Category Archives: Survivor’s Words

Male victims of campus sexual assault speak out, via The Huffington Post:

*Trigger Warning*

It was Andrew’s sixth night of freshman year at Brown University when he was assaulted by a male student in his dorm bathroom. When Andrew brought on-campus charges, his assailant was expelled.

Unlike myriad students who report mishandled cases in the burgeoning national campaign against sexual assault, Andrew initially believed his case was handled appropriately.

But after The Huffington Post discovered Andrew’s assailant had previously been found responsible for assaulting two other students and had not been expelled, Andrew was devastated.

Andrew has decided to share his story in hopes that victims of assault — and specifically male victims — be taken more seriously.

“It’s time to include male survivors’ voices,” he said. “We are up against a system that’s not designed to help us.”

In the early hours of Sept. 5, 2011, Andrew, who asked that his last name be withheld, was up late excitedly chatting with his hallmates in Keeney Quad, one of two main freshman housing units. Jumping from room to room, Andrew admired the varied displays his classmates had on their walls. In his room, Andrew had put up Art Deco travel posters and a screen print of neighborhoods in his hometown of Washington, D.C.

Around 5 a.m., his classmates returned to their rooms while Andrew headed to the communal bathrooms to brush his teeth. Halfway down the hall, a male student he didn’t recognize passed him. Not thinking much of it, Andrew entered the bathroom and began to wash his hands.

A knock on the door surprised him. The bathroom required a dorm key, so anyone who lived in the building should have been able to get inside. Andrew opened the door. It was the same student he had seen in the hall.

Andrew went back to the sink, and the student approached him. “You’re hot,” Andrew remembers him saying. The student propositioned him but Andrew politely declined.

“Nobody has to know,” the student said.

He came up behind Andrew, grabbed his crotch and moved him into the bathroom stall. Frozen, Andrew protested but did not fight back, scared of what would happen if he did.

For 15 minutes the stranger assaulted him.

Andrew has a hard time articulating what he felt during the assault. All he remembers is being unable to speak or act. “I just remember focusing on the stall door, knowing that he was between me and my escape.”

When the assault was over, the assailant “just left.” Andrew remembers resting his head against the bathroom stall and listening to the buzz of the fluorescent lights as he tried to reconcile what had just happened to him.

“I didn’t even know his name,” Andrew said. “I didn’t know who he was. Nobody saw anything.”

Andrew later found out the assailant’s name through a mutual friend. During the hearing process he also learned that his assailant was a sophomore who had been visiting a residential adviser in the dorm earlier that night.

The day after the assault, Andrew told his friends what happened, but joked that it was a “5 a.m. hookup in the bathroom.” It was easier to deal with the shame if he felt control over the situation. At 8 p.m. Andrew and his classmates were required to attend a mandatory orientation meeting entitled “Understanding Sexual Assault.”

Andrew remembers feeling isolated in the auditorium populated by his peers. “It was a sad twist of irony,” he said.

At first, Andrew berated himself, wondering if he could have done more to stop it. But after a couple months he started feeling like himself again, excelling in his introductory course on Urban Studies and joining groups like the Queer Alliance, the Brown University Chorus and a coed literary fraternity.

Things took a turn in the spring when Andrew was cast in a campus production of “Don Pasquale” and attended rehearsals nightly on the north side of campus, where his assailant lived — and seeing him “almost every single time” he was there.

On the morning of Feb. 29, 2012, he had a panic attack. “I got in the shower and suddenly started shaking and could only see in front of me and probably couldn’t have told you where or who I was.”

Andrew started meeting regularly with a counselor, but initially chose not to share the assailant’s name, as he was not ready to pursue a campus hearing. But in May, after a couple months of counseling, he decided to file a formal complaint with the university. The hearing was held the following November.

Andrew’s assailant participated via phone as, unbeknownst to Andrew, he was on suspension for two other cases of sexual assault.

The two other victims, Brenton (who would only give his first name), and another student who requested to remain anonymous, said they filed a joint complaint in December 2011. They had hearings for their cases in March 2012; the university found the assailant responsible for sexual misconduct in both cases and suspended him until the following December.

“I was happy that he got suspended, but I didn’t think it was enough. I knew there were even more people he had gotten to,” Brenton said.

After Andrew’s hearing in November, the university found the assailant responsible for a third case of sexual misconduct and expelled him. The assailant appealed all three sanctions and was rejected. He declined to comment for this article.

The timeline of all three assaults was as follows:

After this story was published, a fourth student came forward and told HuffPost that the same perpetrator had harassed him, stalked him and threatened his life after a sexual encounter. According to documents obtained by HuffPost, the encounter occurred in September 2011, and the harassment resulted in a university no-contact order between the two students. This means the university was aware of the perpetrator’s history of harassment during the first two sexual misconduct hearings and still only imposed a one-semester suspension on the perpetrator.

Brown has recently been in the news for accusations of mishandled cases of sexual assault, notably that of Lena Sclove, which prompted a federal Title IX investigation.

In Sclove’s case, the accused student was found responsible for two counts of sexual misconduct and suspended for two semesters. Similarly, the student who assaulted Brenton and the anonymous victim was merely suspended for just over one semester.

Brown’s failure to impose a sufficient sanction was unsurprising to Andrew but upsetting nonetheless. “I wish they had taken it seriously the first one or two times,” he said. “The process weighed on me from April to November. … I could’ve had days of my sophomore year that I didn’t have to drag myself out of bed every morning. … To know that [the hearing process] could have been prevented if they had expelled him the first time is incredibly upsetting. My sophomore year could have been totally different.”

Brown’s president, Christina Paxson, recently sent a letter to the Brown community outlining revisions to Brown’s sexual assault policy, including that a student given a sanction that includes separation from the university would be immediately removed from campus residences (though not necessarily barred from campus). The letter also included clearer guidelines on how the university determines a sanction, but it didn’t determine specific sanctions for violations of sexual misconduct, leaving Andrew’s concern unaddressed.

In a statement emailed to The Huffington Post, Brown University said it could not comment on the individual cases.

“The circumstances of each case are taken into account by the conduct board and adjudicated under our current sanctioning guidelines, which are reviewed regularly,” the statement said. “We believe our process is the right one for our University and we remain committed to doing all we can to keep our community safe and to being a leader in establishing best practices.”

or all the focus on campus sexual assault in recent years, male victims have been frequently absent from the news coverage, except for the most tragic cases, like that of Trey Malone, an Amherst College student who committed suicide after his assault.

One study shows rape victims are 13 times more likely than non-crime victims to have attempted suicide. Jennifer Marsh, vice president of victims services at Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network, the largest anti-sexual-assault organization in the nation, said both men and women who survive sexual assault face similar psychological effects — but there are some differences. “Male survivors who are suicidal tend to use more lethal means,” Marsh said.

Studies show that one in five women has been the victim of attempted or completed rape in her lifetime, and that approximately 50 percent of transgender people experience sexual violence at some point in their lifetimes. But statistics vary on the incidence of sexual assault against men. According to a study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, of 5,000 college students at over 130 colleges, one in 25 men answered “yes” to the question “In your lifetime have you been forced to submit to sexual intercourse against your will?” Other organizations, such as 1in6, an advocacy group for male survivors, put the estimate much higher, at one in six males before the age of 18.

Steve LaPore, founder and director of 1in6, believes male sexual assaults are underreported because the issue is still taboo. While women have “really moved the ball forward,” resulting in a heightened awareness about sexual assault against women and children, it’s an awareness that doesn’t include men as victims, he said.

“We tell little boys and men to pull themselves up by their bootstraps.”

“Culturally we still don’t want to see men as vulnerable or hurt,” LaPore explained. “We tell little boys and men to pull themselves up by their bootstraps.” Because of the stigma, he said, there are fewer resources available for male victims.

