Anonymous or not, I am a statistic. You know me: you see me at study breaks, you sit by me in the dining hall, you work on homework with me. But you don’t know what I haven’t told you, even as many of our peers come forward about their own history with sexual assault.
Readers: Please be aware that the content of this article contains potentially distressing material.
My rapist booty called me.
I woke up the first weekend back to campus to a text message asking how I was from the person who derailed my college experience. The person responsible for why I had to unlist myself from any campus information centers out of fear that he’d continue stalking me. The person who caused my final exam scores to drop well below the average I had done for all my courses the week after being attacked. The person who forced me to hide in my room recovering from the physical injuries they inflicted on me out of fear that someone would ask me what had happened.
I was lying in bed with my current boyfriend, who I’ve struggled to open up to after the trust issues and residual trauma related to being sexually assaulted. I saw the text and immediately turned my phone off, rolled over, and curled back up into my boyfriend’s arms. Later, when we both woke up, I sat in the bathroom with my roommate as we brushed our teeth telling her what happened. I spoke quietly, nervous that my boyfriend might hear, and even more nervous that I might have to fully acknowledge the message still awaiting me when I turned my phone back on.
The first step to taking care of myself was ripping the name tag off my suite door again, just in case I had to worry about him knowing where I lived again. Although my roommates and boyfriend considered it paranoid, I know how fast my heart starts twisting in my chest and how tight my stomach clenches up at the thought of him ever stepping foot somewhere I feel safe.
I have fewer anxiety attacks than I used to. I tell my friends that I’m fine, and I am for the most part. But even while crying into someone’s arms after being triggered and brought back to the moment he assaulted me, I can’t bring myself to admit what happened. I don’t even like calling it rape, because sexual assault sounds more ambiguous and less daunting to me.
I’ll never forget telling him I didn’t feel good. I’ll never forget him leaning in to kiss me, with one hand holding a cup of alcohol and the other one supporting the back of my head so I couldn’t pull away. I’ll never forget how he spit alcohol into my mouth while holding me still. I’ll never forget begging him to just let me go home, or pretending to be asleep hoping he wouldn’t want an unconscious body, or telling him we couldn’t have sex because I didn’t have a condom.
I’ll never forget him rushing me to get dressed quickly so that we could grab the shuttle (he made plans to go hang out with friends immediately after raping me). I walked to the shuttle stop with the person who had just taken advantage of me while he made small talk about “next time,” accusing me of overreacting as I bitterly reminded him that what he had just done was rape. He didn’t sit next to me once we got on the shuttle, but he did text me as soon as I ran to my friend’s room to say I was doing a great job with an organization I was in – “Keep up the great work!” The niceties felt like a mockery, but later I would realize this was gaslighting. Having friends tell me he was just a fuckboy or player when I began explaining my distrust or interactions with me stopped me from opening up about how his approach was more than flirtatious; it was predatory.
With the recent accusations against Harvey Weinstein and the allegations of sexual assault involving other members of media, some have remarked on the delayed reporting. Seeing my classmates and peers engaging in the conversation has left me feeling jolted back to that week after I was assaulted. It was painful, both physically and mentally. I’ll never forget having to curl up into a tight ball to sob because the force of crying made the bruises start pounding all over my body. Even now, over a year after the first time I opened up about what happened, I can’t talk about it without the protection of anonymity.
I understand not being able to call out your abuser earlier. I understand not being able to admit what happened until you know enough other people who have had the experience that you feel like you’re being sewn into a quilt rather than a frayed flag, being further torn in heavy wind. As depressing as it is to say, knowing that I am surrounded by other women who have had men treat their bodies like disposable objects they could take whenever they so chose made me feel stronger. Instead of blaming myself and feeling alone, isolated, weak… I felt the entirety of all the women who had been hurt before just as I had. I’m not alone. And I’m not ready to tell the world, or my classmates, or even explicitly admit it to my closest friends just yet.
The first time I wrote about what happened, I used the word “attempted.” I didn’t admit that “committed” was a more valid term until months after that article was published. The first time I admitted I had been raped was during an emotional breakdown, as I collapsed into sobs in my common room with my roommate holding back my hair while I vomited and shrieked about how unfair it was.
I was raped after my winter house formal sophomore year. Two days later, I used the heaviest amount of concealer and makeup I could find to cover up the bruises on my body so that I could attend another formal. I’ve done plays and musicals that required less stage makeup. I got upset every time someone tried to take a photo with me because I felt disgusting and soiled. I didn’t want anyone to look at me, let alone document me.
