In Search of a Survivor Identity: Response to the Referendum

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 article discusses sexual assault and rape**

Sorry I haven’t written in a while. It’s been a hectic time, as I’m sure you all know. Rather than an article for the community, my goal for this piece is to talk about my perspective as a survivor in response to the referendum. I acknowledge that not all survivors feel the same way.

I was raped by a Phi Psi brother in the beginning of the semester. I also recently reported him, and both Title IX Coordinators in charge of investigating reports of sexual assault Sharmaine LaMar and Joanna Gallagher have been extremely helpful, but that’s beside the point.

I am so impressed by all of the stories that people have shared by chalking, and I know that these situations are extremely difficult to talk about. In these cases, cases of rape and sexual assault in particular (but also homophobia, racism, etc), it can be hard to share your identity. Even I am hiding behind a kind of veil through my columns. There is so much criticism, so much counter arguing, so much victim blaming that I hear every single day. It takes a lot for me not to come out screaming that a frat brother raped me. And it disgusts me to hear and see frat brothers celebrating that the referendum didn’t pass because the chalkings were anonymous and you shouldn’t trust anonymity. Or because “they” were a “minority” of the population. Well, I’ll say this: it is really fucking difficult to come out to people when you’re afraid. I am constantly afraid of retaliation, as much as I like to say that I don’t care about what anyone thinks of me. So, I’ll say it again: I WAS RAPED BY A PHI PSI BROTHER. I reported it. And I say it here because I am deathly afraid of the stares and the things that I’ll hear. It makes me afraid that some brothers are so militant about this anonymity and use that as a reason to have voted no.

But I didn’t vote to ban Greek Life. I’ll tell you my story and then tell you why I made that decision.

Before him, I had not been raped by another member of the Swarthmore community. I’d been assaulted – grabbed, stalked, whatever – but I’d also had sex with plenty of people, and there are definitely members of frats on that list. But none of them had ever done anything to harm me. They were always very aware of how I was feeling and always asked every step of the way if I was comfortable. He, my rapist, was good up until that point.

I feel awkward calling him my rapist. I have to keep saying the word to myself: rape, rape, RAPE. Technically, he’s a “good guy” who would never do anything to hurt anyone. I had to keep repeating the incident in my mind and reread the slut-shaming/ victim-blaming texts he sent me two nights later to tell myself that it was really rape. Yes, I acknowledge that he didn’t corner me and leave me screaming and threaten me if I ever told anyone. So this story that I’m sharing is one that I shared before, but now in the context of him being a brother.

We had agreed that we would be friends, we wouldn’t have sex anymore, and everyone would be happy. But he fell asleep in my room after we were talking, so I let him stay, I put on my pajamas, and got into my bed next to him. He put his arms around me, and I didn’t care at that moment. He started to get hard, and I could feel him against my ass rubbing against me. I repeated that we would not have sex anymore. He said that he knew and stopped for a bit. But then he took his pants off. I again repeated, “you do know that we are not going to have sex tonight, right? What happened to being friends?” and he said “well I’m still pretty physically attracted to you.” So he proceeded, even after I said no, to take my pants off. At that point, I didn’t care anymore. I let go of my emotions, stopped breathing, my heart rate slowed down. I just wanted to sleep, and letting him put his dick inside of me was my way of getting sleep. See, even in that description, I couldn’t say, “and then he proceeded to rape me.”

There are bad people in the frats. He was a “good guy,” and I had friends who stood up for him. I know that there are other rapists in the frats, and needless to say, I am not friends with those people anymore. I also only told a few people about the experience, but with this referendum, I think it is important to know that there is at least one brother who is a rapist, for those brothers who don’t believe it’s possible. I’m sure there are people who don’t even see what he did as rape.

Outside of this issue, I have also suffered from major anxiety and PTSD that were triggered from members of the fraternities, although they are not the root of the problems.

I don’t believe that they are all bad guys or even all capable of doing shit like this. I can see that as institutions, the fraternities are trying really hard to do right by the community. They are going to consent workshops, they are working with different groups to talk about how they can change, they helped with the Clothesline Project. I am good friends with brothers in both of the frats. But also as institutions, they are in various ways standing behind those shitty people. They have not written a press release supporting a member of our community who was/ is being harassed by an external website. They have not gotten rid of or in some other way punished frat brothers who they know have assaulted members of at least our community, except for one instance. As one person summed up nicely, the brothers can do, and deserve, better. They can stand up for members of their community, and can speak against the brothers who have done wrong.