LaPore was not surprised by the fact that Andrew’s assailant initially received a lighter punishment. “In many cases we find that it’s more difficult for men to be believed, or to take their case seriously,” he said. “I think we’ve done a pretty good job of seeing men’s roles as bystanders and preventers, but we don’t recognize men who are survivors of sexual assault and abuse.”

Clayton Bullock, psychiatrist and co-author of Male Victims of Sexual Assault: Phenomenology, Psychology, Physiology, found that male victims are also less likely to come forward or be taken seriously because of their physiological response to assault.

“It is possible for men to get aroused and ejaculate when being assaulted,” Bullock said. “What’s particularly bewildering for the males is that if they ejaculated or were aroused during the assault, it adds a layer of shame or confusion in their culpability of their own victimization.”

Men also have difficulty with the language of sexual assault, according to Jim Hopper, instructor of psychology at Harvard Medical School and a founding board member of 1in6.

“There are words like ‘victim’ and ‘survivor’ that are hard to identify with, especially for men,” Hopper said. “For many men, they don’t want to be a ‘victim’ because it’s antithetical to what it means to be a real man.”

friend of Malone’s at Amherst, who identified himself as Eric for this article, said he was raped by his freshman-year roommate. After feeling dissatisfied with the school’s handling of his case, Eric attempted suicide by overdosing on Benadryl, but it didn’t work.

“I remember waking up to [my roommate] kissing the back of my neck, and I feel his erect dick behind me,” Eric recalled. “I turn around and am like, ‘What are you doing?’ And he says, ‘What are you doing in my room?’ And I said, ‘No, dude, you’re in my bed.’”

Eric feels he was targeted because of his sexuality. “I was very open about being gay, so I think that’s a big part of it; he assaulted me because he knew I was gay,” Eric said. “After that I felt like I couldn’t be as out as I was. He thought that was an invitation.”

Andrew, who identifies as queer, believes it’s more difficult for people to talk about queer victims of assault. “They don’t want to think that queer people exist to begin with, so the idea that sexual assault happens in those communities is something people don’t want to talk about,” he said. “There are some people who also believe [sexual assault] is punishment or retribution for being queer.”

The 2010 National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found about 40 percent of gay men, 47 percent of bisexual men and 21 percent of heterosexual men in the U.S. “have experienced sexual violence other than rape at some point in their lives.”

Bullock says gay men are often targets of sexual assault because of gay-bashing, or because of conflicted feelings about the assailant’s own attraction to other men in which they are “exorcising their internalized homophobia.”

And since the LGBTQ community is often perceived as promiscuous, it can be difficult for victims to come forward.

“The sentiment I hear the most and feel the most is that because we’re being open about our sexuality, when someone assaults us it’s not an assault,” Eric said. “Like, ‘Oh you were kind of asking for it,’ or ‘Are you surprised you got assaulted?’”

Eric struggled at Amherst in the immediate aftermath of his assault, eventually dropping out when the administration allowed his assailant to remain on campus. After leaving college, he joined the military and became an engineer. He’s feeling optimistic about what’s next, but he still feels the impact of what happened to him.

“You know ‘Carry That Weight’?” he asked, referring to Columbia University student Emma Sulkowicz’s campaign to raise awareness of college sexual assault by carrying a mattress around campus until her rapist is expelled. “How I imagine carrying my weight is physical weight. I actually gained a lot of weight, and part of that was intentional. It’s comforting for me being heavier and less looked at as a sex object. In my life I want to be smart, I want to finish college, I want to be good at my job. But I don’t want to be attractive.”

According to Marsh, Eric’s sentiment is typical of both male and female victims.

“The idea that they don’t want any type of attention, or anything remotely resembling sexual advances,” Marsh said. “I think there’s a fear that this could happen again. And if they make themselves so unappealing, they won’t get hurt the way they’ve been hurt before.”

Like many other victims, Eric doesn’t think the punishment for sexual assault at colleges is sufficient.

“If we treated rape the way we treated plagiarism on college campuses, there would be minimal rape,” Eric insisted. “They expel people all the time for plagiarism.”

However, punishment for rape is just one part of the solution. LaPore, founder of 1in6, believes resources need to be more easily accessible for men, including the way clinics and programs are named and advertised. “If we could become willing to be inclusive, we would see more men willing to come forward and say we would like some help,” he said.

Michael Rose, who was in the same coed fraternity as Andrew at Brown, believes the role of bystanders is also integral. “Making sure every space is a safe space” is important, he said. “If more people can be trained as bystanders, and feel comfortable intervening. That’s huge.”

Rose was surprised when Andrew told him about the assault. Despite Rose’s involvement in Brown’s Sexual Assault Peer Education program, Andrew was the first male survivor he had met.

“We were just together in the lounge and we had been talking about consensual sex and life on campus, and he mentioned to me he’d been assaulted his first semester,” Rose said. “I was shocked at first. You never want it to happen, but especially not to someone you know.”

Rose was one of the first people Andrew told about his assault. He told his parents about it the following summer and came out as a survivor to his friends on Facebook during his junior year, when he participated in an online campaign for sexual assault survivors called Project Unbreakable.

He also participated in “Carry That Weight” in solidarity with Sulkowicz’s campaign by carrying a stall door, since his assault occurred in a bathroom.

Both experiences helped Andrew in his healing process. Upon sharing his story, he received encouragement from his friends and family. “My parents were pretty supportive,” he said. “They reiterated the points that I was still valuable and it had no impact on how they thought of me.”

Andrew is now a senior at Brown. He’s finishing his concentration in Urban Studies, writing a thesis on suburban poverty and completing an applied music program. A sign on his dorm door reads, “Hi! Come talk to me about sexual assault, consent, relationships or really anything.”

Walking along the campus green, Andrew seems energized. He talks about the campus buildings and how they provide a great microcosm for exploring urban planning. Specifically, he likes to think about transportation and how it connects people.

As Andrew passes the auditorium where he had his freshman orientation on sexual assault, he says he wants to continue advocating for sexual assault victims. He believes telling his story could make a difference, especially for men. “There are a lot of male survivors who haven’t found someone they can relate to,” he said. “I want to break the silence, and I want other men to know that they’re not alone.”

Making a visual statement for change

Columbia University student will carry her mattress everywhere as long as her rapist remains on campus, via feministing:

Watch her video interview HERE.

Columbia University student Emma Sulkowicz was raped in her dorm bed at the beginning of her junior year. Now, for her senior visual arts thesis, Sulkowicz is carrying her mattress with her everywhere she goes as long as she attends the same school as her rapist.

As she explains in the video about her project above, “The piece could potentially take a day, or it could go on until I graduate. For me, it’s an endurance performance arts piece.”

Sulkowicz’s rapist has been accused of sexual assault by two other women at Columbia but remains on campus. Sulkowicz has described in detail the terrible, incompetent hearing process she went through trying to get justice from Columbia, and was one of the students who filed a federal Title IX complaint accusing the school of mishandling sexual assault cases. Later, she reported her rape to the police — an experience which illustrated pretty much exactly why many survivors are reluctant to do so.

The mattress is an apt physical symbol of the weigh Sulkowicz has carried with her while sharing her campus with her rapist for a year. “A mattress is the perfect size for me to just be able to carry it enough that I can continue with my day, but also heavy enough that I have to continually struggle with it,” she explains. It also represents the way she’s been speaking out about her experience. “We keep [beds] in our bedroom, which is our intimate and private space… The past year or so of my life has been really marked by telling people what happened in that most intimate, private space and bringing it out into the light.”

