Editor’s note: This article discusses sexual assault and the aftermath.
Old Drake and Kendrick Lamar. Olde English malt liquor. People who don’t listen to me when I say “no.” Double-entendres. Black cars. Yeast infections. Washington, DC. Tufts’ “downhill” dorms.
These are just some of the triggers that still bother me even a year after my assault. If I were to explain what they do to me, I would list a number of symptoms — anxiety, depressive episodes, fear, chest pain, and severe nausea are just a few.
When I initially reported my assault almost two months after it happened, I told myself not to become too invested in the outcome, knowing many people who had gone through this process and not received any supportive response from the University. After all, the goal of me reporting was not any specific punishment for my rapist’s actions, but to feel safe on a campus that I had once adored.
My rapist was officially expelled from Tufts on October 30th of last year, almost six months after I had initiated the reporting process, but his absence went unnoticed, as he was a senior who did not graduate on time. Even though he was gone, I still didn’t feel this pain of mine lifted like I had thought I would. He wasn’t even really being “punished,” because nobody knew he was gone. I still have anxiety about him going against Tufts’ decision and showing up on campus, and even have irrational fears when walking around different parts of campus.
I panicked and wondered — where was my magical cure? Where was my sense of self and solace that I “should” feel with this decision? Isn’t this what every survivor of sexual assault on a college campus wants?
I felt guilty. I had what some survivors never receive — validation and support from their university. I didn’t feel like this punishment was “enough.” My rapist was essentially going about what he wanted to do back home — with people either thinking he graduated or was just not finishing his degree — while I could barely get out of bed without feeling ill, let alone focus on schoolwork.
I have come to the harsh realization that expulsion of a college campus rapist is no cure, but rather a step in the right direction, even though it is often treated as the “goal” for survivors. I feel as though I have failed myself in some sense, having put so much hope in a decision rather than in recovering and healing for myself. I forgot the strength of self-love and preservation and caring for my mental health in order to invest in being validated by an institution, going against many of my beliefs.
Although I believe people should report their assaults if that is what they wish to do, I do heed the warning to understand that the healing process (that comes with trauma) is much bigger than anything a university can “fix.” There is a notion that all survivors of assault need to report the crime committed against them in order to make it real, without realizing the re-traumatization that comes with that process. Rape that isn’t reported is treated as less than real, and survivors of sexual assault who do report at universities and get their rapists expelled through a bureaucratic process are portrayed as “success stories.” While recent media coverage, at the very least, has started to create a discussion around sexual assault, it has been negligent in that it portrays survivors as one monolithic category, forgetting the humanity and individual experiences of each survivor.
I want to write this for every survivor of sexual assault who — for one reason or another — cannot report their assault, for the survivors who never gained solace for the harm that was inflicted upon them, for the survivors who had to heal on their own before they could seek help. I want to bring light to those who don’t fit the normative idea of what a survivor is and who are overlooked in a dismissive and harmful manner by recent media coverage. Each survivor’s story matters and that includes the aftermath of an assault.