“It’s Complicated.”

Content warnings: rape, sexual assault, alcohol mention

Sophia Shaw

April 19, 2016

Dear Community,

For the first time today I spoke publicly about my rape. I have, in a matter of hours, gone from meticulously holding that experience as part of my private (secret) life, to having it known by about 300 people; strangers.

In my first year I was raped by a friend after a party (I would prefer to not name him, but know that he is no longer here). He invited me back to his room where I went drunkenly but consensually. He began to have sex with me as I drifted in and out of consciousness. His nonconsensual acts on my body became increasingly violent and the next day I went home to my family covered in cuts, bruises, and hickeys; in horrible pain, and barely remembering how it all happened.

Since that night, I have tried to forget. I have been silenced by community members who spray-painted “Expel Rapists” on my dorm building and who now wear it on T-shirts, but who only acknowledge the trauma of survivors who are brave enough to share their stories with the world; and who actively call out survivors to share their stories, or else ignore the possibility of traumatic sexual experiences. I have struggled to feel safe sharing my experience because of incidents that have reinforced that belief in me, and I have until today spoken about my  experience to only two of my dearest friends, and uttered the word rape in reference to myself enough times to count on one hand. What changed is that until today I believed that I was fine and safe because my rapist no longer goes here. However, today at the community meeting, when I heard the stories that survivors were sharing and realized how many rapists still haunt the individuals on this campus, and when I shared my own story and saw the administration actively brush us aside, I realized that I haven’t been safe. Not this whole time.

Still I struggle with the rhetoric of socially isolating abusers and all those who interact with them, and thus don’t feel like I will ever be totally accepted as a survivor on this campus. In all honesty I mostly hope that my rapist has friends who will help him to realize what he has done and hold him accountable so he never does it to another person. I also hope he takes a long fall off of a short cliff… but I think there is room for both of those hopes inside of me, and I won’t apologize for those feelings. I also know that for many people, relationships with abusers are complicated, and unless you know every intimate detail of a someone’s interpersonal relationships you have to consider the danger and perpetuation of abuse by calling them out for who they associate with. This is complicated and I do not condemn anyone for how they choose to interact with abusers and assaulters, or for how they keep themselves safe and experience their emotions; but for me this issue is not black and white. There is room for love, hate, anger, sadness, and confusion. I hope there is also room for healing; we’ll see.

I am angry as hell. I want to be heard by the administration. I want to be respected by my fellow survivors and peers, and I want to do good by others and myself. But most of all I want to have never been raped in the first place. What I am requesting now is that when you speak for survivors you remember that we are not all one in the same, and that the feelings that come after rape or other sexual assault are complicated and painful. Listen to us, believe us, and support us. But I ask now that you do not speak for me.


With Love,

Sophia Shaw

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