And while I write this, I still believe I voted correctly for my own sake. I don’t want to punish brothers who have done good. They are working so incredibly hard and I recognize that. I also recognize that there are shitty people who are not in Greek institutions who have raped or assaulted members of our community. Getting rid of the frats will not stop rape, and I do believe that if frats will be more willing to show that a brother will not be allowed to come back to the frat because he alone creates an unsafe space, that could change a lot of perspectives. And maybe this will have to be a fight, or a push, but I think that this referendum is showing that Survivors and allies are serious about wanting change.

I think that, if we look at the referendum as a binary issue, both sides have been extremely thoughtful. They have both passionately presented arguments that discuss why it is so important for them to either vote yes or no on the referendum. It seems that we all want to make this campus safer for everyone. And although the campus is extremely tense right now (I, for one, am super excited to graduate), I think it is important to note that we are in many ways also coming together as a community and recognizing our weaknesses and trying to persevere to become stronger.


  1. Jane, I really appreciate how thoughtful this piece was. I am coming to terms with having been coerced (over winter break, not at Swat) into sex (I can’t bring myself to use the word “rape” although I know that legally it probably was). The worst part is that the guy is a really decent person who would never have done it if he understood the effect that it would have on me. Seeing all of the victim blaming these past few weeks has made it very hard for me to talk about sexual assault at swarthmore (I personally am friends with 4 people who were assaulted here)and I am very glad that people are working to improve the attitude and attention brought to the issue. I guess, all of this to say that you wrote eloquently and in exactly the fair-minded way that I would have. I did not vote to eliminate the frats. I voted for them to cut national ties so that they could create their own list of principals and values to live by.

    • Dear Thank you,

      Thank you for sharing your experience with me. I know that it is extremely difficult to share and oftentimes to make sense of the situation, and I appreciate your courage in posting this situation onto an open forum.

      I agree that the person who raped me also probably would not have done the same thing if he knew that it would make me feel a lot weaker. And in the past, I had never heard him say anything to the effect of what he told me or do anything to harm me. That’s why I didn’t report him for so long – I didn’t think anyone would believe me because I could barely believe myself.

      Also, legally and emotionally can be two very different things. I had to convince myself that it was legally rape, and I also felt that emotionally I wasn’t raped. I kept telling myself he would never do something like that.

      Again, thank you for sharing and for commenting. If you need anything else, you can contact me at janedoedg@gmail.com.


      • I really appreciate your kindness.
        I think that something else that people need to know is that it is a LOT easier to scar someone sexually than just jumping them in the dark. Guys who act like it is “being dramatic” or “overplaying” the situation (especially when, as it was with me, it happens in the context of a romantic relationship) need to know that they too are capable of making someone they care about feel miserable if they don’t realize that sexual situations and power dynamics can be a REALLY big deal even without physical threats/guns/alcohol consumption.
        Anyways. Like I said, I’m just coming to terms with the fact that it happened against my will (I kept trying to convince myself that I had “willingly participated”- despite even having verbalized that I didn’t want to have sex because that would mean that nothing bad had happened and my feelings of disgust weren’t justified and I could forget about it and move on)Let’s just say that if you think of the words “rape”, “sexual assault,” “coercion” you would never picture this guy. I mean, when I broke up with him a week later for reasons I thought were unrelated to what happened, he cried and told me that he had fallen in love with me.

        • “I think that something else that people need to know is that it is a LOT easier to scar someone sexually than just jumping them in the dark.”

          YES. Thank you so much. Not only for saying the above, but for sharing your experience. I have almost never heard people here discuss sexual assault within relationships unprompted. My former girlfriend raped me, and I too am still having a hard time coming to terms with that. I ignored it for half a semester, both because I thought she was a wonderful person and thus couldn’t commit rape, and because she had worn me down prior to the assault. Playing on my jealousy and my insecurity being in a relationship for the first time, she managed to convince me it was unusual for us to not have had sex yet a couple months into a relationship. So when I did think about it before blocking it out, I’d think “well, I did make her wait a long time, that wasn’t really much to ask of me. I’ll just let it pass.”

