Rape and Sexual Harassment: Survivors Speak Out

According to RAINN (Rape, Abuse, And Incest, National Network), “every 107 seconds, another American is sexually assaulted” and “each year, there are about 293,000 victims of sexual assault.” These statistics are shocking and disturbing to read. Given how frequent sexual assault is, it is appalling that the issue still seems to be pushed under the rug. Rape culture permeates women’s everyday lives distracting them from work and school, and it is clear that the normalization of gender based violence is one of the biggest problems women face around the world.

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Emma Sulkowicz and the mattress she carried for a year as a form of art protest against her rapist at Columbia University. (photo credit: Kristina Budelis)

The threat of rape on college campuses for young women is one of the biggest problems in America. A new survey by the Association of American Universities (AAU) reports that “23% of women report sexual assault in college.” One of the most prominent examples of sexual assault on a college campus is Emma Sulkowicz. She is known for carrying around for her entire senior year, a similar college-issued mattress to that on which she was allegedly raped. This was a protest against Columbia University’s failure to suspend the alleged rapist.

 

Another example of a high profile campus rape is that of Anna Goldstein, whose story headlined in the New York Times last year in July. According to the New York Times, during her freshman year of college, Goldstein was sexually assaulted by what seemed only to be one football player but after medical testing the nurse proved she had “intercourse with either multiple partners, multiple times or that the intercourse was very forceful.” Sadly, in both incidents Sulkowicz and Goldstein’s attackers denied the rape and so did people in power. While these women projected bravery and fearlessness they were met with a strong backlash.

Earlier this fall, Lady Gaga’s new music video,”Til It Happens To You,” featured the horrifying issue of college campus rapes. She highlights non conforming gender sexual assault and rape. On Twitter, Lady Gaga tweeted, “for people all over the world who suffer from painful life experiences…we hope u feel our love & solidarity through the song & perhaps find some peace in knowing u r not alone through this film”. While at times it’s hard to watch the rawness and frightening reality of this music video, it highlights the problem of college campus rapes that needs to be seen and heard by the public.

Another video that has gone viral is Rob Bliss’s “10 Hours of Walking in NYC as a Woman.” This video is a montage of many different clips throughout a ten hour time period of a woman walking through the city. It reveals the amount of street harassment that a woman has to deal with on a day to day basis. Street harassment is a form of gender-based violence in the same way that rape and assault are. Ironically, after the video aired the actress in it, Shoshana Roberts, claimed that the director “violated her civil rights” by releasing the video without her written consent. Also the director and his team have been accused of purposely editing out white men who cat called. Nevertheless, the actress was threatened with rape after the video was aired to the public which shows how little society cares about women’s experience of street harassment, so much so that any representation of it in the media calls for women to be raped instead of listened to. We need to pay as much attention to street harassment as rape, as often, women and girls are afraid that this form of violence may lead to an actual sexual assault.

IDG assembly: sharing my story
I shared a personal story during my feminism class’s International Day of the Girl assembly in early October about how I was harassed by a New York City cab driver while he was driving me to school (photo credit: Steve Neiman).

I have certainly been in frightening situations that made me feel scared that I might be assaulted as a result of street harassment. I have been the victim of sexual harassment, and while I may have been timid at first about sharing my story about how a NYC cab driver harassed me while I was in his car on the way to school, now I’m letting my voice be heard.

I shared my story during my high school feminism class’s annual International Day of the Girl assembly in front of the entire student body and faculty. During the assembly, I finally had the courage to share how, “I could feel his glare on my skin and the breath from his voice near my face, despite the glass between us. It felt like the only protection I had.”

I finally had the strength and didn’t feel guilty to tell people how “under his breath I heard him ask, “So how is the sex? Is it big? Does he please you?” 

Contributing to the conversation has not only empowered me but others around me. Telling my story has strengthened people to step forward, and not be ashamed to be victims of gender-based violence. After sharing my story with my school community, I felt a sense of relief, like a weight that I didn’t know existed was lifted from my shoulders. I am lucky to have had the opportunity to share my story again at a panel about street harassment earlier this month when Holly Kearl spoke about her new book, Stop Global Street Harassment. In order to attempt to solve this issue, we need women around the world to come together, share stories, and support one another through their voices.

7 thoughts on “Rape and Sexual Harassment: Survivors Speak Out

  1. Watching the “Til It Happens to You” video was so upsetting for me because of the lack of empathy and harshness of the rapists. I think the video demonstrates how victims of sexual assault can be made invisible if they stay silent. Thank you for sharing.

  2. Your post is amazing. I was so moved by it. I especially liked your incorporation of Lady Gaga’s music video as well as “10 Hours of Walking in NYC As A Woman”. This is so powerful and I definitely agree these issues need to be talked about on a much larger scale.

  3. What you did during the assembly was very brave! You talked about finally having strength to talk about what happened and I definitely agree that it is strength. Many people are scared to talk up about these issues because people think it’s for attention or fake. I completely agree with everything said and I think many more people need to read this to understand what rape and assault do to this world because many people don’t understand it.

  4. Rape is among the most pervasive issues on college issues and I really admire your call to awareness and the way that you spoke up about your experiences. It is very important to tell stories like in the consciousness raising groups that catalyzed the first discussions of gender based violence in the workplace.

  5. I really liked how you emphasized how important it is for women to share their stories, it really reminds me of the conciousness raising groups that bell hooks talked about in her book, Feminism is for Everybody. The fact that you shared your story was an example of true bravery and how personal stories can be impactful when talking about feminism. This was a great blog post.

  6. This is such an important subject we have to start taking action on and spreading awareness of. Sexual harassment and rape are two violences that have been excused away and overlooked too often especially on college campuses. Also so brave and powerful to share your story… great post!

  7. This piece is a true depiction of turning the personal into the political and the power the personal narrative has in inducing change. We must stop the stigma that comes with sharing personal stories and experiences, because, as you talk about in your piece, there is a sense of empowerment, strength, and a certain amount of healing that comes with knowing you are not alone. Thank you for sharing this! Great Work!

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