork, friends, and mental health to help survivors at our alma maters feel supported and validated, sometimes assisting them with filing complaints to their schools or the federal government. After hearing so many stories, we often internalize them and lose the ability to trust others or sleep at night.
For example, here are just some of the things our university administrators have said, according to complaints:
"Rape is like a football game. If you look back on it and you're the quarterback, what would you have done differently?" - University of North Carolina
"You should keep him close to [your student club] so that if he does it again, he'll have a community of friends to support him in processing it." - UC Berkeley
"What did you do that would make him act like that?" - Swarthmore College
"We see 500 cases every year but were only able to seek formal disciplinary resolutions in two cases the previous year." - UC Berkeley
We hear these stories again and again, struggling to make sense of how our colleges could care so little about the safety of their students. And now, we have the "privilege" of seeing mainstream columnists turn against us, too. And even though only between 2 and 8 percent of sexual assaults are false reports, they're rushing to invalidate the 90-plus percent of cases that are truthfully reported (and that's not even considering that most survivors don't report). Imagine if we as a society started saying, "Well, that murder victim was asking to be killed!" It would be regarded as crass and incomprehensible. Yet, with sexual assault, society rushes to judge the survivor -- what was she wearing? Was she drinking too much? Oh, she should've expected to be raped, because boys will be boys, right? Outspoken women are pigeon-held as over-exaggerating, over-sensitive, overreacting whiners. Take this typical scenario: Woman says she's raped. Rapist says he didn't rape her. Conclusion: Woman is lying! Case closed.
One columnist at the Los Angeles Times said the discussion about campus sexual assault veers on creating a "war between the genders." This completely misses the point: sexual assault on campus hurts people of all genders. As Sofie Karasek said on HuffPost Live this week, a man is more likely to be a victim of a sexual assault than to be falsely accused of one. And while it's important to acknowledge that men are assaulted too, we must continue to remember that sexual assault is a gendered crime that mostly affects women and other marginalized genders. When other identities come into play, such as race, gender identity, sexual orientation, or ability, the likelihood of assault increases.
Blaming survivors and invalidating their cases is exactly the behavior that reinforces rape in the first place -- sexual assailants know they won't be caught, and expect society to rush to defend the "nice guy" or the "honor student" in the blink of an eye. Meanwhile, survivors are dropping out of school, switching majors, and sometimes even committing suicide. But apparently, we are the "privileged" ones.
It's about time that we challenge this structure. As long as the word of a rapist carries more weight than the word of a survivor, the campus rape epidemic will continue.
Sofie Karasek, Meghan Warner, Iman Stenson, Aryle Butler, UC Berkeley
Sarah Tedesco, Emerson College
Leah Francis, Stanford University
Annie Clark and Andrea Pino, UNC Chapel Hill
Heather Berlin, Washington University in St. Louis
Nastassja Schmiedt and Lea Roth, Dartmouth College
Princess Harmony Rodriguez, Temple University
Gabriella Hamlett, UC Davis
Audrey Logan, Occidental College
Zoe Ridolfi-Starr, Columbia University