Actress discloses sexual abuse history

Pamela Anderson Reveals Horrifying History of Sexual Abuse, via Jezebel:

On Friday, Pamela Anderson gave an absolutely heartbreaking speech at the launch of her animal rights charity, in which she revealed that she suffered sexual abuse throughout her childhood.

According to the transcript of the speech, which she has since posted on her blog, the abuse began when she was six years old:

At the risk of over exposing myself…again, possibly being inappropriate…again. I thought I might share with you events that, in surviving, drove me to this point right now. I did not have an easy childhood — Despite loving parents, I was molested from age 6-10 by my female babysitter.

Two years later, she said, she was raped by a friend’s brother:

I went to a friend’s boyfriend’s house while she was busy. The boyfriend’s older brother decided he would teach me backgammon which led into a back massage which led into rape — my first heterosexual experience. He was 25 yrs old. I was 12.

And in 9th grade, she continued, her “first boyfriend… decided it would be funny to gang rape me with six of his friends.”

In the aftermath of all the horrific abuse she suffered, said Anderson, she had “a hard time trusting humans” and “just wanted off this earth.” It wasn’t until she discovered her love of animals that she found a sense of purpose: “My loyalty remained with the animal kingdom. I vowed to protect them and only them. I prayed to the whales with my feet in the ocean. My only real friends — till I had children.” And now she’s been advocating for animal rights for 20 years.

After the event, she tweeted “I want people to know – they can overcome and prosper with love.” I’m very in much in awe of her strength in overcoming all of this trauma and her courage in coming forward with her story. [CNN]

“Dear Harvard: You might have won, but I still have a voice”

Dear Harvard: You Win (written anonymously), via The Harvard Crimson

Editors’ Note: This is a first-person, present-tense account of the aftermath of a sexual assault that took place in 2013. For reasons of both style and substance, we have left it in present tense.

I’m writing this piece as I’m sitting in my own dining hall, only a few tables away from the guy who pressured me into sexual activity in his bedroom, one night last spring. My hands are trembling as they hover across the keyboard. I’m exhausted from fighting for myself. I’m exhausted from sending emails to my resident dean, to my House Master, to my Sexual Assault/Sexual Harassment tutors, to counselors from the Office of Sexual Assault Prevention and Response, to my attorney. I’m exhausted from asking for extensions because of “personal issues.” I’m exhausted from avoiding the laundry room, the House library and the mailroom because I’m scared of who I will run into.

More than anything, I’m exhausted from living in the same House as the student who sexually assaulted me nine months ago.

I’ve spent most of 2013 fighting the Harvard administration so that they would move my assailant to a different House, and I have failed miserably. Several weeks ago, in a grey room on the fourth floor of the Holyoke Center, my psychiatrist officially diagnosed me with depression. I did not budge, and I was not surprised. I developed an anxiety disorder shortly after moving back to my House this fall, and running into my assailant up to five times a day certainly did not help my recovery.

“How about we increase your dose from 100 to 150 milligrams a day,” my psychiatrist said in a mechanical, indifferent voice. Sure thing.

This morning, as I swallowed my three blue pills of Sertraline and tried to forget about the nightmares that haunted my night, I finally admitted it to myself: I have lost my battle against this institution. Seven months after I reported what happened, my assailant still lives in my House. I am weeks behind in the three classes I’m taking. I have to take sleeping pills every night to fall and stay asleep, and I routinely get nightmares in which I am sexually assaulted in public. I cannot drink alcohol without starting to cry hysterically. I dropped my favorite extracurriculars because I cannot find the energy to drag myself out of bed. I do not care about my future anymore, because I don’t know who I am or what I care about or whether I will still be alive in a few years. I spend most of my time outside of class curled up in bed, crying, sleeping, or staring at the ceiling, occasionally wondering if I just heard my assailant’s voice in the staircase. Often, the cough syrup sitting in my drawer or the pavement several floors down from my window seem like reasonable options.

Dear Harvard: I am writing to let you know that I give up. I will be moving out of my House next semester, if only—quite literally—to save my life. You will no longer receive emails from me, asking for something to be done, pleading for someone to hear me, explaining how my grades are melting and how I have developed a mental illness as a result of your inaction. My assailant will remain unpunished, and life on this campus will continue its course as if nothing had happened. Today, Harvard, I am writing to let you know that you have won.


He was a friend of mine and I trusted him. It was a freezing Friday night when I stumbled into his dorm room after too many drinks. He took my shirt off and started biting the skin on my neck and breast. I pushed back on his chest and asked him to stop kissing me aggressively. He laughed. He said that I should “just wear a scarf” to cover the marks. He continued to abuse my body, hurting my breast and vagina. He asked me to use my mouth. I said no. I was intoxicated, I was in pain, I was trapped between him and the wall, and I was scared to death that he would continue to ignore what I said. I stopped everything and turned my back to him, praying he would leave me alone. He started getting impatient. “Are you only going to make me hard, or are you going to make me come?” he said in a demanding tone.

It did not sound like a question. I obeyed.

Shortly after I reported my sexual assault to my House staff, I was told by a senior member of the College administration that the Administrative Board was very unlikely to “issue a charge” against my assailant and to launch a thorough investigative process because my assailant may not have technically violated the school’s policy in the student handbook. Even though he had verbally pressured me into sexual activity and physically hurt me, the incident did not fall within the scope of the school’s narrow definition of sexual assault.

The policy, published in the spring of 1993, defines “indecent assault and battery” to be anything involving “unwanted touching or fondling of a sexual nature that is accompanied by physical force or threat of bodily injury.” It does not provide any definition of consent beyond the brief mention, in its definition of rape, that a victim cannot consent if he or she is unable to express unwillingness due to alcohol or drugs, among other factors.

I could still press charges in front of the Ad Board, I was told, but they would probably be dropped because my situation did not match the language of a 20-year-old policy. The last thing I wanted was for my assailant to feel vindicated if the Ad Board dropped the case. After two horrible weeks spent curled up in bed drinking, crying, and trying to come to a decision in the middle of reading period, I decided not to open a case.

The school was extremely reluctant to take any action against my assailant without a fair investigative process. In theory, this approach makes perfect sense. Everyone is innocent until proven guilty, and you cannot take severe action against a student—such as forcing him to move to a different House—without a formal investigation process. But in practice, this works against sexual assault survivors at Harvard. Our policy is so outdated and narrow in scope that it discourages survivors from entering an investigative process in the first place. And without such a process, Harvard will take very little action against the alleged perpetrator.

And so I found myself in the middle of the worst scenario possible: I couldn’t get Harvard to move my assailant to a different House without going to the Ad Board, but I could not go to the Ad Board because of the school’s narrow policy.

In an attempt to comply with Title IX regulation—which requires universities to provide a safe environment to survivors of sexual assault—school officials told me about 20 times that I should feel free to transfer to a different House if I wanted to. At first, this option felt unfair. Why should I be the one moving when I had done nothing wrong? Did this imply that what had happened to me was my fault? Then, the idea of transferring felt utterly disempowering. Moving to a different House would have felt like giving up and granting even more power to my assailant. At last, moving out felt flat-out impossible. I could see myself slowly descending into mental illness, and I knew I would spiral out of control quickly without my blockmates and favorite tutors around to support me. If I was going to go down, I thought at least I deserved to be surrounded by my closest friends. And so I decided to stay.

There had to be other options for me out there, I thought. I got the school to issue a no-contact order against my assailant. I convinced myself that if I pushed hard enough, if I made enough noise, someone somewhere would hear me, stand up, do something.

But no one really did. Confidentiality rules prevent me from revealing most of what was—or was not—done to respond to my report. Ironically, if I were to reveal this information, I could risk getting disciplined. What I can say, however, is that in my opinion, the school’s limited response amounted to the equivalent of a slap on the hand for my assailant. After unsuccessfully suggesting a number of interventions that could have helped me better live with my situation, I eventually got the persistent impression that my House staff believed I was fussing over nothing.


