Op-Ed: I left Tufts because of you

Content warning: This article discusses sexual assault and suicide.

In 1985, you sexually assaulted me in my dorm room in Miller Hall at Tufts University. You lived in my hallway. I was 18. I don’t remember the exact date you attacked me, but it was September or October of our first year. I loved school then and was proud to row junior varsity crew. I felt strong and was excited for the racing season ahead. When you finally left my room that night, I curled into a ball, made myself as small as I could and fell asleep shaking.

This one event changed my life, and while its effect on my day-to-day existence has ebbed and flowed over the years, the fear and panic of your assault has never completely left me. I have gone weeks — maybe even months — without thinking about it, until a movie scene or a news story of a rape brings a new wave of pain or fear.

This time it was the Kavanaugh-Ford hearing that brought your assault flooding back to me in a way I had not experienced before. I could not escape the questions asked of Dr. Christine Blasey Ford nor the crude comments implying that every boy has done something like this in the past.

And then at some point the questions shifted in my mind towards myself: What would I remember if I was questioned by a lawyer? Whom did I tell and when? How have those minutes underneath you affected the rest of my life?

Here is a timeline of the hours, days and years since you left me bruised and broken.

6 hours after you assaulted me: I left campus at first light to get away and go into Cambridge. Was I lucky or unlucky? I spent that day alone cutting off my hair, buying new clothes and trying to wash it all away. I knew what rape was. Your attack was sexual, violent and terrifying. But you didn’t rape me.

20 hours later: I decided to report your attack to the resident assistant (RA), but I was afraid to tell him your name. The RA said that if I wouldn’t give him your name, it must not have been that bad. He said I probably asked for it since I wore short skirts. This statement confirmed my fear that I was somehow to blame.

2 days later: My roommates guessed that something was wrong with me, and I told them the story in tears. They took it upon themselves to tell some male friends of mine, who later threatened you to stay away from me. You never approached me again. But over the next weeks and months, I would see you several times daily as you walked by my room, in the quad or at meals. I was afraid and on edge.

7 months later: On my 19th birthday, I lost hope and considered taking my life. Instead, I called another Tufts student who ran to my room and talked me out of it. But I decided I had to leave this place. I withdrew from Tufts after that dark spring semester where I quit the crew team and holed up in my room, and for the next 30 years, I would make up reasons for my departure from Tufts — I never told anyone I left out of fear.

1–5 years later: I only told three or four people after situations where I had to explain my extreme reactions. I cried at rape jokes while others laughed, ran out of a movie theater sobbing during a rape scene and once woke my boyfriend up after shaking from a nightmare in which I was forcibly held down. But I still never told anyone that your assault was the reason I left Tufts — not even my parents, not even myself.

5–10 years later: I shared the experience in therapy and with a few close girlfriends after they had shared that they were also assaulted.

12 years later: I gave birth to twin boys. Among my goals of being a good parent, I wanted to teach them to respect women and that “no means no.”

14 years later: I returned to rowing and found that the feel and the sounds of the boat brought me back to my first year, both in the joy of rowing and the fear of the assault. I felt that I had to tell someone about the assault, so I could quiet the fear and wouldn’t lose my passion for rowing again. I told my rowing coach the story in the parking lot one day after practice, and she told me it wasn’t my fault and that, despite my height and strength, I couldn’t have done anything differently to stop you. It was the first time I heard this message.

16 years later: Now a parent of young children, I felt compelled to write to Tufts and share what you did to me. Someone from Tufts wrote back apologizing for the handling of my assault and said that RAs were now better trained to handle cases of sexual misconduct. The letter was an official apology and an admission that there were many others like me who had contacted Tufts with similar stories.

23 years later: My sons, now in middle school, came home with a rape joke they picked up at school. Hearing the joke from my children, I dissolved into angry tears. They were confused. How could I explain this to them? How could I not? So I then began the slow process of telling my sons about my assault a tiny bit at a time, wishing I could bury it but knowing it was and is still part of me, part of why I parented with “no means no” and part of how I viewed the world.

27 years later: A college student I knew posted on Facebook about a sexual assault awareness event he was organizing for his fraternity. I told him how meaningful it was to me that he was taking action and shared some of my story. He wrote back saying he believed me and, with my permission, wanted to share my story at the fraternity event. This was a significant moment for me — to share my story with and be supported by a young man in college, around the age I was and you were when it happened.

29 years later: During my twin sons’ multiple college tours, I noticed flyers in many dorms with hotline numbers to report rapes, and I felt again the need to contact Tufts. Was a flyer with a rape hotline all the improvement that had been made since my days in college? When I called Tufts, I was put in touch with a new department, and for the first time, I was offered the chance to report the assault under Title IX. I officially reported the assault 29 years after it happened. If you ever contacted the school in the future for alumni privilege, you would be told that there was a report filed against you, and you would get to respond.

30 years later: My dad found out. My sorority’s national magazine asked to publish a comment I made on their Facebook page on a recent article on sexual assault at colleges. It never occurred to me that anyone would see it outside of sorority alumnae. Two alumnae sent the article to my father. He called me and said he was so sorry and was incredibly supportive. We are very close, but I had never thought of telling him or my mother.

32 years later (Oct. 16, 2017): The day after Alyssa Milano started the #MeToo trend on Twitter, I posted about my sexual assault on Facebook. It was liberating to let go of the secret. On occasion now, when asked why I left Tufts, I will say the real reason: You assaulted me, and it changed my life.

Why did she not come forward to the police?

Why did she wait so long to tell close friends?

It wasn’t technically rape, so what’s the issue?

I am so sorry, Christine. You were hurt. I was too. I believe you. You are not alone.


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