In Search of a Survivor Identity: Seeing the Invader

Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.

**Trigger warning: This story references sexual violence**

I am so angry. Each day that I see them, my blood gets hot and I feel an uncontrollable rage that makes me want to do things I would normally never think of doing.

Why don’t I always report? Because I’m scared. I don’t want to be called a liar. I don’t want to be retriggered, especially if nothing is done about them being here at Swarthmore. I respect people who go to the CJC or report to a non-confidential resource.

But everyone says “oh, he’s such a nice guy, he would never do anything like that,” and totally diminish what I had to go through. And then his friends (or even people in the administration!) will just say, “I’m sorry you feel that way about him” or “are you absolutely sure he did this?” Seriously?? After me telling you about this experience, you’re going to support his actions in that way? Do you really not believe me?

But I still see them and I know that something happened. I know I am not lying even if people around me make me feel that way. Ultimately, it feels better to punish myself than to punish them. I think maybe that I’m possibly strong enough to deal with it. And if I tell anyone about them, I’ll be seen as that person who said something, like when we were 10 and got called tattle-tales. Even if I told, I would never be able to escape.

But, I want to tell everyone. I see them everywhere and I want to go up to their friends or the people who they’re with and say “did you know that he did this?” But it wouldn’t matter anyway.

They probably don’t even think they did anything wrong. In fact, I’m sure they don’t. I don’t like to think of them as bad people either. There are few people who I think of as *bad.* Rape culture is so prevalent in our society and school that it seems totally normal.

Worse yet, sometimes the CJC or the administration doesn’t want to do anything about the perp being here. We do have new ways to investigate (which is wonderful, trust me) but I also know I haven’t said anything because I don’t want an *investigation* to be formally made against anyone. That sounds so serious, such a punishment – I don’t want to ruin anyone’s life. And I still live under the impression that things could be so much worse than what they actually are. People ask why I don’t want to file charges? Please. That is so disempowering to ask. I already have enough “why” questions to think about, and I feel so stupid and irresponsible when people try to make it seem like I didn’t do the right thing.

It is often difficult to report because of Survivor guilt, and the feeling that the Survivor is to blame. And every week it seems there is a new article online talking about how one school approached sexual assault and totally blamed the Survivor. There are plenty of horror stories at Swarthmore as well that discourage people from reporting, such as people reporting the perpetrator and still seeing them on campus or even taking classes with them. I’ve also personally felt like I was imagining things, and when I question myself, I don’t feel like I can prove to myself and to other people that something awful actually happened. I sincerely believe that there is a lot of courage in reporting an incident, but I know how hard it can be to make that step for various reasons.

So the better question is: how do survivors deal with seeing the perp and going to school with them? For me, it’s definitely been a struggle. I can barely breathe when I see them around. Yes, there was definitely a lot of crying initially. There is a lot of self-hate still. I used to (and sometimes still do) stay in bed for full days. But I’m more confident now. Every night, I write a positive note about myself and put it in a jar so that whenever I feel down, I can open this jar and see why I continue to keep breathing. I used to write poetry so that I could heal. I have also avoided certain places where they usually are, use friends to block them for me, and if I can’t avoid them (let’s say…Sharples), I try to just walk past them and avoid eye contact. I have definitely unfriended or blocked people on facebook who I didn’t want looking at my pictures anymore, or just because they brought my negative past back into memory.

I also try methods to distract myself and make myself stronger. I have taken self-defense classes and go to the gym at times when I won’t usually see people who I know there. The gym helps me to keep my mind off of bad things. I also teach myself new skills, try to learn a new language…just something that will relax me. When my mind is too taken up by these bad thoughts, I try to listen to relaxing music.

I don’t want to be alone, either. When I feel unsafe, I try to be with friends or call someone so that I can hear a voice of someone who I love or who loves me, even if they don’t know why I want to be with them so badly. It’s key to be with people who make you feel better and who you can share your emotions with.