There are few things more disempowering than being sexually assaulted. You suddenly and unexpectedly find yourself in a situation where someone else—perhaps someone you trusted or loved—claims absolute authority over your body. You are desperately trying to have your voice heard and to assert control over what is being done to you, but are systematically shut down until you are forced to simply wait for it to be over. In that context, being practically denied the right to decide what you want to do with your story, being told that something with the potential to be as empowering as prosecuting your assailant is unlikely to result in any action, being denied several requests that you think will help you heal—those things truly make you feel hopeless, powerless, betrayed, and worthless.

Seeing how your school officials refuse to validate how upset you are over and over again is equally damaging. When I told my House Master that I was considering an Ad Board process, I was told it was a bad time of the semester, that there would be consequences for my assailant anyway, and that we shouldn’t go through the process if it was going to be fruitless. Shortly after, my resident dean told me that my assailant couldn’t be punished because he didn’t know what he was doing. The resident dean compared living in the same House as my assailant to a divorced couple working in the same factory. My House Master and my dean encouraged me to forgive my assailant and move on. Someone at University Health Services asked me if it was possible that my drinking habits were the problem, because it seemed like they had led to my sexual assault. And always, at the end of those discussions, I would hear the same thing over and over again: “We want you to get all the support that you need.”

I know deep down that all those administrators are not bad people. They want to be supportive, and they really try to be. But they have no idea how to do deal with cases of sexual violence because they have not been trained sufficiently. They use insensitive language, unfortunate comparisons, and empty phrases to avoid any liability issues that could come up. They simply do not know, and, as a result, they do more harm than good when trying to handle cases of sexual violence.

Moreover, these administrators operate within a system that offers little alternative for people in my situation and bounds administrators to inaction because their jobs depend on it. This system is a product of a broader rape culture that permeates our society—a culture in which it is acceptable to blame a victim of assault for drinking too much, in which the burden is always on the survivor to advocate for her- or himself, in which inaction is always preferred, if only to make sure the assailant does not sue anyone for unfair punishment. But that does not mean that we cannot do anything to change the way we handle sexual assault at Harvard.

I might have lost my battle, but I also hope that this story can initiate a serious discussion about the way we want to handle cases like mine as a community. Do we really want survivors who speak up to be systematically shut down if their experience does not fit some criteria for sexual assault written in 1993? Do we really want to let survivors advocate for themselves until they are so exhausted that they collapse into depression?

We need more options for survivors who do not want to—or are unable to—open an Ad Board case. We need school officials to receive extensive training about how to handle sexual assault and talk to survivors. More importantly, we need the school to start listening to its students when they vote on sexual assault policy, and to survivors when they knock on administrators’ doors with a mental illness. The current review of the College’s sexual assault policy is a step in the right direction. But there is much left to be done to make sure student voices are heard.

The last time I met with my resident dean, I told my dean about my depression, and how I thought it had been caused by the lack of validation and empathy I had received from the Harvard faculty. I said that it would be immensely helpful for me to know that my dean, not as a school official but as a human being, understood my pain and empathized with it. I asked my dean to take a step back from the situation and to admit that I had not been served well by the Harvard system. My pleas were met with a refusal to comment and an argument that it was not an administrator’s role to criticize Harvard’s sexual assault policy.

If my resident dean refuses to question the current policy we have in place, then I will. Dear Harvard: You might have won, but I still have a voice. And I plan on using it as much as I can to make things change.

Editors’ Note: We made the decision to run this op-ed anonymously due to the private and intensely personal nature of its content. It is our hope that this piece will bring to light issues that affect members of our community and inform campus-wide conversations on sexual violence and health services at Harvard.

Readers should also note that online commenting has been disabled for this piece in an effort to help protect the author’s identity.

—Brian L. Cronin and Anja C. Nilsson, Editorial Chairs

—Samuel Y. Weinstock, President

Survivor’s words

A Message to My Assailant: Lessons on Being Human, via The Good Men Project


It’s been years since we last saw one another in that dated courtroom; I worked hard to avoid eye-contact and I assume you did the same. I held my breath as I slipped past your chair on my way to the stand, trying to protect my insides (yes, perhaps in vain) from the air you exhaled.

When I gave my statement, when I answered your lawyer’s relentless questions, I tried to pretend you weren’t there, five seats away, brooding and breathing.

I looked to my parents and wondered how they did it—how they showed such strength in that room with you, sitting mere feet from the man who had defiled their only daughter, their baby girl.

But that was the last time you saw me, at least to my knowledge. There haven’t been opportunities for us to work through the scars you left me; and I’d have run like hell had you ever proposed the idea. My guess is that you’ve preserved an image of who the teenaged-me was; a static entity—a girl never-aging, just the girl who turned you in.

I have grown and changed in spite of that day.

Twelve years have passed. Twelve entire years since the version of me I had been crafting was derailed. Though still in its rough form, I had a sense for the girl I was, the girl I’d like to be; but I was made to relinquish her. I was made to start with new materials, new shapes, new colors—most not as soft, or as pleasant, or as bright as the old.

That’s the first lesson I have for you, the first lesson on being human: we are a culmination of all the past events that we have experienced. Some we cultivate with intention. Some we strive for. Others… well, others happen like you happened—alone, in the dark, when we’re least prepared for something to go tragically wrong. So to be human in this world, you must understand that.

We aren’t permitted to choose the good memories alone to shape who we are—we must absorb the pain as readily as the joy and allow the course of who we thought we were change ever so slightly.

So, I have been changed. Forever so. And some days I’m alright with that fact, but most days I try to dress that fact up in elaborate costume. Most days I masquerade as a woman who can walk and move and flow. I float through my life with an inflated opinion of how gracefully I have survived you. An euphemistic existence.

That moment lasted mere minutes, but it still lives with me. I remember the pull of my cigarette in that nearly-pitch black room. I remember the sweatshirt I wore and the unease I felt the moment you let the door close softly behind you.

I remember the feeling of you, long before you reached out to touch me—your intentions thickened the room, it hurt to breathe.

But I was a young girl then. I worried about authority and the impressions I left on others. I had trouble disappointing. But you knew that, I think. That’s why I was selected.

When you joined me that day, I shushed the heart that began to implore—I shouldn’t have done that, and I hope she has forgiven me.

If I may: when your heart whispers, quiet yourself and listen. And if you find yourself in the company of a heart who begs of you, you trust her. No matter what you think the cost will be, to ignore her will be a cost far-greater.

You corned me in darkroom—a designated space where a person can develop permanent marks on paper. A photographic scar.

But I was busy picture-taking. Unforeseen images seared into mental film.

You advanced, speaking things—so many things—you offered as flattery. Picture. You inched close enough to upset my pleading heart further. She begged me to move. Do something. Another picture. Your greying breath reached my ear as the words turned to whispers. Picture. You brought lips to mine. Picture. Lips to neck. Picture. To ear. Picture. A stagnant gaze. Picture. Blurred periphery. Wall. Smoke unfurling. Picture. Picture. Picture. Hands to neck. Hands to breast. Picture. Picture. Hands to waist.

And when I felt your hand move to that delicate, middle line, my heart bellowed, terrified—and I broke free.

Sometimes the bravest move is only inches from where you currently stand. Sometimes the smallest falter can offset great force, that’s part of the magic of being human. So my tiny step backward broke your flow, enough to fill the room with a sobering air.

You walked back to the door, slinking out as quietly as you had arrived. And just as my body had relaxed, your face reappeared in the doorway, speaking things again. Just as my heart had implored, there you were, asking me to consider “making an old guy happy.”

