CW: Sexual Violence
I remember the first time it happened like it was yesterday. It was my first relationship here at Swarthmore. He was drunk, as was I. He wanted to do sexual things with me, but I was hesitant. We had only been dating a short time, and I had never done anything so intimate with anyone before, yet here we were, both drunk messes. I told him no. He kept badgering me. I felt extremely uncomfortable. It almost felt as if he was entitled to my body because we were in a relationship. I kept resisting, but he wouldn’t respond to it. We were in his bed, and he forced himself on me. He finished. I felt weak. He felt guilty.
Was this what it meant to be intimate with someone?
It wasn’t until that summer that I realized what really happened. I was sexually assaulted by my ex-partner. I was naïve and had no idea what to do. I didn’t feel comfortable reporting it. I didn’t even feel comfortable telling my closest friends here at Swarthmore. I had already broken up with him, so he was a finished chapter in my life. I thought that any allegations of assault after the fact would only make me look bad. I felt compelled to “forgive” him after the events happened, but yet I had not really forgiven him, nor did I forget. How could I?
Flash forward to the beginning of this school year. I ran into him on campus, and I was filled not only with feelings of helplessness but also anger. People had to know. I worked up the courage to tell my closest friends, and I was met with mixed responses. While some were genuinely concerned about my well-being, others said, “Are you sure it was assault? I mean, you were dating each other and under the influence…” Even my-then best friend was hesitant to believe me. “I understand, but you didn’t report it, so is this just you being angry for no reason?” I was left in utter silence.
We’re not friends anymore. At all. He’s now close friends with my assailant.
Then there was the night that took me back to how I felt the first time it happened. This time the assailant was a person who I thought was a close friend of mine. I was taken back to the exact same feelings of helplessness, anguish, and anger. The situation felt exactly the same as the first. We were both drunk. Advances were made. I resisted. He got angry. I was angry, too. Not only at him, but at myself. How could I have let this happened again?
Responses to my second experience were the same. There was more concern, but there were certain responses from an individual that made me feel exactly how my ex-friend made me feel. “Well, I mean, you were both drunk. You both knew what you were doing. I told you to be careful.” No sympathy. I ended up distancing myself greatly from this assailant and the “friend” who defended him, but a run-in with the assailant at a party made me feel very uncomfortable.
It was obvious he was intoxicated. I was getting anxious. I needed to leave to go outside, but my friend stopped to say hi to everyone, and I could not believe that this was happening after what I told them what he did to me. “Well, he’s a really good friend to me. I just can’t say hi to him!” My sexual assault experience was only “valid” when I told them about it and not when they needed to support me by avoiding my assailant. Gotcha.
I did not foresee having to deal with one experience with sexual assault, much less two. It was not just the experiences that fucked with my head, but what happened afterwards from people whom I thought were my friends. They dealt with my experiences in the most insensitive way. My assailants were chosen over me. My experiences were not valid enough. My friendship was not valid enough.
When the “Swat Protects Rapists” posters went up, I could not help but think, “It isn’t only Swat administration.” People who are close to abusers, while knowing damn well what they have done, also protect rapists. They ignore their past because, “Oh, that’s strange, I haven’t seen that side of them.” No shit, but that does not give you the right to protect their bad and disgusting behavior. Acknowledge the wrongs they committed. Hold them accountable. Don’t devalue someone’s experiences. I was neglected in these ways from individuals that I thought were my friends.
Now, I know what you’re thinking, “Why hasn’t this person reported these situations?” I feel like the process would not go in my favor. Being a gay man on this campus is hard enough. There’s already preconceived notions of sexual assault between two men. “Are you sure?” “Men aren’t supposed to do that with other men.” “That’s just sick.” Even if Swarthmore is a “progressive campus,” there are still issues that Swarthmore loves to cover up. I have to live with seeing both individuals regularly on campus, knowing that even if I did try and report it, Swarthmore will not do anything. This needs to change. Everything needs to change about the way that sexual assault is handled on campus. No one should feel like they can’t report. Every victim’s voice needs to be heard, loud and clear.