Kendall*, you don’t know me well; we met only once on a night I’m sure you want so badly to forget. After an hour of outfit debating, hair restyling, and snapchat selfie-ing that night, our makeshift group of new and old friends finally made it to a party. It was my first college party, and every detail — from the too-eager freshmen boys to the strobe lights to the crowded dance floor — seemed to fit the epitome of Hollywood’s take on college life.
Hours later when you returned to our group with a tear-streaked face and ripped skirt after leaving the party with that tall, older guy, your story became one I had heard far too many times.
As we sat in that dorm room at 4 a.m. and you sobbed into my arms, my heart broke for you, Kendall. I’m sorry that you were embarrassed to tell us your story, as if somehow you bore any part of the responsibility for what happened to you that night. I’m sorry that you were scared to tell your parents or the police or even go to the hospital. I’m sorry that he got away, likely without even a second thought, while you were forced to deal with the emotional, physical, and psychological repercussions of that night. Most of all, I am sorry that my apologies cannot take away the pain and fix the problem.
One in five women is a victim of sexual assault. For every 1,000 female students on a college campus, approximately 35 incidents of attempted or completed rape occur in any given year. Less than five percent of rapes are reported to law enforcement.
But Kendall, you are more than a statistic. You are a 19-year-old girl who not three hours before was debating whether to curl or straighten her hair and complaining about her essay due Monday. You are young and full of life and you deserve, at a most basic level, to be safe while at school.
This problem is more than only a Greek life problem or an administration problem. It’s more than just a college problem or a woman problem; this is my problem just as much as it is your problem. It’s a social problem that can be as seemingly small as our emphasis on teaching girls prevention rather than boys respect and self-control, or as scary and real as ambulances and police officers and emergency rooms.
So, to Kendall* and Maddie* and Jessica* and every other victim of sexual assault, I am sorry that, despite all the efforts to make change and all the steps in the right direction you are still scarred by no fault of your own. I am sorry that our system has failed you and that our society has failed you.
Before I met you, Kendall, I didn’t fully understand the magnitude of the problem of sexual assault on campus. I didn’t realize how appallingly frequent incidents of assault are or how devastatingly life-changing they can be. Like every other college student, I had participated in required sexual assault education and I knew the statistics. What I didn’t realize was how my apathy contributed to the problem.
People say that campus culture perpetuates rape and sexual assault. I think the problem is that our legal system is setup to do damage control, not to prevent incidents — there are no legal consequences for a guy who has a reputation of pushing girls further than they want to go.
Prevention then, comes from the way that we as individuals and as a community think about rape and sexual assault. Condemning sexual violence in theory is not enough; as a student body it is our responsibility to identify and end both overt and covert acceptance of aggression and assault.
That means that difficult tests do not “rape” you and “rape-y” is not an appropriate adjective to describe individuals or groups of people. Rape is serious and a painful trigger for so many. Victims never “bring it upon themselves” or are “asking for it,” no matter what they are wearing or how much they have had to drink. “It’s because he’s a guy” is never a justification for a lack of self-control and it’s not “normal” for guys (or girls) to push their partners further than they enthusiastically and positively consent to.
Finally, Kendall, I now understand the importance of removing the stigma with which we view victims of sexual assault. That one night does not define who you are or who you will become. Cultivating a more aware and sensitive campus culture will make it easier for you and other victims to share your stories with peers, administrative officials, and law enforcement, and make it more difficult for perpetrators to escape the legal and social consequences of their actions.
*Names and personal details are changed for privacy
If you or someone you know is a victim of sexual assault and in need of assistance, CARE at SARC provides free and confidential services for UC San Diego students, staff and faculty. Non-UC San Diego affiliates can visit the resources page for more help.