Trigger warning: This article discusses sexual assault and rape.
On March 1, a concerned brother wrote about his love for his sisters. On March 24, a concerned mother wrote a letter to her daughter about safety on college campuses. Both of these articles had authors who hoped to protect the young women in their lives. Both of the articles, however, were immensely difficult for me to read, as they suggested that women should carry the burden of preventing their own assaults. This is called victim blaming.
These op-eds in the Tufts Daily reminded me of my own parents’ misplaced advice concerning my safety when I arrived at Tufts. They told me, “Don’t be stupid,” and, “Don’t put yourself in the position to be raped,” and, “Only you can be accountable for your choices.” I talked about this conversation in “Not Your Mother’s Monologues” this year. These words burned into me, and reaffirmed everything I had thought about myself and my experiences with sexual violence. It made me feel like I couldn’t talk to them about the rape that had happened to me before they ever tried to teach me how to prevent it. It felt as though no matter what I said, they would hold me accountable. It made me feel like I really had done something wrong, that I had deserved what happened to me. They didn’t tell my twin brother not to rape when he went off to school; they told me not to get raped. It’s easier for us to believe that our sons and brothers couldn’t commit violence and that our daughters and sisters are “smart” enough to not fall victim to it. My parents didn’t mean malice; they weren’t trying to silence me. They really were concerned about my safety and do want what is best for me. I love my parents, but that doesn’t mean that what they did and what they said wasn’t wrong or disrespectful.
I have spent years of my life wondering what I could have done to prevent my assault. Was I too provocative? Too inappropriate? Did I make myself vulnerable to this?
None of these things are true, I know that now.
But we keep reading these op-eds, these letters, these heartfelt pleads to our “daughters” and “sisters” begging us to stop living our lives, and they remind me of all the times I have blamed myself instead of those who hurt me. These letters and op-eds ignore a breadth of experiences with sexual violence that may not involve men in fraternities or on a sports team. This is a narrative that has been privileged in conversations about assault on college campuses, that reflects the experiences of too many, but not all survivors. These articles invalidate the trauma of men, queer women, people of color and trans* people. Our rapists aren’t always men lurking in dark corners, they are more often people whom we love and once felt safe with.
The reality is that I could not have prevented what happened to me without actively choosing to live less of my life. I wasn’t vulnerable, I wasn’t an easy target: I was human. My very existence was and is an invitation for violence, but it should not be.
My rapists are responsible for what happened to me, as is the case for all survivors. I don’t want anyone to write me a letter to tell me that I need better friends, that I need to take self-defense classes or that I need to carry a gun. Teach your children and siblings about the importance of ensuring enthusiastic and affirmative consent. Teach your sons and brothers to respect the bodies and autonomy of women and trans* people, but also teach them that they too can be hurt by sexual violence. Care about sexual violence and violence against women not because you have daughters, sisters or wives, but because we are human and deserving of respect.
Survivors, you are warriors, you are gods, goddesses and deities. You are powerful, beautiful and wonderful. I am amazed by your courage to step outside everyday, to live on this earth, despite how often your existence and your trauma is rehashed, invalidated and entirely denied. There is a community of us on this campus, and there are resources. We are strong, we have voices, and we have love for each other.
You are not responsible, you should not be held accountable. Another person or other people hurt you. They made that decision and acted on it. They inflicted violence upon you. Nothing made you vulnerable to this attack, nothing made you an easy target. The only thing, person or people that could have prevented what happened are the people who chose to do it.
I write these words not only as a reminder to you, but also to myself. Violence was done upon us and it wasn’t our fault. We are hurt, but we are strong and we deserve better than this.