And that was that, except it wasn’t. There were depositions to be made, formal charges to be filed, tears to be shed, court dates to be extended.

Today, I am a grown woman. I’ve done work, real work, to rid myself of this pain, of you. I said all of the brave things out loud—things like “I forgive him” and “it wasn’t my fault”—but that moment still claws its way out of me, up my tender insides, penetrating the open air in wails and sobs.

Even after all these years.

Because that’s another thing about being human: those moments we push down, those moments we want to wish away, they don’t die. They hibernate for short spells, but they don’t perish down there in your belly. Instead, they wait till you’ve grown comfortable in your routine. You might forget for entire weeks that you’re broken, that things ever went wrong in this glittering life of yours.

But really, those moments will bleed into your everyday. Those moments will change your behavior in imperceivable ways and they will manifest as pain and problems that you just don’t understand. You’ll feel lost and scared and resentful without warning, a sinking that you can’t quite define. And when someone asks what’s wrong, you’ll say “I don’t know” and it will be truth that springs from your lips in that moment. You’ll question who you are and who you’re capable of becoming. You’ll question if you’re capable of becoming.

So on this human journey of yours, remember that suppression is not the same as expulsion. Ignorance does not replace management.

But because we’re human, we adapt as best we can; we ‘cope,’ we ‘deal,’ we ‘survive’—we do this because we don’t know what else to do. Because things like you happen to people like me—and when things like that happen, fearless living becomes a story you sell yourself amidst reckless distraction.

Twelve years have passed and I’m supposed to be free; I’m supposed to have coped with that day because I’ve grown up, no longer the child you cornered. I’m supposed to be free of you because I have a man now, a real man, who looks after me and honors this heart’s whispers. I’m supposed to be free of you because I’m a mother now—of remarkable little boys who know me for my strength and humor, my dependability and my resilience.

Resilience. Another lesson.

How to endure my senior year in high school when peers were still working out whether or not I was in-fact lying. It wasn’t yet clear if I invented a story about a popular, respected teacher putting his hands, his lips, his intentions against a paralyzed frame.

But all that chatter of where I’m ‘supposed to’ be, that’s another lesson on being human: ‘supposed to’ has no real place in this world. We can use the rational part of our mind to understand the why, but that doesn’t mean our heart has to accept it as truth. ‘Supposed to’ is relative, subjective—oftentimes cruel.

‘Supposed to’ stunts progress, it inhibits our ability to heal.

‘Supposed to’ is a fiction.

Because you were supposed to know better that day. You were supposed to use your authority to shape minds in beautiful ways, not compress them in on themselves. You were supposed to honor the commitment you made to your wife. You were supposed to think of someone other than yourself.

But none of that happened, because ‘supposed to’ isn’t real.

In spite of everything, I convinced myself that I had forgiven, because I had read all the self-help books that told me this was the way to freedom.

You see, by forgiving you, I had forgiven myself. Proclaiming to the world “I have moved on” meant I had permission to heal, to release the red-hot coal.

But, this lesson is important: interacting with other humans changes them long after you part ways. So while you, no doubt, had to deal with your own hardships as a result of this experience, I do not believe you had even the smallest inkling of how far into my future you were actually touching.

I doubt you knew that grown-up me would still be manipulated, still be groped by those hands of yours.

She does.

I do.

And so, being human, I’ve learned, means doing dirty work for the sake of coming clean. To purge myself of you, I must face and feel you again and again and again. I must accept that you are a part of me—even if I hate that this is so. To honor myself, I must honor the part of you that survives—this is what it means to be human. No one said it would be fair.

You made a decision that would forever bind us, and I didn’t ask for that. I didn’t ask for you to stay with me all these years. And because I’m human, I still fight against the ugliness; I struggle to find the language that will free me. I still struggle with the guilt of hating you.

That day in the courtroom, when I had given my testimony, describing every awful detail of the encounter, I was asked how I felt after you had finally left me in that room.

I answered with a single word: gross.

But I don’t think that was true. I think I searched for what someone who had just gone through what I had gone through should feel. And what should I have felt? Fear. Anger. Resentment. Disgust.

But I felt nothing. An empty vessel with a grieving heart.

You took nearly a year to plead guilty, but you did it—the only gift you had left to give me, if that matters at all.

That plea mattered to me, so I thank you.

I needed that plea to reassure me that there was an actual person in there. The one that I trusted—regardless of how that good faith was made to collapse.

Years later, when I was finally willing to face the newspaper articles written, I found a summary of your sentencing. I read that you spoke before the judge, revealing that you “deeply and profoundly” regretted your actions.

And I hope that’s true.

I hope to walk through my life believing those words someday; because I know deep-down that we’re all facing battles, our stories are all complicated and messy—that’s what it means to be human. And we’re all human, aren’t we, even monsters like you.

– See more at:

In response to Dylan Farrow

What Would Make You Believe a Survivor of Childhood Sexual Abuse? via HR Reality Check:

I don’t know if you know an adult survivor of childhood sexual abuse. I don’t know if you know what an adult survivor of childhood sexual abuse looks, sounds, or acts like. So let me tell you who I am, and let me tell you what I am like.

I am a 30-year-old white woman who lives in Austin, Texas. I have bleached blonde hair with a coral-toned streak in the front—it’s short, but I’m trying to grow it out (god, I wish it would grow faster). I work from home, but unofficially I office out of the back patio of a craft beer bar. I have a graduate degree in cultural anthropology. I am heterosexual and I am married, and together with my husband I own an old-ass house with a recent raccoon infestation. I have three cats who are named after boozy drinks.

I am an only child and I have awesome, twangy Texas-raised parents who Texas-raised me. My best friends are brilliant academics who sort of hate academia. I am overly friendly in awkward situations. I am funny and I love Star Trek. I throw big parties. I do yoga at home so I can skip savasana. I talk too much.

And when I was a kid, a relative sexually abused me. I don’t know how long it went on. It started before I entered kindergarten but stopped sometime in elementary school. I remember feelings—dread, shame, embarrassment, panic, guilt—better than I remember incidents, but I remember some incidents too.

If you had asked me three or four years ago: Andrea, have you ever been sexually abused? I would have said absolutely not. Because it took me more than 20 years to admit to myself that what happened to me as a child was real, that it was abuse, and that it was not my fault.

Why 20 years? Why so long?

My abuser made me afraid of my own capacity to experience memories. My abuser made me afraid of what the inside of my own mind looked like. I built—like, really, purposefully built—delicate, intricate, elaborate mind-paths, each of which navigated away from and around one thing: my abuse. I did it consciously at first, and then as I became older, my brain seemed to do it for me, automatically.

Whenever anything would trigger an abuse memory, or memory-feeling, I would start down a pathway to, well, wherever: a song, a poem, a saying, a dance routine, lines from a play. Anything that was not the memory, or memory-feeling. Eventually those pathways filled up, and stacked these little piles of songs-poems-sayings-whatever between my present and that thing I never wanted to think about.

Maybe I could have lived my whole life like that. Maybe I would have, if I hadn’t discovered feminism, if I hadn’t discovered anonymous message boards, if I hadn’t married someone I trust with my whole heart. But feminism, and the Internet, and being in an incredible relationship conspired together in this wonderful way and empowered me to say a combination of words I never thought I could say: I was abused as a child, and it was real, and it was not my fault.

Those are the hardest things to say, because I am saying them to the most scared, most ashamed, most terrified little 5-year-old version of myself, and she is so scared and ashamed that she can’t hear it, refuses to hear it, because hearing it means it is real. My 5-year-old self is going to live 20 years before she lets herself back into her mind and her memories. Now, all I can do is tell her, over and over again: Yes, he hurt you. It was real. It wasn’t your fault. It is a strange cycle; it is all over, and yet it is ongoing.

