By Chloe Woodard
I am going to tell you “my” story, but this is not just mine to tell. I am not the only survivor with this experience. I want to invite you into this story, but do not have pity on me. I invite you to get angry with me. I need you to feel my fury. My boyfriend, who was sixteen years my senior, raped me on June 18th, 2015. It was a Thursday and I had to work a double shift the next day. After he raped me he drove me home. We sat in silence for twenty minutes. He knew what he had done, I am certain of this now. This rape was not physically violent, but I do not doubt that it could have been. The next day I worked from 8am until midnight harboring a terrible secret. Looking back now I realize how much I wanted to talk about what had happened to me. I wanted to invite people into this trauma. I wanted the world to cry with me, but the world didn’t stop spinning… and we are expected to deal with our traumas with grace and poise. I was not graceful or poised. There are parts of that summer that I do not remember, moments of disassociation I experienced, and often times I felt like a shell of a person wearing a smile that didn’t belong to me and holding a secret that no one cared to know about. Nine months later and I am, instead, filled with a rage that has no limit and I invite you to feel this rage with me. I am not alone and I was never alone.
I, too, am a survivor of sexual assault and I am sick and tired of discussions surrounding sexual assault being shut down under the guise of “triggering survivors.” This is not to diminish the very real traumatic responses that occur when being reminded of that trauma; however, we must constantly ask ourselves the degree to which this statement is manipulated by sexual aggressors. Which survivors? How many? Every single one? I’m calling bullshit. We tend to personalize rape. My rapist. My rape. My story. My trauma. But these are not isolated incidents that happen on rare occasions. “My” rapist is a rapist who will continue to be a rapist for the rest of his life. I am marking him the way in which the world has decided to mark me.
But being a rapist certainly doesn’t illicit the response it should have, does it? (I’m talking directly to you, the ones who continue to associate with known sexual aggressors on campus. I see you. You are not our friend.) Having multiple sexual aggressors on campus is a direct threat to everyone on this campus, and when I think of all the men I know who have committed this violence I am filled with fury. And you should be, too. Sexual assault is not solely an individual experience. It is systematic (and state sanctioned), calculated, and, often times, occurs without consequences. When we individualize rape we make it an isolated incident, a rare occurrence, something we cannot talk about, but I am sick of silence. I am not sad, I am furious. I have told myself for the longest time that because of my rape I was broken and unlovable and this is the actual response I experience when we have decided that the mere mention of sexual assault is inherently “triggering.” I was raped and you will feel my rage. Don’t take pity on me, get angry with me.
So, why is it so dangerous for us to shut down these conversations? First of all, I see a lot of men and women bringing up the idea of the falsely accused rapist… You need to get this out of your mind. You need to stop inviting this idea altogether. When you invite these ideas you shut down every survivor around you, known or unknown, and you explicitly mark yourself as a rape apologist. You need to align yourself with every survivor, you need to come to understand sexual violence not as a problem of the home, but as a systematic injustice. I feel that this campus is highly uninformed into the reality of sexual assault, and furthermore, the failure of the “formal channels” to properly address these violent criminal acts. We need to talk about it. We need to get angry together. We need to address sexual assault as a community. This pain I feel, the trauma you experience, I am not alone and neither are you. For those of you who are non-survivors, I invite you to open your hearts to empathy and to feel this pain together. This shouldn’t have happened at all.
I do have a vision, a protocol for students who are willing to align themselves with survivors and to stop sexual aggressors from thriving on this campus (because they are thriving). First, you must listen to survivors regardless of whether or not the sexual aggressor is your friend. Abusers will never explicitly make themselves known as abusers, and the fact that you have been fooled should make your fingers to turn to fists. Often times they are the greatest manipulators. I should know, I dated one for a year. Second, you must refuse to be friendly with these sexual aggressors. Some ideas would be: remove them from your friend circle altogether and if they ask why… be fucking honest. Public shaming is a useful tactic in small communities and by actively disassociating yourself with known sexual aggressors you suffocate their ability to feel confident in their actions. Let’s be serious, being friends with sexual aggressors gives them further ammunition to do violence again because you have shown that you will stand by their side. Third, stop defending sexual aggressors even if you aren’t associating yourself with them. To be quite honest, when I see this happening it is most often other men who feel sympathy with these known sexual aggressors and that is terrifying. There is no sympathy for sexual aggressors. There is no need to humanize a rapist. We must constantly be aware of who we align ourselves with.
I want to finish this by stating that I am opening my arms to all survivors in friendship.
To all sexual aggressors on campus: I see you. We all see you.