          Similarly, no one would guess that she could commit rape (and her friends either refused to believe or didn’t care). She was–while not the best girlfriend–a truly kind and generous person in many other ways, so much that I still feel that I could never report her because I “owe” her too much. And similarly, when I broke up with her not much later, for what I too considered unrelated reasons, she was extremely upset. Even though she had been abusive, I spend a semester consoling her and trying to be friends like she wanted, comforting her when she cried, and trying to make her not feel bad that she was in love with me.
          For me, real love entails so much respect that rape would never happen. So while I loved her and was not in love with her, she was in love with me and didn’t love me.

          • Dear Male survivor,

            Thank you so much for sharing your experience. I admire your courage in opening up. I am truly sorry about what you had to go through, and as with everyone else, your comments are very valuable.

            I think that it’s really hard to make sense of situations when you don’t think that anyone will believe you (or, in fact, no one does believe you), or when that person doesn’t fit a societal stereotype of “rapist.”

            So as always, I appreciate what you have to say and contribute.


        • Dear Thank You,

          Sorry for getting back to you so late. I definitely agree with you that it is possible to traumatize people without rape or assault in a back alley.

          You are not alone in trying to convince yourself that you willingly participated. This is something that many Survivors have to face, and it seems like you faced a lot of guilt (I apologize if I am putting words in your mouth).

          Again, thank you for sharing your strength and bravery in your comments.


    • I would also like to thank you for sharing this story. No one can feel what you felt but I had a similar experience in high school. I would lie perfectly still and pretend to be dead while he had sex with me. It took me years (literally) to finally admit that what happened to me was rape. He was my boyfriend for two years. It was rape. It was definitively rape. But it still hurts to say out loud. So thank you not only for being courageous enough to come out and tell your story but also for lending a really thoughtful and moving side to the story of what the fraternities mean. Thank you for your bravery.

      • Dear Hannah,

        Thank you so much for your kind words.

        I am so sorry about your experience, and if you ever want or need to talk, you can always reach me at janedoedg@gmail.com. I can honestly say that I know what you are feeling, and that the experience is extremely difficult. You are such an amazing woman, and I am here for you if you need me.


        PS – I hope you don’t mind that I summarized part of your article!

        • It made me feel so unbelievably honored that you quoted my article. You are also an amazing woman, and I really have appreciated your words

  2. Jane,
    This is perhaps the bravest and fairest piece I have seen at my time at Swarthmore. I am appalled at what happened to you and incredibly sorry it occurred. Even though I have no idea who you are, I am certain you are an incredible person. I wish you all the best and I incredibly appreciate your challenge for the fraternities to stand against sexual assault and with survivors in a meaningful way.

  3. “…and I do believe that if frats will be more willing to show that a brother will not be allowed to come back to the frat because he alone creates an unsafe space, that could change a lot of perspectives. And maybe this will have to be a fight, or a push, but I think that this referendum is showing that Survivors and allies are serious about wanting change.”

    A recent statement from Phi-Psi said, “It is our goal to make not only our own organization, but Swarthmore as well, the community we all want it to be.”

    If you really believe that, guys, please take this challenge.

  4. Jane, I honestly cannot thank you enough for sharing your experience, writing this piece, and giving another voice to survivors. I’m currently still struggling with labeling myself as a survivor, even after several assaults. I am a survivor who voted no on the referendum because I believed, from my perspective and personal experience, that getting rid of the frats would not make the campus safer and I also did not want to punish brothers who have done good as well.

    But more than this, I was disappointed in the lack of discussion on OVERALL social spaces on campus (thank you to Mia Ferguson for starting the discussion!) and on how survivors who have been assaulted OUTSIDE OF THE FRATS (yes, this happens too) were treated during this referendum process. Example, the only time that I felt boiling frustration about the referendum was the chalking incident. When I saw chalkings like “Welcome to Swarthmore – Home of the Rapists” I was not only furious about the lack of consideration of other survivors, but also found the chalkings extremely triggering. I am a person who cannot even walk by and read the Clothesline project shirts because it’s triggering for me (but I am so proud that we have this project on campus and I hope I can participate in the future) I understand that this referendum was focused on Greek Life at Swat, but I do not believe getting rid of Greek Life will make the campus safer specifically for sexual assaults.