Despite what was done to me—I don’t say “what happened” to me, because my abuse didn’t “happen,” it was done to me by another human being—I always get the impression that people are a little surprised when they hear about it, as if I am not the adult survivor of child abuse they were expecting. Should I be wafting around like some kind of hollow-eyed ghoul? Should I be especially brave, especially vocal, stumping about my abuse at every opportunity? Should I be significantly fucked up in some easily recognizable way? Would that make it easier for people to believe that I was abused, that abuse exists, that adult survivors walk among us, live among us, drink craft beer among us?

Because what I am seeing, with Dylan Farrow’s recent open letter concerning the abuse she says she suffered at the hands of her father, deified American film director Woody Allen, is that a lot of people do not believe that we adult survivors live among them. That there is something adult survivors can do that will make us believable, but that one of those things is not, it seems, recounting our own stories and speaking out against our abusers. Especially if our stories contain, I suppose, “palpable bitchery” and not the correct, carefully measured amount of humility appropriate to a child who has had her entire life torn apart by the very people tasked with protecting her from harm.

Strange, how credible evidence against an abuser rarely seems to include the testimony of survivors, but frequently does include the “expert” opinion of people who were wholly absent from the situation, or of abusers who have a vested interest in, say, not being imprisoned. No, if we survivors remember too much, we are clearly sticking too close to an easily fabricated story, but if we remember too little, we are suspiciously devoid of all those details people say they hate to hear, but which people really, secretly like to hear.

I hear people say that Dylan Farrow must be lying—after all, it took her 21 years to write an open letter in the New York Times! Well, it took me about that long to write an open letter to my own soul. I hear people say that Dylan Farrow must be lying—after all there is a video of her as a child, unable to recount her abuse in vivid detail, from start to finish, in one defiant take!

Oh, I cannot hear that one. I cannot hear it. There are no lengths to which 5-year-old Andrea would not have gone to prevent the details of her abuse from becoming known to others. In fact, every time I had a clear opportunity to out my abuser, and to detail my trauma? I denied it even more, created elaborate excuses, let details slip but then refused to cooperate. I lived in abject fear of being punished for what another human being had done to me.

I believe 7-year-old Dylan just as I believe 5-year-old Andrea, not because our stories seem to have a couple of parallels, but because I listen to survivors, and because of that, I believe survivors. I don’t think, in the wake of Allen’s recent Golden Globes accolade, that Farrow is being opportunistic. There is no such thing as an opportune time to have been sexually abused by your father, one of the most famous film directors in the world. There is no opportune time to have had notable public figures debating the possibility of your sexual abuse in glossy, thinky magazines, really trying to get to the crux of the question: Are you, or are you not, the calculating, lying daughter of a vengeful, spiteful actress?

Perhaps I am harming Woody Allen, and all his friends, by believing his daughter. Well, that’s fine. If my belief in Dylan Farrow’s story of abuse takes a little bit away from Woody Allen’s lifetime of lifetime achievement awards and fawning hordes of celebrity fans, I think that is something Allen can spare. And if I’m wrong, and Allen is falsely accused? I ask you: If this is what Woody Allen’s career looks like, having been damaged so egregiously by spurious accusations that he is a child abuser, what precisely do you imagine an untainted Woody Allen career would look like? Dude gets his face on an officially minted piece of U.S. currency? We rename the moon “Woody”?

Some research seems to suggest that rates of child sexual abuse are declining; while that is heartening, the truth is that however the numbers play out, child sexual abuse is shockingly common and grossly underreported. I believe Dylan Farrow not only because I find her testimony to be credible on its face, but because chances are, Dylan Farrow isn’t lying.

Maybe some folks think it’s a fun intellectual exercise to pick apart some kind of “he said, she said” brain teaser about the sexual abuse of children. How satisfying it must be for those folks to feel really confident in settling in for a gander every time Midnight in Paris comes on TNT. What a reward for running a 7-year-old girl through the ringer; how lucky we all are to have solved the mystery of Did Woody Allen Or Didn’t He? Oh well, Annie Hall is on!

Here is what I know: I spent the last few days trying desperately to distract myself from just about everything besides my closest friends and most beloved books and activities, because I could not bear to watch my friends and family members tear Dylan Farrow apart on Facebook or Twitter, call her a liar, call her a fool, call her an opportunist. I am still fragile when I think of my own abuse, and I do not know who in my life I might lose to an errant rape joke or a speciously timed Woody Allen oeuvre fest. I hate that this is a fear I must live with and mitigate, daily. But this is the reality of rape culture.

I know there are lots of those people—people who would give the benefit of the doubt to literally anyone besides a scared, confused child or an adult survivor just coming to terms with their past. I wonder why there are so many of those kinds of people who seem unable to, simply, listen to survivors without transporting themselves into some crudely imagined, hyperbolic Law & Order: SVU episode full of idealized victims and nefarious abusers.

I wonder how we can change that, and I believe part of the solution is to help people who aren’t survivors learn to hear stories of survival in productive, non-victim-blaming ways. We need to change the paradigm of reception, to empower people to hear the words “I was raped” or “I was abused,” so that they can hold them and experience them without defensiveness, panic, or pity. If we do this—give listeners a cultural script for hearing these stories—I think we will go a long way toward empowering survivors to tell these stories.

As an adult, after I had privately come to terms with myself about my abuse, I still feared—deeply, viscerally—talking about that abuse to someone else. I still have trouble disentangling it from victim-blaming language; in this very essay, I had to stop myself from “admitting” my own abuse, as if it is for me to seek absolution for a crime someone else committed against me. I dreaded the withering experience of managing other people’s pity, other people’s scorn, other people’s discomfort.

I very rarely talk about my own abuse, but whenever I do, I talk about it with a mind toward making other people comfortable with my story. I wish I didn’t have to, but I’m doing it for myself as much as I’m doing it for them. If we are going to do right by survivors, then we need to empower those who can support them. And to do that, we need to give our friends, family, and loved ones the tools they need to hear our stories.

The more stories survivors tell, the less aberrant we will be—though I contend this is an imagined aberrance. If we can tell our stories, and if those stories can be heard, we may someday stop this relentless “he said, she said” tug-of-war where no victim is ever perfect enough, no accused ever quite guilty enough. But I could not tell my story until I believed that there were people in my life who could hear it without putting me away in some cramped card catalog drawer, something marked under “T” for “tragic.”

This is a gift I wish I could give all survivors: a place for their stories to live that isn’t in their head or on a police report or court petition. A place where their stories can be spread among other people, diffused, made real through their voluntary, consensual telling, to be heard by people who will not immediately file them under “L” for “liar,” or “O” for opportunist, or “B” for “bitch.”

This is the enduring story of rape culture, the eternal lie: Give us the perfect victim, and we will believe you! That’s all they’re asking for—just one perfect victim, and then we can talk about all of this rationally! Send us someone we don’t have so many concerns about! This is a great deceit, and it is borne out of a cultural narrative that has no place for listening, only a place for victim-blaming, only a place for reinforcing stories that do not too terribly upset our Friday night movie binges.

I’m not asking you to decide, today, whether Woody Allen is a child abuser, or to preach fire and brimstone the next time someone picks up a copy of Manhattan. I am asking you to do something more powerful, more long-lasting, more revolutionary: Listen to survivors. Understand that our stories are not sad addenda, but part of our whole being, part of the people you love or hate or see in the elevator sometimes at lunch. See us not as victims, or characters, or some unidentifiable, sad and tragic “other,” but as the whole people we are, moving in and out of your lives.

Listen to us, so that we can listen to ourselves.

