Trigger warning: This article contains references to sexual abuse.
I am no longer surprised when my friends disclose to me. Isn’t that a horrible thing to say, or to be true?
We live in a world where violence seems to be the norm.
Most recently, it was a friend who referred to her assault as “that thing that happened at that party.” Words are hard to formulate, and it’s easier to pretend that someone feeling entitled to our bodies isn’t so violent, that it is just something that happens. Some people dissociate to cope. When our trauma isn’t recognized or validated by the world we live in, we don’t believe we are entitled to react to it. We both knew her assailant: He’s a popular and charming frat brother on campus. She didn’t want to report it, she told me. She just wanted to forget. She was at risk of losing all of her friends, of being socially isolated and exiled. She could find few friends with whom she felt solidarity, who understood, who didn’t judge, who “just listened,” she told me.
She was the eighth person to disclose to me.
As activists and survivors, we struggle to carry our own weight and cope with our own trauma. How can we also carry the weight of others’ trauma?
Somewhere between leading a rally for Title IX and joining the president’s Task Force for Sexual Misconduct, I have become one of the “rape” people on campus. I had never actually reported any instance of sexual misconduct through Tufts University, but strangers started using words like “brave” or “inspirational” to describe me.
I don’t feel that way.
I have days when I wake up and put on a strong defensive countenance like it is the shirt on my back. I slip into the weight I carry for myself and for others, and I anticipate my breaking point. I am always surprised when I make it through the day mostly a whole person.
I am one of 14 people planning It Happens Here, an event where survivors share narratives about their experiences with sexual violence. With every new submission I am branded by their words, by that trauma. Violence seeps into my skin and pulses through me, and suddenly I am living with the trauma of 20, 30, 40 people. The submissions are starting to pile up.
I take on more tasks to distract myself. I remind myself that I am helping others because no one ever helped me. We are helping people use their voice, we are providing them with an intentional space and we are opening our hearts to love them fully and unconditionally.
As you enter It Happens Here, I want you to sit and listen unconditionally. I want you to extend your love and support to those on stage, to those beside you, to those who may find just being in Cohen to be too difficult.
I hope many of you understand that you’ll never be able to comprehend the trauma that some people have gone through. I want you to understand that the stories you hear could belong to a stranger, to an acquaintance, to your roommate, to your partner … the list goes on.
I hope that you all leave and love each other. I hope that you remember all those who have not or are not able to submit, for so many different reasons. I hope you remember that there is no perfect victim or survivor, and that the only ones to blame are those who enact violence and who perpetuate the systems of power that enforce rape culture.
I hope those of you who need help seek it. There are so many resources that exist for you, both on and off campus. I want you to know that I understand how hard asking for that help can be. I hope those of you who need help reach out to those resources, and remember that those of us who have organized the event are students like you, who are not qualified or capable of providing the best care for you.
I hope you understand the space you are about to enter. I want you all to ask yourselves how you can love survivors, how you can be better friends to us and how you can be our allies.
I hope those of you who have hurt us respect the one space in which our voices might be heard. Whether you assaulted us, blamed us or disrespected us, I hope you are cognizant of the space you take up. So far, over 800 people have RSVP’d on Facebook for a venue that only holds 600. If you have prioritized your friendships with rapists over supporting survivors, I want you to think about the space you would occupy. If you have ever made a survivor feel like he or she had a role in the violence done upon their bodies, I want you to think about the people you hurt by being there. Think about who that space is meant for. This space is meant for our healing, and not for your guilt or for your education.
I hope all of you take care of yourselves. Survivor or not, this event is exhausting for all of us. I hope you give yourself time to heal, to love and to be loved. Take a deep breath and remember that we are here to become whole again. Please help us do that.