    [TRIGGER WARNING: Discussion of rape and assault]

    In short, I am coming from the perspective of a male who has had several experiences outside of Swarthmore one of them being raped by his best friend and at Swarthmore, one of them being sexually assaulted at a party not only hosted by a group who provides a safe space on campus, but also assaulted by another friend (a member of this group) who first asked if I was drunk and then once given yes, proceeded to molest me and stalk me in the party space.

    Guess what? The friend who assaulted me is also considered a great person and my friend at the time (who also was fully aware before of the incident in my past) on campus. That person’s friends told me the next day “oh that person was just drunk.” All of those people are not at all affiliated with Greek Life. What I just wanted to draw from that point is that it is difficult for friends to hear/learn if their friends committed assault in general (not just for Frats members) which I hope our campus can work on together to create a dialogue that breaks down the barriers of disbelief and turn it into action.

    What do I do now? I avoid the group on campus, parties that they host, and just feel generally uncomfortable when I see the assaulter around. I feel as though I cannot do much else because while I was able to confront people before about this incident, I am tired of struggling with this balancing of this person being a “good on campus” and what this person did to me and explaining that what they know about the person might not be the full picture.

    Sorry for rambling, but again, thank you for your article and I just wanted to chime in another survivor’s experience. I hope our community can heal from the week of stress on all sides and move forward. By far the best article I have read on this discussion.

    • Thank you so much for sharing. I am also a male survivor; my ex-girlfriend, who I dated for half a semester, raped me. It took me forever to admit what happened even to myself. When I finally cut her out of my life and tried to tell a few people about it, most flat-out refused to talk to me–at first hoped that they were just trying to remain “neutral,” but later I learned that she had told them about the rape and they still had decided to shun (and in some cases, harass) me. Only one mutual friend agreed to talk to me, and while I am very thankful to them for that, they weren’t terribly supportive. They told me they were going to remain close friends with the rapist, and that even though they “wouldn’t tell me not to” report the rape, I should make sure I was doing it “for the right reasons.” I felt guilty for even feeling raped, since she was considered such a great person, and in many other ways was indeed good to me.
      So even though I did vote yes to all of the questions on the referendum, and would feel more comfortable on campus without the presence of Greek life, it is true that my rape had nothing to do with the frats. Regardless of what happens with the frats, I hope that Swarthmore will open up more and realize that yes, even your best friend could have raped someone. Swarthmore is great at building intra-group loyalty; unfortunately, both in the frats and in normal groups of friends, this means people often will choose friendship over morals.

      • Trigger warning: discussion of rape.

        About being friends with a rapist:

        I always wonder, what should one do when a friend commits rape? I feel uncomfortable with that fact but I also feel uncomfortable with cutting ties with someone, especially if they were close. After all, I pride myself in being a caring and loyal friend. The fact is, anybody can commit rape. Rapists are more complex than we make them out to be. I know of super nice, generous, successful people who have committed rape. You can be an amazing friend and a disrespectful lover. You can be a respectful lover to one person and a disrespectful one to another. So, as a friend of someone who is wonderful in so many ways, but was very wrong in another, how should we act?

        I personally don’t know, and would like the feedback. I have a good friend from high school who once confessed to me that he had raped another man in middle school. I know it was hard for him to confess to that, and I know he felt remorse. I don’t know how aware he was of the effect it had on the other person, and neither do I since it was someone I never met nor know the name of, and we seldom touch the topic at all. I don’t think he ever committed rape again, but he doesn’t talk much about those things so I would have no way of knowing. The way I responded was basically gently telling him that I did not support what he did, I thought it was wrong, but if he ever wanted to talk about it, I would listen. And I did listen, and we are still friends.

        Was I wrong? Should I have done more? I am sincerely asking this and would like your thoughts. I also feel like this question is important because as good friends we tend to band with our friend regardless of what they did, and as moral people we might stick to our morals whilst sacrificing friendship. Also, what to do in case both the rapist and survivor are our friends? How do we add subtlety and complexity to this issue?

