I don’t know your name. If I saw you on the street, I would not recognize you. But, if I’m being honest with myself, I will admit that it is your face that I see in the mirror each morning.
Your name is mine: Survivor.
Late Monday night, as you began posting the story of your rape near the Atlanta University Center, I read and re-read every line. I was instantly and profoundly proud of your courage, but also fearful of the attacks I knew would come.
Social media attracts intemperate strangers, as you well know. Several years ago, when I decided to name my rapist and go public with my own story, the onslaught of malicious and vile messages started immediately. They wanted to know why I waited nearly 30 years to come forward. My words could not be trusted, they said, because I had been silent.
I spent days pacing the floors of my house—eating little, praying more than I had in a good while, and re-living every single moment of the attacks. I had been given alcohol and drugged, but three decades later I still remembered every thing about him down to the silver specks in his river-blue eyes, his thick dark hair and all-too-easy smile. He was a high school football coach and I was a 16-year-old varsity cheerleader.
I always knew that there were others. After I came forward, women from around the country and as far away as Italy contacted me. They, too, had been victimized in much the same way and by the same man, or knew someone who was. He was still coaching, we learned, but lost his job soon after the news broke. It was small solace for a lifetime of anger and grief.
He chose us, because he knew no one would believe us.
We live in a world where rape victims are not believed, in which the perpetrator is afforded the benefit of the doubt while we are left alone to nurse physical and emotional wounds. All too frequently, we find little, if any, comfort with law enforcement. And far too many of us cannot look even our friends and family for support.
The questions often begin with, “What did you do to provoke him?” and “Why did you put yourself in that position?”
But we know better. At least, I hope you do.
You are a freshman at Spelman College, according to the anonymous Twitter account, and I assume that you are 18 or 19 years old. The four young men involved are allegedly students at neighboring Morehouse College—a separate campus, but a part of the same family.
Every rape is a violent act. However, the tragedy here is compounded by the notion that your “brothers” sexually assaulted you.
You wrote: “It took Spelman a month to get back to me about my case. When I got to the meeting with the Dean and Public Safety they asked me what was I wearing, why did I seperate from my friends, & why was I drinking under age. The Dean also said that Spelman & Morehouse are brother & sister so I should give them a pass. I never felt so worthless.”
Spelman College President Dr. Mary Schmidt Campbell released a statement, saying, “Our hearts go out to this student and I want to personally offer her our full support and assistance. We are a family at Spelman and we will not tolerate any episode of sexual violence. No student should ever have to suffer and endure the experience she has recounted on social media. Spelman is conducting a full and thorough review of these events.”
It must, and any dean, administrator or campus public safety official who advised you to “give them a pass” should be fired.
“I got so depressed that I wanted to take my own life and I started to self-harm,” you wrote.
Those words were hauntingly familiar—for me and for many of the survivors I have encountered. An estimated 68 percent of rapes are never reported and 98 percent of rapists never spend a day in jail. The vast majority of sexual assault victims—four out of five—know their rapists.
If those young men violated you, they are not your brothers. They do not represent the legacy of Morehouse College. If they did, upon discovering you inebriated and sick in a bathroom, one or all of them would have escorted you back to campus and made sure that you were secure in your dorm room.
That’s what a young Marine did for me in 1987.
I was 19 and drinking with other members of our squad at a local bar. “The Hole” was a few blocks from our barracks, situated near the back of Ft. Benjamin Harrison, where I was in public affairs training school. Four drinks in and I could barely stand. That’s when my “brother” stepped in. “Time to go, Taylor,” Pfc. Bennett said. He walked me outside and, when I could hold myself up, Bennett tossed me over his shoulder and hauled me down the block. He tucked me into my bunk and locked the door behind him on the way out.
Underage drinking is not an invitation to rape. Neither is separating from your friends. Or what you chose to wear.
Don’t let anybody tell you that by reporting what happened, by going to a hospital and submitting to a rape kit, that you are somehow betraying black men. Don’t let them tell you that you are betraying our community by airing its “dirty laundry” or that you are destroying the reputation of one of our most venerable institutions by coming forward.
We owe you better than that. We owe you solidarity in the fight to destroy rape culture. We owe you safe harbor, arms of comfort and strength. We owe you a day in court, if you choose to participate in the prosecution of your attackers.
We owe you justice.