Just from reading the first paragraph of the article Trial By Twitter written by Ariel Levy in the New Yorker, I knew where this was going. At first, I didn’t want to keep reading. This wasn’t because I was disinterested, but because I was afraid. The themes of sexual assault, twitter and feminism have been a constant in my life. I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to handle it, or get so mad I would just have to put it down.
I in my lifetime have been raped. My story isn’t unusual, it’s one that one in six American women will experience in their lifetime according to RAINN (Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network)
When I was 7 years old, I was in a second and third grade combination class. The school didn’t have enough money or kids for two separate classes, so they combined them into one. One of the students in my class was a boy named John. He was in the third grade, and he was always picking on me and trying to make me mad. His mom was the vice principal of the middle school that my mom worked at, so there was almost no escaping him. Often times they would stick us together while they were in a meeting.
One day, when one of those meetings was taking place, John and I were sitting in an empty room and I was playing with a toy that I had gotten recently. We were both really bored and he asked me if I wanted to play a game with him. There was nothing else for me to do, and even though I didn’t like him I didn’t really think anything would happen.
We went into an empty janitors closet and suddenly he barricaded himself against the door. He pulled down his pants, his underwear and told me, “Suck it”. I was confused more than anything and I asked him what he meant. He then told me to suck his penis. At this point I saw no way out. I was small, probably less than 4 feet tall and he was much bigger than me standing there with himself pressed against the only exit. I did what I had to do.
He made me promise that I would never tell anyone what happened. I didn’t listen to him and immediately told my mom, who confronted his mom. She denied that anything had happened and told my mom that it was disgusting that she would accuse her son of anything like that. My mom was able to place me into a different class so that I would be away from him, but the teachers all were disgusting to me, telling me I was a dirty liar and I should be ashamed of myself. Because John’s mom was my mom’s boss, the rest of the year did not go well for her. At the end of the year we had both become so abused that she pulled me out of the school, and she quit her job. There was no other action we could take because any judge would have thrown out the case, saying it was nothing more than sexual exploration by two children.
Reading the article about Steubenville, I understand the ridicule that someone can go through after having a traumatic event like that happen to them. I cant even imagine what my experience would have been like had Twitter and Facebook been around back then. Recently, Twitter itself has come under fire for making it hard for victims to report threats that they have received on the social media website. They only recently changed their policies to make it easier to report abuse.
Another thing that struck me about this article was that people seemed to have this idea that this type of thing only happens in small towns like Steubenville. Rape and sexual assault, and resulting cover-ups happen everywhere from my small southern California town to huge cities like New York, Chicago and even right here in Philadelphia. People don’t want to acknowledge that rape happens anywhere because it means that people they love could be considered sex offenders, perverts and immoral people.
High school and college students are more susceptible to this than anyone else. With the rise in intoxication of people under 21, the new invention of date rape drugs, and a culture that teaches that women can be sluts but men are just rock stars, students are falling into a cycle that will end in a horrible way. The thing is that most adults don’t want to believe that this happens. This applies especially to school administrators. Over the last year there have been dozens of cases where college students have reported sexual assault only to have public safety and the administration never respond.
For example, last year a student at Amherst college wrote a first person account of her rape and subsequent treatment by the administration. She reported that no one was willing to take on her case and many times she was dismissed by the school because they didn’t want to deal with it. The result was a firestorm at the school with all major officials, including the president coming under attack for their failure to address the issue and protect students. This in turn started a movement by students at several other schools to speak out on the issue and report their schools misconduct.
We as a society have to learn that rape happens. We have to learn that there are ways to deal with it, to prevent it and to punish those responsible.
As for me the one semi-gratifying thing that I took from this original story was that the victim was lucky enough to have her attackers come to trial and be able to face them in a court of law. Most rapes go unreported and the ones that do almost never go to trial. I know that as a victim myself, I will never be able to face the person who hurt me, because I don’t even know who he is. I have done countless Google searches over the past few years to try to find him but the fact is that without any more information than his first name and where he lived when he was 8 years old I will never be able to. My worst fear is that he has done this to someone else, that there are others out there like me suffering because of him and that if I knew and if I had done something I might have been able to prevent it. Again, I will never know.
Rape and sexual assault are real. They exist everywhere, in small towns and big cities, in the United States, and around the world. No one can ignore this fact, and we need to do something about it, now.