        • I can’t speak from the perspective of having a friend assault someone else. As far as my own experience as a survivor goes, I would say it matters whether or not you are friends with the victim. It sounds like you did the right thing–your friend realized what he did was wrong, confessed to it on his own, and was remorseful. Supporting him through his realization that what he did was wrong is good. I probably would have done the same thing.

          But was for when you know both the victim and the rapist–I think that is a different matter. For me, being shunned and harassed and silenced by my own friends, feeling invalidated for daring to say something bad about my rapist, was many many times more hurtful than the rape itself. Even though some people assured me they would remain friends with both of us, it is hard to feel safe with someone who 1) is supporting someone who they know raped you 2) spends as much time with your rapist as you, and so at any moment might be with your rapist when you want to hang out with them, and 3) refuses to let you talk about the rape. I can’t say my experience is representative of others, but the effect on the person who has been raped should be considered when choosing to remain friends with a rapist.

          Even though it is complex, and even though the rapist too has feelings and may be hurt, this is how I look at it: when rape occurs, it is the rapist’s fault, not the victim’s. Dealing with the results may be hard for the rapist, but it will sure as hell be hard for the victim. As the victim will almost certainly need more support, and as they are not the one who committed the crime, I think they should take priority. Though the situation may be very nuanced, survivors need no more nuance, no more “yes but” about their rape forced into their lives by those they trust.

        • Dear A friend,

          Thank you so much for your very sincere question, and also thank you Male survivor for a thoughtful answer.

          This is my input as someone who has a friend who has committed rape/ is a rapist. He deliberately had sex with another one of my friends while she was drunk and he was sober.

          It was, and still is, extremely hard for me to maintain our friendship after knowing this. But I believe that he sincerely feels remorse. He feels terrible when he recounts this, and I like to believe that he didn’t know it was unconsensual when the other person was drunk even if they said yes. I don’t think he knew that he did something wrong at that point.

          Back to your question, I think you acted in a very reasonable way and in pretty much the same way I would have responded. You’re right that we tend to stick with our friends, but you acted in a way that was fair and you told them that what they did was wrong. I think that it is possible for rapists to feel remorse for what they did and to understand that they did something terribly wrong. I also think it’s important to teach them and help them to understand why they did something wrong in the hopes that they will not commit rape again rather than continue to vilify them without teaching them. (But I also believe that there are rapists who will not feel bad and will never apologize for their actions or ever learn and will continue to permeate rape culture).

          And back to my example, I am friends with both the Survivor and the rapist, and I am closer to the Survivor. I also have friends who are friends with me and my rapist. This is definitely a really hard question to answer, and I will think more about it for the time being, but off hand I can say that I stick with my Survivor friend more often because I know that she is facing harder challenges because she can constantly feel triggered or unsafe. I have also told my other friend that I will avoid him when she is around and that I believe that she is in the right for feeling unsafe because of him. They have not talked since the incident and I don’t bring it up unless one of them wants to talk to me about it.

          If you want to talk about this further, please feel free to email me at janedoedg@gmail.com.


          • Dear MS and JD,

            Thank you both for your thoughtful responses. The position of wanting to be a good friend as well as an ally to survivors is a very difficult one and I really appreciate your (and anybody else who would like to chip in’s) input.

            Many of the worries surrounding fraternities, as well as other friend groups, on campus this year had to do with people choosing to protect their friend, who they know and love, over the survivor. I think there is, or at least must be, a way to keep your valuable friendship while still being fair to the survivor, and the more we tease out this question the better we might be able to respond to this situation.

            Thank you both once again for your thoughtfulness. I hope we can all continue this conversation further and strengthen our community.

            A friend.

    • Dear Another Survivor,

      Thank you so, so much for sharing your experience. I definitely agree that I hope this conversation can become a campus dialogue about what we can do to make this campus safer. And this is, as you said, not just about the Frats. Any individual or group can create an unsafe space and anyone can sexually assault.

      Let me know if you want to talk more about how to deal with the discomfort of seeing your assaulter(s) around. You can message me at janedoedg@gmail.com and we can talk.

      And you were not rambling – I think it is definitely helpful to be able to write or talk to be able to understand and put our own experiences into perspective.


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