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.