Sitting in Pickard auditorium among strangers during orientation freshman year I remember feeling skeptical. We were at what felt like our 12th talk about the dangers of Bowdoin. First we were warned about the dangers of drinking and drugs, and now about the dangers of sex. College was from what I had seen in movies a magical four years where nothing bad ever happened—only parties, and good friends, and good times—so my skepticism seemed warranted as I sat in the dark listening to statistics on sexual violence and rape. “1 in 4 women will be the victim of sexual violence or rape in her time at college.”
This statistic surprised me but I shrugged off the disturbing idea that statistically at least one of my roommates would be raped. “This is Bowdoin,” I thought to myself, “nothing bad is going to happen here.” The skepticism and naivety gave way to shock when something did happen. Profoundly embarrassed at my inability to help comfort or relate, I fought back uncomfortable laughter the first time one of my close friends recounted an episode of sexual violence. Those statistics kept echoing in my head and I felt almost ashamed that I had taken them so lightly.
Fast forward and I’m no longer laughing but sobbing as another extremely close friend tells me about her experiences at college with sexual assault. I can’t believe it happened again. This time I’m still speechless as I listen helplessly and those statistics keep running through my head. Sexual assault and violence at college are real things that are sadly undiscussed or dismissed by a lot of women. Like me, many women think that because you’re at such a small prestigious school people know better; men here were raised right and they know how to treat women even though they may not always show it. Logically, no guy wants to be thought of as a rapist, but when the lines get blurred–which they often do when drinking is involved–things get dicey.
I’d like to attribute my safety thus far at Bowdoin to myself, but I honestly think that it has way more to do with luck than skill. I’ve done my fair share of risky things: drinking and going home with strangers (who were both students and visitors to the school). I count myself as unbelievably fortunate that all of them turned out well.
Organizations like Safe Space are wonderful in that they increase awareness and prevention of sexual violence. The Campus also has great counseling services which can be amazing in the aftermath. However, I think the most frustrating difficult part of sexual assault is conveying the realness to students. It’s unfortunate that it took two very real, very close experiences with sexual violence for me to actually feel like this was a relevant problem not some clichéd movement from which I was far removed.
The solution to this is to discuss sexual violence early and often–not just at the beginning of the year. The last thing I want to do with this article is sound like just another one of those lectures. I’m not trying to scare or shock readers, just keep them on their toes and rid them of any of that all too familiar skepticism. I also don’t want this article to be about how anyone with a penis is a rapist. There are any number of GREAT guys at Bowdoin but it only takes one bad one to leave you with an experience that could change your life forever. Basically, the main idea is simple: don’t be naïve as I was. Sexual violence can and does happen here, so watch out for yourself and your friends.