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Speaking up

Editor’s note: The author of this column was granted anonymity due to the intensely personal nature of the events described.

Preface: The brave columnist who wrote on April 30 inspired me to be courageous. This too will focus on a female experience, which is not to imply that sexual assault does not affect men. I am a woman, and I am speaking from my own encounter with the devils of violation.

When I was assaulted, I was wearing a T-shirt and jeans. I was not drunk. He was. It was his birthday.

He started to walk me home and offered to get me water from his room. I accepted the water; I did not accept how he forced himself upon me minutes later. I told him I was leaving. He grabbed my hair. I said, “No,” and I said it loudly. He pushed me aside, closed the door and breathed, “No. You’re staying.”

Having advocated for women’s rights and taken self-defense classes since high school, I had always believed I would recognize the signs of someone who would attack. (I thought) I knew what to expect and (I thought) I knew how to avoid it and (I thought) I knew how to escape and (I thought) I knew how to take action and (I thought) I knew how to speak up.

I told no one.

I left my shoes outside his building and ran straight back to my room. I carried a pocket knife on my way to the bathroom, fearful some other shark would smell the scent of “victim” on me and strike again.

I told no one.

I felt scared of going to the eating club where we’d met. I felt scared to walk home alone at night. Most of all, I felt scared that saying the words “sexual assault” out loud would change me or shape me or break me. So I stayed silent.

Every 22 minutes, a woman is raped in India. After the Delhi gang rape, Indian women and men took to the streets in vehement protest against this horrific, hourly violence. Every fourth college woman is raped in the United States. After every rape at Princeton, we return to the Street with words of different, sickening protest: “They were both drunk, so it’s unclear,” or “She can’t just wake up the next day and decide it was rape.”

No wonder we keep our mouths shut — our cries are overpowered by both the loud music and the silence.

After realizing that living my nights inside recurring dreams and riding the on-call TigerTransit bus (instead of walking) was not how I wanted to spend my years at the University, I reached out to a friend who is a Sexual Harassment/Assault Advising, Resources & Education peer. She was incredible. Sharing my story changed me — it made that friendship deeper. Sharing my story shaped me — it made my voice louder. Sharing my story broke me — I needed to relive the pain in order to rid myself of it.

Talking was both the tunnel and the light at the end of it. I urge you, if it has happened to you, to seek out these extraordinary individuals who will help you.

Speaking up is standing up. Speaking up is the first, best hope we have to creating a culture on campus that does not accept too-easy notions that sexual assault does not happen here or that any type of physical or mental harassment is OK.

To those of you ready with your words, like knives, to think or comment in an offensive way — think of your mothers. Your sisters. Your friends. Read closely.

Sexual assault is real. It is the nightmare from which you wish to wake up then fall back asleep in order to dream of something different. Rape culture is real. It is the path we walk, to and from the Street, lined with our lazy excuses about the times we were too insecure to say anything against the rape jokes that are never funny.

Speaking up is real, too. From our dorm rooms in which we tell our roommates to the SHARE office to speak with trained staff to the pages of this newspaper in which we tell our campus, speaking up is the tool we all have to fight injustice.

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