A few days later, I stopped by my rapist’s room to pick up the necklace he had ripped from my neck while holding me down. He had offered to bring it to my room but I vomited thinking about him coming to where I lived. I began constantly surrounding myself with friends, in case he did try to stop by. After convincing him that I was hardly ever in my room, which became true out of necessity, he told me I could grab it from the bin attached to his door. When I arrived, I found a tattered envelope with the broken golden string inside (the charm – a key, ironically – was long gone, along with my sense of safety and trust). I heard him moving inside of his room as I hurriedly shoved the envelope into my backpack and didn’t stop walking until I was back inside a friend’s room. I don’t know why I needed it back – the chain could never be reconnected. But knowing he still had it made my stomach turn over and twist. I didn’t want to imagine him keeping it as a trophy.
Walking in and out of Maxwell Dworkin, I run into him. He avoids eye contact and looks a little scared when he sees me now. While walking through the Square, I cross paths with him running with his team during practices and my smile from waving at another friend in the group quickly dissolves into a shadowed expression. I pass him in public and am angry because the the world has betrayed me by allowing him to share previously safe spaces with me. I can’t sit through class without knowing he’s likely down the hall studying, or walk through the square without wondering if I’m going down the right street to avoid him, or worrying about going to parties in case he’ll be there staring at me uncomfortably from some corner with his friends.
I’ve quit the club I met him through. When I first wrote about what happened, I was confident that I could stay in this extracurricular and reclaim it as my own again. I was wrong. I began to get stress hives whenever I was in too big of a group with any of the other club members. I’ve stopped talking to the friends I knew would believe him over me. I stopped a lot of things but finally realized that I can’t give up life because of what happened, though I have wanted to. I’ve wanted to drop out so I could stay curled up in a ball crying for days. I’ve wanted to block every person in my life because I didn’t want to talk to anyone ever again. I’ve wanted to ignore the people I opened up to about it because I hate that they know anything. I’ve wanted to never go to another large event like a formal again. I can’t believe that people don’t look at me with disgust and pity after finding out that I was assaulted because it took so long for me to be able to look at myself the same way again.
I didn’t report the assault. I should have sought medical treatment for my injuries. I should have tried going to counseling much sooner than I had. The first time I told anyone was after running into him again for the first time since he took time off from Harvard following the incident. I hadn’t filed any charges but at least part of me would like to believe that his leave of absence had to do with his guilt for attacking me. While he was off campus, it was easy for me to convince myself that I was fine. It was after seeing him again, as if nothing in his life had changed while I was constantly looking over my shoulder or keeping my head down or refusing alcoholic drinks or lying about my sophomore year experience, that I crumbled. That night, everything I had been holding back for so long finally poured out as I told my roommates how cruel it felt of him to come back to campus and take up spaces in the few areas on campus I felt safe.
I didn’t know how to respond to the text. I felt like I should immediately delete it but there was an acidic fire raging in my chest that wanted to let him know that, while unpacking, I found the pair of underwear he destroyed ripping off of me. I wanted to tell him to never message me, look at me, or talk to me ever again. I wanted to ask him what could possibly have led him to think he was making a good decision messaging me. But I felt guilty. I immediately started to worry that he would show all of his friends my replies and spread lies that I was “crazy,” or obsessed with him, or even just that I was falsely accusing him.
I haven’t come forward with what happened to more than a few friends and counselors. I can’t even say with confidence that my rapist knows that he’s a rapist, but I can’t keep being the one tasked with convincing him and other men to stop assaulting and harassing women. When I was attacked, I felt my identity and agency taken away from me. Now, even if it’s anonymous, I’ve gotten my voice back. After struggling to regain a feeling of control over my life, all I can ask is that others understand why pressuring victims of sexual harassment and assault to come forward begins to shift agency again.
Before discussing why victims don’t immediately report incidents, consider how I’ve had to live with what happened for over a year now, and how I’ll have to continue living with what happened for the rest of my life. The only difference is when I’m comfortable opening up and coming to terms with it, and when I feel safe enough facing those who will call me a liar, blame me, or force me to relive the trauma again and again. My rapist took control over my body, and to some extent my mind as I recovered from the trauma, but now it’s my turn. I control who knows, when I tell others, and how I choose to share what happened. This is my story, this is my life – and he can’t take it from me, not anymore.
The Harvard Independent (firstname.lastname@example.org) hopes this article might continue progress and dialogue on our campus. Readers, please do not hesitate to reach out to us or OSAPR (office: 617-496-5636 hotline: 617-495-9100) regarding any questions or reactions to this article.