An Open Letter From Dylan Farrow, via New York Times:

(A note from Nicholas Kristof: In 1993, accusations that Woody Allen had abused his adoptive daughter, Dylan Farrow, filled the headlines, part of a sensational story about the celebrity split between Allen and his girlfriend, Mia Farrow. This is a case that has been written about endlessly, but this is the first time that Dylan Farrow herself has written about it in public. It’s important to note that Woody Allen was never prosecuted in this case and has consistently denied wrongdoing; he deserves the presumption of innocence. So why publish an account of an old case on my blog? Partly because the Golden Globe lifetime achievement award to Allen ignited a debate about the propriety of the award. Partly because the root issue here isn’t celebrity but sex abuse. And partly because countless people on all sides have written passionately about these events, but we haven’t fully heard from the young woman who was at the heart of them. I’ve written a column about this, but it’s time for the world to hear Dylan’s story in her own words.)

What’s your favorite Woody Allen movie? Before you answer, you should know: when I was seven years old, Woody Allen took me by the hand and led me into a dim, closet-like attic on the second floor of our house. He told me to lay on my stomach and play with my brother’s electric train set. Then he sexually assaulted me. He talked to me while he did it, whispering that I was a good girl, that this was our secret, promising that we’d go to Paris and I’d be a star in his movies. I remember staring at that toy train, focusing on it as it traveled in its circle around the attic. To this day, I find it difficult to look at toy trains.

For as long as I could remember, my father had been doing things to me that I didn’t like. I didn’t like how often he would take me away from my mom, siblings and friends to be alone with him. I didn’t like it when he would stick his thumb in my mouth. I didn’t like it when I had to get in bed with him under the sheets when he was in his underwear. I didn’t like it when he would place his head in my naked lap and breathe in and breathe out. I would hide under beds or lock myself in the bathroom to avoid these encounters, but he always found me. These things happened so often, so routinely, so skillfully hidden from a mother that would have protected me had she known, that I thought it was normal. I thought this was how fathers doted on their daughters. But what he did to me in the attic felt different. I couldn’t keep the secret anymore.

When I asked my mother if her dad did to her what Woody Allen did to me, I honestly did not know the answer. I also didn’t know the firestorm it would trigger. I didn’t know that my father would use his sexual relationship with my sister to cover up the abuse he inflicted on me. I didn’t know that he would accuse my mother of planting the abuse in my head and call her a liar for defending me. I didn’t know that I would be made to recount my story over and over again, to doctor after doctor, pushed to see if I’d admit I was lying as part of a legal battle I couldn’t possibly understand. At one point, my mother sat me down and told me that I wouldn’t be in trouble if I was lying – that I could take it all back. I couldn’t. It was all true. But sexual abuse claims against the powerful stall more easily. There were experts willing to attack my credibility. There were doctors willing to gaslight an abused child.

After a custody hearing denied my father visitation rights, my mother declined to pursue criminal charges, despite findings of probable cause by the State of Connecticut – due to, in the words of the prosecutor, the fragility of the “child victim.” Woody Allen was never convicted of any crime. That he got away with what he did to me haunted me as I grew up. I was stricken with guilt that I had allowed him to be near other little girls. I was terrified of being touched by men. I developed an eating disorder. I began cutting myself. That torment was made worse by Hollywood. All but a precious few (my heroes) turned a blind eye. Most found it easier to accept the ambiguity, to say, “who can say what happened,” to pretend that nothing was wrong. Actors praised him at awards shows. Networks put him on TV. Critics put him in magazines. Each time I saw my abuser’s face – on a poster, on a t-shirt, on television – I could only hide my panic until I found a place to be alone and fall apart.

Last week, Woody Allen was nominated for his latest Oscar. But this time, I refuse to fall apart. For so long, Woody Allen’s acceptance silenced me. It felt like a personal rebuke, like the awards and accolades were a way to tell me to shut up and go away. But the survivors of sexual abuse who have reached out to me – to support me and to share their fears of coming forward, of being called a liar, of being told their memories aren’t their memories – have given me a reason to not be silent, if only so others know that they don’t have to be silent either.

Today, I consider myself lucky. I am happily married. I have the support of my amazing brothers and sisters. I have a mother who found within herself a well of fortitude that saved us from the chaos a predator brought into our home.

But others are still scared, vulnerable, and struggling for the courage to tell the truth. The message that Hollywood sends matters for them.

What if it had been your child, Cate Blanchett? Louis CK? Alec Baldwin? What if it had been you, Emma Stone? Or you, Scarlett Johansson? You knew me when I was a little girl, Diane Keaton. Have you forgotten me?

Woody Allen is a living testament to the way our society fails the survivors of sexual assault and abuse.

So imagine your seven-year-old daughter being led into an attic by Woody Allen. Imagine she spends a lifetime stricken with nausea at the mention of his name. Imagine a world that celebrates her tormenter.

Are you imagining that? Now, what’s your favorite Woody Allen movie?

Breaking the silence

Op-ed: What It’s Like Coming Out As A Sexual Assault Survivor, via

Until I told my mother I’d been raped, I’d never been so aware of the silence on the other end of a receiver. I called her the morning after the attack, and I counted the seconds of nothingness. The quiet felt how I felt, and the numbering gave me a rhythm and a sense of time I was trying to find again, like children filling their seconds with Mississippis. One, nothing. Two, nothing. Three, nothing. Four, nothing. Calling your parents during an emergency is a reflex we learn as children — from PSAs and after-school specials — but enduring the silence served another purpose. When my mother was younger than I, she was sexually assaulted at a rock concert, which she has been frank about with me since I was a kid. This is what we are born into, she wanted to say. Welcome to the world, baby boy.

I didn’t realize at the time that this was now something we shared — to add to our passed-down noses and eerily similar elbows. When I look at my mother, I see parts of myself that I love and other parts it’s difficult to face, my life distorted like in a funhouse mirror. At this moment, I was glad I didn’t have to see how I looked upside down in her reflection. Of course, I thought I knew what was at the end of the line, but I was relieved to hear her start crying anyway — tears of love, sorrow, and frustration. The love part, I knew, was easy. She would love me the same way she always had, with a devotion that often verged on socially acceptable obsession, the everyday pathologies of parenthood. She was mad about me. That could never change.

It’s the frustration that’s the hard part, knowing that you aren’t going through this alone. I wouldn’t understand this until years later, when I started talking about my experiences with sexual assault. I came out as a survivor in an open letter to my assailant; even though we would likely never speak again, I wanted to hold him accountable for what happened that night. He was the phantom that lived inside me, and sometimes I wondered if I made the whole thing up, a drug dream shared one night with a stranger, and I needed to exorcise him. The words made finally him real, even if I was still figuring out what I wanted to say. In my initial letter, I called him “the guy who molested me,” because it felt easier to write and I wasn’t ready for the alternative yet. It took years to be ready.

Before I posted my letter to social media, I was so terrified of what the reaction would be that I closed my computer and finished a bottle of wine to dull my senses; I didn’t want to feel anymore. It was like a part of me was being ripped out, as if I had to come out all over again. I was asking my friends to love every part of me — even my pain, those quiet moments in the bathroom the next morning when I didn’t know if I could live with this. Did I want to exist as a person who had such a fact about them? For me, coming out was finally answering that question, and the “yes” was overwhelming. My Facebook page poured over with love, the affirmations as infinite as a midday sky I was seeing for what felt like the first time. I stepped onto the balcony of my Paris apartment, and the cars barreling through the boulevard below kept moving as if nothing was different. It was just another day.

Of course, it wasn’t different. That was both soothing and sobering.

