My Take Back the Night Rally speech
I gave this speech at the Northwestern University Take Back the Night event in 2011 at the rally and speak out. Take Back the Night was one of my favorite activities at Northwestern, and I was honored to be chosen as the survivor speaker.
As a recent Northwestern graduate, I can confidently say that my experiences here have permanently changed my life. I’ve made friends that will endure my lifetime, i’ve switched from a major I thought i’d love (wrong!) to a major I actually adore. I finally decided on my career path. I’ve had advisors, both academic and extracurricular, who have taken me seriously and pushed me to better myself. I’ve had a great college love, I’ve pulled all nighters, I’ve played on the Lakefill, I’ve slept in the library, and I’ve guarded the rock. I’ve also been sexually assaulted on this campus too.
As a freshman, I heard the mandatory presentation on sex and sexual assault. I heard the presentation, but the information itself slipped away, especially when I had more pressing matters to focus on during my Wildcat Welcome Week (Is it true that people are going to parties in the frat houses tonight?)
However, the fact that I didn’t really understand our campus’ policy on sexual assault blindsided me during my sophomore year as I sat on my bed just before 7am, crying, hating my skin and getting bombarded by phone calls from the university. Hours earlier, I had been at a friend’s room, exhausted after attending a Halloween party, and I wanted to go back to my own dorm room and sleep. Since I had left my keys in a different friend’s apartment, I wasn’t sure how I was going to get into my dorm room. My roommate had left our door unlocked for me, so I’d just need to be let into the building and onto my floor.
As I walked up to my dorm, 2 drunk guys from my building that I had never seen before called down to me from a lounge window, and I asked if they could come down, let me in, and let me onto my floor. They agreed, and a minute later, they met me at the door. They walked me into a stairwell and then cornered me. They refused to let me up any further until I “thanked them” for helping me. One of them assaulted me in my own dorm’s stairwell as the other one acted as a lookout. I somehow was able to reach my phone and repeatedly call my roommate, who finally answered. As she answered, my two perpetrators realized I was speaking to someone so they scrambled to let me up the stairwell and onto my floor. My roommate had walked into the hallway, looking for me, when the two perpetrators started to chase me down the hallway. I pushed my roommate back into our room, closed and locked the door, and collapsed, crying. I called the friend whose room I had just left, and after a few seconds of my wordless crying, she said she was coming over. She took charge, telling the door guard in my building to call the campus police, and acted as my advocate throughout the entire ordeal.
After 3 exhausting hours of filing a police report, repeating my story several times, and finally identifying my perpetrator as he was arrested, I was dropped back off at my dorm room. It was only about 7am, and I hadn’t slept, but I didn’t think I could either. These phone calls started a short while later. Five different people from different places were calling to discuss my options, my safety, my mental and emotional state, and to give me updates. I didn’t know who these people were. I didn’t know how they already knew about the assault. I didn’t want to talk about it. I wanted it just to go away. I wanted to crawl out of my skin, I wanted to cry. I wanted to leave Northwestern.
Eventually, with a lot of effort, I succeeded in making it go away, somewhat. I didn’t press charges with the police, and I didn’t push for a SAHAS hearing (whatever that was, I still wasn’t sure). I didn’t press charges or go the criminal route because I knew that the assault would come down to he-said-she-said battle, and since there were no witnesses or any substantial evidence, I felt my case would be incredibly hard to win. I did not feel that the potential outcome of having him removed from my dorm, or whatever was worth the stress of having to defend myself and hear my perpetrator deny the assault. I decided against using SAHAS, the Sexual Assault Hearing and Appeals System, since they could only ask this guy to willingly leave the dorm, and he showed no eagerness to cooperate.
Slowly my sense of physical safety returned, and my emotional and mental pain started to heal, but the most vital part to my healing was educating myself about the policies and resources available, so that I’d know what to do if this happened to one of my friends. I joined SHAPE (Sexual Health and Assault Peer Educators), and was soon up to my ears in knowledge of resources, procedures and statistics.
Another step in my healing process was learning that I was not alone. I attended the Take Back the Night rally and speak-out following my assault, and listened for over two hours as people I recognized from classes and student groups all got up and told the stories of their own assaults. I was too scared to sit in front of those people and tell them my story, but just hearing that I was not the only person that this had happened to gave me a support network I didn’t know I needed.
Having these resources has helped me both heal myself and assist my friends. After I started talking to my friends about sexual assault, I learned that the scary statistic of one in four college age women will be affected by sexual assault is not that far off base. My freshman year roommate, the one who served as my advocate during my assault, had been assaulted herself just four months earlier, and had never told anyone about it. She was able to discuss the assault with me, and seek counseling, since that was the option that suited her best. I also ended up being the first person my best friend contacted after he was sexually assaulted on campus during our senior year here. He credits attending TBTN and having me for a friend for the reason he was able to work through his assault, and follow the route that was most comfortable for him.
Hearing about all these assaults happening on our campus, combined with the handling of my own case, urged me to carefully look at the way that our University handles sexual assault. I received those five different phone calls because there is no singular place to refer a sexual assault survivor to. Luckily, our current administration is actively working through the Campus Coalition on Sexual Violence to change the way that our campus responds to sexual assault, and to make the knowledge of Northwestern’s resources more prominent. Trying to understand how SAHAS works, or trying to find out where you can go for counseling, is difficult enough without the added stress of having your personal safety bubble ruptured.
Sexual assault affects one out of every four women, and one in every thirty three men. I don’t want to say IT WILL HAPPEN TO YOU OR SOMEONE YOU KNOW, because fear alone will not help reduce the statistics. However, knowing about the resources on this campus, even just knowing that the Women’s Center offers free counseling, can restore just a little sense of control in a situation that is so difficult to navigate. I ask all of you tonight, whether you are a survivor of sexual assault yourself, know a friend that is a survivor, or just care deeply about sexual assault awareness, to be supportive if a friend turns to you for help. Educate yourself, your friends, and anyone that will listen about what sexual assault is defined as, where to find counseling, what the process with criminal charges is, and who on this campus can direct you to the help you need. Everyone handles the trauma differently, but having a strong support network makes healing and finding help easier.