If you look at the books that are piled on and around my desk, you’ll notice a running theme. The words “rape,” “assault,” “violence,” “Title IX,” “society,” and “campus” all glare at you in boldfaced print. Whenever I find myself sitting down at a coffee shop to read, it’s a surefire way to make sure no one sits near my table.
In short, I study sexual assault.
Before I go further, let me explain why. No, it’s not because I’ve seen every episode of Law & Order: SVU. It’s not because I’ve wanted to study it my entire life. It’s not because I’m fascinated by the dark and disturbing treatment of victims. It’s because I want to stop it…or at least drastically reduce the chances of it happening.
I am 23 years old. I am a feminist, a scholar, and have the personality trait of “once-I-set-my-mind-to-something-I-will-not-stop.” I’m also a sexual assault survivor.
When I was younger, sexual assault, rape, and domestic violence were things that were spoken about in hushed tones, with the assumption that it only happened to adults, and that it was a rare phenomenon. I can honestly say I didn’t think much of it other than I knew that it was bad. Blissful ignorance, sure. But it wasn’t as prevalent on the news and it wasn’t openly talked about, at least not like it’s starting to be.
In college I helped a friend go through the trauma of being assaulted. I heard classmates discuss their assaults in open forums. I listened to stories of how they “barely got away.” I gasped at how the police addressed victims and at how the campus didn’t want to acknowledge the potential violence in their halls. I was surrounded by discussions, campus events, and attempts to bring this epidemic to light.
And then it happened to me. After all of my learning and listening, it still happened to me.
The morning after it happened I had a meeting with a professor. I got home, shrugged into new clothes, tied a scarf around my neck to hide the blossoming bruises and went about my day. I didn’t tell my roommate, my professor, or anyone else. It wasn’t until weeks later that I spoke up and even then I knew I wouldn’t win any sort of lawsuit against the perpetrator.
Now, let me guess, you’re questioning why I didn’t tell anyone and why I didn’t press charges. That is harder to explain. I was embarrassed that it happened to me. I was in shock that I could lose control of a situation that easily. I was determined to stay professional in the face of my academic meeting. As for pressing charges, I knew that the court wouldn’t take my side. I knew that they would say that if I was there of my own will, then I consented to everything that took place. And it’s terrible to say, but the affluence of the perpetrator would most likely not have let my case go to trial. I was stuck.
So I started studying. I read book after book after book. I read news articles following current rape trials and how poorly they were handled. I found statistics, essays, and documentaries but none of it was enough. Collectively, it wasn’t enough to make a change. It wasn’t enough to fully understand how and why this happens, and why it is so hard to get rid of in our society. So, I made a choice.
I’m entering UCLA in the fall to get my Masters in social sciences and I’ll be getting my Ph.d the following year. My dissertation is about the history of sexual assault and how we can better acknowledge and eradicate the horrors of it. My goal is to work on creating programs for law enforcement and campus police to take in order to learn how to best address victims. I’m researching how to better acknowledge assault on campuses and make sure that students know what their resources are.
I’m going to make a difference and this is just the beginning.