According to statistics, one in three women and one in 33 men in the U.S. will be sexually assaulted during their lifetime. That number never felt real to me until I shared my rage with others who had been through the same experience. I was grateful for the support of friends and loved ones, but I also found an unexpected community of people who were also survivors of sexual assault. Some were people I already knew; others I met through comment boards or email. Total strangers I only knew online proved so willing to open up to me about their experiences that I realized how necessary a support system was as survivors, the people who share our ghosts and know what it means to be haunted. They help the past make more sense to us, and through their struggles and their triumphs, they also show us what a future can be. This is the winter light we walk toward.

I don’t know where my rapist is now, but I would be lying if I said I didn’t still think about him. He’s in every line and poem that I read, like the inverse of a great romance. On cold days, I used look him up on Facebook to see what he was doing, knowing that he probably doesn’t even remember who I am. To him, I’m just some college boy he got high with one night, when he was too stoned and drunk to hear me crying and to take no for an answer. I used to wonder what he thought my tears meant, if he thought that’s how people make love, and I used to hope he was haunted too. I hoped I followed him everywhere, watching him bag his milk or iron his shirts. However, it took me years to realize he didn’t even deserve my ghost; he deserves nothingness. When you’re assaulted, it feels like everything takes years.

I came out as a survivor two years ago. I’m still counting, but the space between doesn’t feel so empty anymore.


NICO LANG is a correspondent and blogger for WBEZ (Chicago’s NPR affiliate), the cocreator ofIn Our Words, and a graduate student in DePaul University’s media and cinema studies program. He writes about LGBTQ issues in Chicago and contributes to the Los Angeles Times, Thought Catalog, and The Huffington Post.

Survivor, Courtney Andrews, speaks out

“It’s OK to take the time you need to heal. OK?” via Feministing:

*trigger warning*

[Please click the following link to watch the powerful video associated with this article]

Yesterday, Melissa Harris-Perry and her team – including friends of the show producer Jamil Smith and MSNBC reporter Irin Carmon – did something remarkable. They had an honest, heartfelt, wrenching conversation about sexual violence, and about surviving sexual violence, that wasn’t sensationalized, but that fully conveyed the pain, outrage, and fear that so many survivors and their loved ones feel.

Courtney Andrews was raped three times by the same man. Earlier this month, an Alabama judge ruled that her rapist would serve no jail time, and sentenced him to just two years in a community correctional facility, and three years of probation. For raping a child. Repeatedly. The ruling has, understandably, sparked outrage.

There aren’t a lot of people who could have handled interviewing Andrews and her aunt with the compassion that Harris-Perry, who is herself a survivor of rape, displays in this segment. This is one of the conversations we need to be having about sexual violence – about the myth of the perfect victim and about the incredibly light punishments, institutional and otherwise, that we hand out for inflicting that violence, and about the remarkable courage of the people who come forward and say, in public, “this happened to me.”

Transcript available here.

From a male survivor

I Was Raped By A Woman (And Then Dated Her For Two Years), via The Good Men Project:

Trigger warning for sexual violence

Ten years ago, I blacked out and was raped by a woman who I proceeded to date for the next year and a half of my life.

My freshman year of college, I had a high-school girlfriend three hours away from me on the other side of Ohio. I tried my best to expand my social circle while maintaining ties with her, which was essentially impossible.

Like most college freshmen, I drank too much. And one night, I drank too much and was pitched out of a frat house in the dead of winter. I don’t remember much, but I do remember being initially grateful for the all the hands that helped push me home and into my dorm room that night.

And then my eyeballs flipped themselves into the depths of my eye sockets.

I woke up in my lofted bed, and there were about a half dozen people in my room hanging out. My clothing was on the floor, and I felt an invisible miasma of shame engulfing me. Maybe it’s the hindsight talking, but I had a premonition that something wicked was coming. Maybe it’s because my future rapist was in the room. My eyes retreated into orbit again.

I had met her at the beginning of freshman year. My dorm room was in one of three male-occupied floor towers. I was lonely and glad for any friends I could get. I had a long-distance girlfriend; she had a long-distance boyfriend, and being able to have someone to share these things with shunted the pain. She was nice to me.

And then she raped me.

When I regained my bearings that night, my friends were gone and gravity was a mystery to me. She was in my bed, and I couldn’t tell if my back was facing the ceiling or the mattress, nor could I identify whose sweat belonged to whom. All I could feel was pressure, and after coming to my senses I put together what was happening. I felt impotent to stop it.

The morning that followed came with a paradigm shift. I was embarrassed and shellshocked and refused to believe it had happened, even though she was next to me when I regained consciousness. As a man, I felt especially compelled to hide what happened to me, lest I come off as weak.

I asked her what had happened, and she confirmed all the details, which included consent and desire that seemed impossible to fish out of the folds of my brain.

At that point, I decided to own it. Because if I owned it, it wasn’t embarrassing and it didn’t strip me of my masculinity. I had never heard of this happening to anybody else, and researching it online made my problem seem more real to me, which was frightening.

Panic flooded me and all I wanted to do was scrub my soul of everything that was demoralizing and demasculinizing about the experience. My interpretation became consensual sex, and I proclaimed that sex was awesome, even though I had no clue what it felt like at all. I bragged to my neighbors, who could hear her wailing through paper-thin walls. The more I bragged, the more the agony subsided.

I was steadfast to make the loss of my virginity mean something. I immediately broke it off with my long-distance girlfriend. And my coping mechanism was to make my rapist my partner, giving purpose and intent to something horrible.

I put myself into a coma from reality. After dorm life, we split an apartment and shared a cat and grocery shopped and watched marathons of “America’s Next Top Model.” My family liked her a lot.

Eventually, writing became the vehicle that saved me. I started covering politics for local newspapers and music for an alt-weekly in Cleveland. Writing pulled me away from her, both physically and mentally, causing her web to seem a little less sticky. And then escaping my self-induced Stockholm Syndrome was within my grasp.


The path to admitting to other people what actually happened to me was a tricky one. But as I matured years after it occurred, I was able to grasp that my concept of masculinity was childish, and only rooted in weird stereotypes.

First it began with “Yeah, I barely remember losing my virginity” before I was able to actually use the R-word to describe what happened to me. I was able to eventually even tell my parents. To this day, I don’t think they were fully able to conceive what happened to me.

Being able to admit that I was raped brought my life into high-definition levels of clarity. Especially when everybody’s response was the same — an awkward pause, followed by a facial expression that goes hand-in-hand with being upset.

And then I pulled the trigger and I ended it.

One week after we broke up, she resorted to violence. When the cops came to our apartment and she refused to let them in after they threatened to break down the door, I felt like I was getting my first dose of reality in nearly two years. Days later, she was in another apartment a few football fields away. From that point on, I only saw her two more times on campus before fleeing Ohio.

While I’m able to talk about what happened to me 10 years later, make no mistake: being raped seriously damaged me and had a profound impact on how I engaged with women years after it happened. Looking back on everything, it had more of an impact than I realized: two of my next three relationships were with virgins (and stayed that way from beginning to end), which seemed like an anomaly as I was finishing up school. In my first relationship after the breakup, I dated someone for six months and never so much as took her clothes off. And while that might’ve frustrated others, it was exactly what I needed back then.

In the present day: I am “normal.” I can engage on my past with any stranger who’s willing to listen without feeling like I’m going to pass out or throw up. While it’s not something I think about every day, it passes through my mind every week through various triggers. It’s never going to leave me, and I’d like it to stay that way, as I’m not prepared to reject the strong person I’ve become throughout all of this.

To every man out there who has experienced something similar: You are not weak and you are not a boy. You were not bested or conquered; you were taken advantage of in a way that precludes all gender conventions. Recovering from rape is gender agnostic: it all begins with being able to admit what happened to you. However you choose to take that step — be it through therapy or confidentiality — is up to you.


By Anonymous