When I become brave enough, and I don’t want to just see these people to suffer from guilt (or general suffering), I try talking to them. Clearly, this takes time. It takes time to get better and not feel self-loathing every time you see them or think of them.

The best thing I can say I’ve done is seeing a therapist. I know a lot of people hate on CAPS, but my CAPS therapist has quite literally saved my life. She has taught me that this is my life and that I can be and deserve to be happy. She has helped me find inner peace. These things are in my past and may even happen in my future, but for now I need to focus on me and not let anyone else take the enjoyment out of living life. Even if you don’t want to use a therapist, talking about my experiences is the best thing I have ever done. I have improved as a person through therapy, and it is an hour of my week where I can just heal.

What really keeps me going is the knowledge that I do have amazing people around me, and also recognizing that I am better and I can do better. It takes a lot of courage and strength from unknown places to just heal in general. It can take a lifetime. I am always here if you need someone to be there for you, to be there so you don’t feel alone. If it wasn’t for my friends, my therapist, and my mom, I wouldn’t be here today.


  1. You mention talking to the perpetrator once you’re brave enough. I just started wondering: What would you talk to them about? Why would you want to ever talk to them?

    • Dear thank you for this article,

      Well, for one experience, I don’t think he actually thought he did anything wrong. This was also at another school. I told him that I felt really uncomfortable in the situation he put me in and I told him several times that I wanted to go back to my friends and asked him why he kept taking me further away from them. We ultimately got to a part of campus that I didn’t recognize, so I just kept going and I lost my phone in his room. And I’d rather not go into details from there. Basically, I didn’t feel like I had any choices. However, he was nice to me during the walk and we had a really good conversation, so I figured I could talk to him because it did seem like he cared in some way. And after meeting up with him, I was able to tell him how I felt, and I felt like he listened and honestly would not try to do this to anyone again. I wanted to talk so that he knew that someone was hurt in the process and he could prevent this from happening again.

      Also, I hope you don’t think that I mean everyone should talk to the perp…or however you want to define them. For me, it was helpful because I didn’t want to think of anyone as a bad person and I wanted to be able to forgive and in a way it helped me to heal. I hold onto anger and pain for a long time, and I had to grapple with a lot of different issues in the process.


  2. These are such important stories to have around in our society, and I admire the courage it takes to write something like this.

    Now I don’t mean to disrespect in any way, but I’m confused about what the following line means:

    “People ask why I don’t want to file charges? Please. That is so disempowering to ask.”

    I’m aware of how disempowering, draining, and a generally miserable experience the legal system can be. Does the above statement mean to say that it’s disempowering to ask because asking assumes the askee hasn’t taken all the factors into consideration and made up their own mind?

    I don’t think it’s appropriate for “people” to ask this question, but (as someone not connected to any history of sexual assault), I’m confused as to why legal action is basically never taken. I understand that many, many survivors wouldn’t want to deal with the triggers, stress, and emotional effects that can come from dealing with the perp in that kind of way, but rape is a serious, violent crime that seems more appropriate to deal with in a court of law than the CJC.

    • Hi Naive Question,

      I probably didn’t explain enough, so I appreciate you asking.

      For me, “why” questions are disempowering in general. Survivors are already disempowered by the sexual assault itself and by not feeling like they did enough. To ask “why?” feels like there is prodding involved, and trying to get me to share information that I don’t want to share, or maybe I don’t know why I didn’t do something, or it feels like people are questioning me.

      “Why don’t you want to file charges?” – I often don’t know what to call my experience, I don’t want to call attention to myself, I don’t know Idon’treallyalwayshaveagoodreason. Maybe they won’t believe me because many people don’t believe me.

      Also, I totally agree with you. I think that more action should be taken. But most institutions don’t know how to deal with sexual assault and there are a lot of horror stories with talking to judges or officers or people who make you feel like you deserved it or asked for it. Even here, I hear people say similar things. So yes, rape is violent, but there is often a lack of support that makes reporting hard and also a lot of fear in survivors. This isn’t to say that I have never reported because I definitely have, but even those few times, I didn’t feel confident that i was doing the right thing.

