Editor's note: The views and opinions expressed in this article do not reflect those of The Collegian. Confidential sexual assault resources for UR students include CARE Advocates, which can be reached at email@example.com or 804.801.6251; Peer Sexual Misconduct Advisors (PSMA), at firstname.lastname@example.org or 804.346.7674; CAPS, at CAPS@richmond.edu or 804.289.8119; Virginia LGBTQ Partner Abuse and Sexual Assault Helpline (24/7), at 866.356.6998; Greater Richmond Regional Hotline (24/7), at 804.612.6126; National Sexual Assault Hotline (24/7) at 800.656.HOPE.
In the modern age, calling someone a victim of any type of sexual violence seems too self-pitying. Instead, many around me, including myself, prefer the term “survivors” to highlight the adversity that someone who has experienced sexual violence has been through. Yet, the truth remains that the rape culture surrounding us prefers shifting all the healing responsibility to the survivors instead of reexamining the systematic issues that gave rise to these assaults in the first place.
I remember signing up for the University of Richmond’s Take Back the Night event because I wanted to be there for other survivors and to share my story. However, in the end, I chickened out and didn’t show up. I didn’t know what to say or how people around me would perceive me after I shared my story. Did they care, or would they simply say, “You’re so brave,” and carry on with their lives? The truth is: apathy remains stronger than compassion.
Apathy was certainly the case when Kyle Kressler was arrested for rape by force, malicious wounding, and strangulation resulting in wound or injury. The first response that students got from the administration was hinting that the fall season was the reason behind the increase in sexual assault cases and the number of timely warnings.
“As the colors of fall come to our campus, I am also mindful that the period between orientation and Thanksgiving is sometimes referred to as the ‘Red Zone’ on college campuses because national data shows that there is a higher incidence of reports of sexual misconduct during this period of time,” wrote Steve Bisese, vice president of student development, in the email.
Meanwhile, the administration is willingly turning a blind eye to the Greek life system that has been criticized by students publicly for promoting a culture of sexual assault. UR has also not publicized the internal review report that the Center for Student Involvement has promised the students to appease the Abolish Greek life movement.
The rape culture that we live in tells victims that it is their responsibility to recover from their own wounds — that if they don’t find a way to cope with their trauma, they will be punished socially and academically. I cannot recount how many times I felt like I was being judged by peers for not sounding as friendly and cheerful. There were also instances where people doubted my level of engagement with an organization because I was not as interactive as others expected. However, at that time, my body was trembling with anxiety every time I was in a group setting or was meeting a stranger. I had to mentally practice a question I wanted to ask a professor in class several times in my head every time before actually speaking up.
Dear professors, administrators and fellow students, I hope that besides only briefly mentioning that mental health is important, you could begin to analyze the structural systems of harm that are negatively impacting community members every day on campus. Instead of punishing a student for missing a class, provide alternative ways for them to continue participating, either via online or other assignments. Many students with unspoken mental health issues may be too scared to ask for help. Please be more accommodating to them and please don’t base people’s work ethic simply on how outspoken and vocal they are in a particular setting.
To my fellow survivors, you were forced by rape culture into either becoming a victim or a savior. Please do not let these labels solely define you and recognize that you are not only shaped by trauma but other positive things in life. Lastly, start the first step in seeking help, such as signing up for a Counseling and Psychological Services session. I began to attend therapy seriously in 2020, and I can tell you from experience that I don’t suffer from the same trepidation in a public setting. A small step is better than nothing, and progress will come gradually. After months of therapy, I can finally say that I’m at the mental stage where I am eager to take back the voice that has been silenced by society. Always remember that your voice has never gone away.
To everyone else, we are not your saviors. Don’t expect us to solve the problems that we did not cause in the beginning.
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