Campus Update: Why Am I Afraid?

I am currently a freshman at Fordham at Lincoln Center, a Jesuit university in the heart of New York City. Although the school has no Greek life and a strict policy on underage drinking, a typical night out for a Fordham student—at an off-campus house party, a neighboring school’s frat party, or a bar or club that doesn’t card—is the same as it is for a student anywhere else: floors soaked in beer, boys dressed in Ralph Lauren, and the inevitable air of awkwardness of students who studied too much in high school and never learned to dance.

And we all know the rules:

  1. Never take drinks that you didn’t order and didn’t watch the bartender make;
  2. If you set your drink down, it stays down;
  3. Never give your real name or number to anyone;
  4. Never lose your friends, especially the one you’ve already appointed to get a cab and tuck you into your own bed when you get home.

As a newly independent young woman, I follow these basic rules along with a few extras: don’t ride subways alone after 10 PM; don’t go out without telling someone when you’ll be back; and if you notice someone following you, take a circuitous route to maximize the number of open businesses and potential safe havens you pass.

And it constantly occurs to me that all of these apprehensions are completely unfair.

I should not be afraid of walking home, I should not be afraid of running alone in the park, and I should not be afraid of the guy staring at me through the Starbucks window as I write this.

But I am.

And I know that not everyone lives with this fear. Several weeks ago, I needed to make a short one block trip in the early morning hours. Because it was dark and the streets were mostly deserted, I asked a guard to walk with me and he immediately responded, “Well, why?” It was only then that it occurred to me that not everyone has my fear.

As a teenage girl, I was taught to be afraid. Not explicitly, but because—as a friend stated—”everyone knows someone that has a story of something happening to her.”

Now I personally know these stories too.

I recently spoke to a freshman in Illinois who immediately brought up a guy tackling and groping her in the snow last week during a party. She admitted that what happened was a “gray area,” explaining that “at least he didn’t rape me, so I guess I’m just overreacting by calling it an assault.”

Where is the line between harassment and assault? Is it the guys who don’t know what’s inappropriate or the girls who are afraid to speak up?

A second girl prefaced her story with “I shouldn’t have let it get to the point it did,” and went on to say:

It wasn’t, like, forceful, but it wasn’t wanted either. He was charmingly persistent at first, but that was just at first. I was naïve and drunk and he totally took advantage of my drunkenness. I was throwing up and everything and he kind of slid me to the edge of his bed and did his thing. I pushed him off and talked to him in a calm voice saying that he should be disappointed in himself. Then I went to sleep, deleted his number, and never talked to him again.

I didn’t cry, but I had another experience with a guy where sex was not my idea and I felt dirty after. I didn’t want to and he took advantage.

I’ve grown from the experiences. I think knowing it wasn’t my fault and that I could prevent the same things from happening again is what I took from it all. I’m more careful and don’t actually want to even hookup with guys that don’t care about me. I just learned the hard way that not everyone has good intentions.

I was stunned by her resignation—as if what happened to her was some sort of sexual initiation—and asked why she didn’t report him.

If I didn’t know him I would have. It’s not like I wasn’t attracted to him, he just took it too far. But if he was really forceful, I would have…well he actually was kind of forceful, but it wasn’t weird. I’m not sure. I didn’t think it was worth it to involve authorities or the school because his life would have been really messed up…

A third friend texted me the morning after she was physically and sexually assaulted. She woke up in her bed in her underwear, the back of her head covered in blood, with no recollection of what happened. All she knew was that someone saw a guy leaving her room in the early morning hours. When she finally went to the campus health center she was diagnosed with a minor concussion. She refused to report anything because, she insisted, it was “just as much [her] fault for being in that position.”

All these stories have two common elements:

  • The perpetrator is completely absent from the effects and repercussions of what happened, and
  • Every victim feels guilty for being assaulted.

At nineteen years old, I know people who have been roofied, raped, manipulated, and stalked, and it’s common. It didn’t start in college, it started in high school, or in some cases even middle school.

After reading The Problem of Campus Sexual Assault, I realized that this isn’t an isolated problem.

Given the overwhelming statistics that 1 out of every 5 of my female classmates will experience attempted or completed sexual assault in the next four years, why is nothing changing? And why are young women protecting their assailants?

Every sexual assault is just that—an assault—which is deeply harmful and has repercussions for the victim, who is forever changed, and the perpetrator’s future victims, because he knows he can get away with it again.

Maybe this is what I’m most afraid of.

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Emma Wallace

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