I don’t think anyone should have to hear the words “I think I just got raped.” Calmly walking a friend through getting dressed in the clothes she was raped in; reminding her not to shower so that evidence can be collected; mechanically throwing out numbers and hotlines in case she struggles with the trauma later; and insisting she go to city police and not the university’s, because the university will do its utmost to ignore the crime that happened within its hallowed halls isn’t something we should have to do.
Hearing one of your very best friends tell you that when she was raped she knew no one would believe her because she had seen what happened to her roommate in freshman year is alarming. Yet somehow expected. It’s almost as though this really does happen all the time and it’s simply another experience she carries–and now you carry, too.
Knowing your friend has nightmares and can’t sleep and sometimes can’t eat because she feels him constricting her in the night, again, and knowing that she’s not the only friend that this happens to is a sick, mechanical kind of knowledge.
Your friend being raped two blocks from campus and being so distraught and destroyed that she can’t function properly isn’t half as uncommon as you would like it to be.
Much has been said about the epidemic of sexual harassment, violence, assault and rape. I don’t know what I can add to the statistics except stories and experiences. The thing is, we hear so much of rape on campus and in college life that we react with disjointed and disaffected ambivalence.
Here’s the thing that those statistics and crime reports don’t show you: the human cost of these crimes.
A university can trumpet its counseling and its thoughtful seminars on how to treat your peers with respect and somehow remind you a thousand times– “No, the girl passed out drunk isn’t fair game.”
But does that matter when the University’s culture hasn’t caught up and seemingly won’t catch up? When a friend goes to the university’s counseling services after she was raped and they tell her it was her fault because she had been drinking, and therefore imply that this sort of thing doesn’t happen to good girls who stay in, can you blame her for being skeptical of the university’s newfound focus on sexual assault prevention?
When a friend is verbally harassed by a university police officer, can you blame her for being reluctant to approach those police when something happens, when they’ve already demonstrated they can’t even give her a modicum of respect? Why should she trust that they’ve got her best interests at heart when they’ve made her feel unsafe and unsteady?
The problem isn’t just peer rape, and the solution isn’t as simple as banning frat parties or offering safety patrols. It’s an environment that’s conditioned to devalue victims’ experiences in favor of cohesion, in favor of keeping the status quo.
It is genuinely baffling and infuriating to hear a university, be it Drexel, or Temple, or Rutgers, or Penn, simultaneously pledge increased awareness of sexual assaults, LGBTQ+ issues and the way students interact with each other,at the same time throwing roadblocks to prevent reporting of those crimes and doing so little to actually do something about those crimes that they might as well not do anything at all.
I’m not saying that universities don’t have employees and staff doing their very best to fight a system that seems designed to protect itself at all costs. What I am saying is that it’s time to stop pretending the universities are doing everything in their power to prevent this sort of thing.
We’ve heard so much about rapes on campus and other sexual crimes that it has seemingly become white noise. I shouldn’t be able to name multiple friends off the top of my head who have been raped and have had nothing come of it. I shouldn’t be able to tell you exactly how badly it haunts them and their friends, and I shouldn’t be able to tell you the staggering monetary cost of seeking treatment, and I sure as hell shouldn’t be able to tell you what their faces look like when they remember what’s happened to them.
But here we are.