  3. Thank you so much for this. As a survivor grappling with the idea of reporting my perpetrator to official channels, I feel like you do a great job of articulating my experience.

    Sometimes I make eye contact with this person in Sharples and they smile and I don’t know what to do. I assume they don’t think that anything inappropriate went on, but it makes me wonder how many other times something like this has happened. I am awed that you can bring yourself to talk to them, ever.

    I’ve seen the way the administration works, sometimes with an insider’s view, and while on the one hand I appreciate that they aim to educate rather than punish people (this is a school, after all), that also makes me sort of reluctant to come forward with my story.

    Jane, thanks again for speaking up. I hope that you’re healing and that you’re surrounded by (considerate, safe, desired, unconditional) love.

    • Hi T,

      Thank you so much for sharing your experience. I haven’t talked to every person, and a lot of it is because I am still so angry that I don’t think I would be able to control my rage (this has happened before when talking to someone who violated several friends while they were drunk).

      I am sure that the administration means well since I have a lot of really good, personal relationships with several of the Deans. However, there are a lot of issues that they also have to deal with in reporting, next steps, parents, etc that can make it really hard for them to handle sexual misconduct in a responsible way all the time.

      I hope you are too, and if you ever need any extra love, I am here for you.

  4. Thank you so much for sharing this. It is inspiring to me, reading about all the things you do to make yourself stronger. It hurts to think about the fact that people are capable of doing such cruel things, but it is nice to know people can also be brave.

    Your story in particular has helped me. I was sexually assaulted by someone I was dating. I didn’t talk to her about it until after we broke up. I don’t think she thought she was doing anything wrong, and I know she genuinely loved me. And I’d always thought of her as a good person. It is hard for me to be angry at her because of this.

    I often worry that I imagined it or that no one will believe me, with no evidence. I don’t even remember for sure how many times it happened–was it just once? None of the people I’ve told thus far have disbelieved me, although some have taken my assault less seriously than I was expecting–including her. That hurts me way more than the assault itself.

    I want to talk to some people about what happened, but they are mutual friends, and I don’t want to risk being written off as a horrible liar, or making her lose a friend. Even if I felt I could report it now, I don’t want to be seen as a tattletale, and I don’t really want her to be punished. I always feel guilty about sharing–what if I am only talking about this for attention, and not because I REALLY need to?

    While it was helpful for me to hear other survivors’ stories, I found yours particularly helpful because you seem to have had thoughts much more similar to mine. Thank you again.

    I wish it entered the conversation as more than a side-note, that women can assault men. Most resources–including, if I recall, the pamphlet at Worth on “Male Victims”–assume that males are only assaulted by other males. And despite the frequency of assault by people who know their victim, there is less discussion of sexual abuse within relationships.

    • Dear Also afraid,

      I appreciate your comment so much. Thank you for sharing your story.

      You are so right that there are more issues within sexual assault that we need to talk about, especially with male victims and abuse within relationships. It is also so much harder for male Survivors to come forward for different reasons, respecting the fact that it is also extremely hard for people of all genders to come forward. There is definitely a lot of social stigma and stereotypes that come with being a male Survivor/ victim.

      As a side note, I was also raped continuously by a boyfriend in high school who stayed my boyfriend through freshman year. And although it didn’t seem wrong at the time, there is definitely a problem with waking up and seeing your clothes off and his penis inside of you. I cared about him deeply, but after we broke up and I confronted him about this, he was extremely defensive and refused to listen. And as you said, that was so much more painful than the rape itself. If someone has been with you for so long and cares about you, you would think that you can communicate more. And I wasn’t angry at him – I just wanted him to understand that I didn’t feel okay with it.

      Please please let me know if you want to talk more – you can reach me at janedoedg@gmail.com

      Sending lots of love your way.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

The Phoenix

Discover more from The Phoenix

Subscribe now to keep reading and get access to the full archive.

Continue reading