Why Your Response to Sexual Assault Matters

As college students, we’re all at least marginally familiar with the concept of sexual assault. We’ve been taught to avoid it. We’ve been taught to help our peers avoid it. But it is still common to encounter people who treat it as a non-serious issue. Additionally, these people often question the victim’s shortcomings (failure to immediately accuse, to seek out help, etc.) instead of feeling appalled that an assault was committed.

I was sexually assaulted two years ago. After it happened, the only thing I wanted was to feel safe again. I didn’t want to discuss the incident. I didn’t want to tell the world what my classmate had done to me, especially since he was popular and well-liked at my former school. To this day, my own parents still don’t know that I was assaulted.

“There’s still a degree of shame attached with being the victim of a sexual assault.”

And you know what? That’s still exactly the way I want things to be. Despite the most valiant efforts of various organizations, there’s still a degree of shame attached with being the victim of a sexual assault. You feel weak—like you couldn’t protect yourself. If the assault is committed by someone you know (which is common and what happened in my case), you feel betrayed.

Why am I quiet?

Why don’t I come forward?

I am quiet because of the girl in my class last fall who claimed that if she were ever assaulted, she would go straight to the police and a hospital and do all the “logical” things I failed to do.

I do not come forward because the person who assaulted me was popular and well-liked in a community where I was an outsider. No one would have believed me.

A small part of me still believes I did something wrong. Logically, I know the only one who did wrong in this situation was the person who assaulted me, but I still hear on a regular basis that it was my fault because I had been drinking.

Even if you’ve never experienced sexual assault, your opinion on it matters—especially in college. If you think sexual assault is the result of the victim drinking too much or wearing promiscuous clothing, then you are empowering and vindicating would-be assaulters.

So, when you are speaking about sexual assault, please do so gently. You never know who might be listening. Your words have the power to either prevent or encourage sexual assault victims to speak out.