To All the Survivors I’ve Known Before

Who do you think of when someone says the words ‘sexual assault?’

You may think “Law and Order: SVU,” gang rape victims, NFL football players on the news, creepy church scandals, “Criminal Minds,” maybe some mass murderers.   

Who do I think of when someone says the words ‘sexual assault?’

I think of my classmates. I think of my friends. I think of myself.

During my freshman year of college I attended a seminar for extra credit in my sociology class. Our professor did not tell us what the subject matter would be, or how many points we would receive, but like many others in that class, I needed all the help I could get.

This program was taught by a local sociologist doing a case study on sexual assault at Virginia Tech. I listened to the lecture, took notes, and shook my head alongside of the other students. I knew my extensive list of notes would surely earn me full credit, but something just didn’t feel right.

When I left the lecture hall that night, it wasn't the frustration of spending two extra hours on campus that exacerbated my mind. It wasn’t the horrifying statistics that chilled my dark trek home. It was the incredibly down to earth description of how sexual assault appears on college campuses.


Why did it feel so familiar?

Growing up, no one really talks about sexual assault. Teens and young adults collect their only understandings of sexual violence through the media. In reality, the only college students who understand the prevalence of sexual violence are the ones who have been directly impacted by it. Some of these students are so uneducated on the topic that they can’t even identify their own instances of abuse.

If no one is honest about sexual assault, how do we know that not everyone will respect our intentions? How do we know why the guy at the party keeps pouring us drinks? How do we know that the boy we hang-out with will take things too far? How do we know that our bodies will not physically allow us to stop it? How do we know that our selfless, loving classmate battles ghosts from her past? How do we know that she will eventually lose the fight?

We don’t know. We didn’t know.

Sexual violence does not always reflect outward signs of danger. You do not have to look bruised, broken, or bloody to be a victim of sexual assault. You do not have to be roofied or mugged to be a victim of sexual assault. The fact of the matter is that most cases of sexual abuse can be impossible to predict and difficult to identify-- but they are not impossible to prevent.

Virginia Tech requires all staff, administration, and faculty members to take seminars on Title IX and sexual assault prevention. I respect this notion-- don’t get me wrong-- but why aren’t students required to complete the same course?

“The Virginia Tech Police Department took a report of a sexual assault… the survivor and suspect are both Virginia Tech students.”

We all get the emails. We know what’s going on. If we don’t educate ourselves about sexual assault, no one else will. So why is no one talking about it?

For the sake of the silent survivors, repeated victims, broken hearts, sisters, mothers, and friends, let’s talk about it. Let’s educate ourselves. Let’s spread awareness. Let’s spread love.

Throughout my days in college, I have learned that being an advocate for women can mean a lot of things. It means teaching everyone to love themselves regardless of beauty ideals. It means working to shatter the glass ceiling. It means lifting each other up when reality throws us down. Most importantly, it means that we must form an army, raise our weapons, and protect our kingdoms at all costs.

No matter your relationship status, sexual orientation, sobriety, outfit choice, or confidence level, it can happen to anyone. It can be me, you, your best friend, your sister, or even the girl you sit next to in biology. Sexual assault is not a result of female promiscuity. Sexual assault is a result of hypermasculinity, social insecurity, and moral incompetence.

If you are a survivor of sexual assault or a loved one who has battled its incessant torments, I stand with you. No matter who you are, where you come from, or what you look like: you are loved, you are worthy, you are not alone.  

And to all the survivors I’ve known before: we will end the stigma behind sexual assault. You are not a victim, you are a survivor, you are a warrior, and you will be avenged.