07 December, 2009

Syndicated Columnist Perpetuates Victim Blaming

Ann Dickinson is a syndicated columnist for the Chicago Tribune. During the week of November 27th, her column "Ask Amy" featured the following question and answer:

DEAR AMY: I recently attended a frat party, got drunk and made some bad decisions. I let a guy take me to "his" room. He promised he wouldn't do anything I wasn't comfortable with.

Many times, I clearly said I didn't want to have sex. He promised he wouldn't. Then he proceeded to go against what he "promised." I was shocked, and maybe being intoxicated made my reaction time slow in realizing what was happening.

I guess my question is, if I wasn't kicking and fighting him off, is it still rape? I feel like calling it that is a bit extreme, but I haven't felt the same since it happened. Am I a victim?


DEAR VICTIM?: First, thank you. I hope your letter will be posted on college bulletin boards everywhere. Were you a victim? Yes.

First, you were a victim of your own awful judgment. Getting drunk at a frat house is a hazardous choice because of the risk (some might say likelihood) you will engage in unwanted sexual contact.

You don't say if the guy also was drunk. If so, his judgment was also impaired.

No matter what: No means no. If you say no beforehand, the sex shouldn't happen. If you say no while it's happening, the sex should stop.

According to the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network website ( www.rainn.org): "Alcohol and drugs are not an excuse — or an alibi. The key question is still: Did you consent or not? Regardless of whether you were drunk or sober, if the sex is nonconsensual, it is rape. However, because each state has different definitions of "nonconsensual," please contact your local center or local police."

Go to your college's health department to be tested for STDs and pregnancy. See a counselor. You must involve the guy in question to determine what happened and because he must take responsibility and face the consequences, just as you are prepared to do. He may have done this before.

There are SEVERAL problems with this response to "Victim? in Virginia" (ViV). First of all, Amy Dickinson begins her answer by suggesting that the victim publicize her experience on "college bulletin boards everywhere." Why? So people can learn from her "mistakes?" Amy goes on to highlight ViV's "victim status" by asserting, "you were the victim of your own awful judgment." Really, Amy? Awful judgment? Was that necessary? While risk reduction is always a positive thing, I liken it to the flu: A person can eat healthy, exercise regularly, practice good hygiene, get a flu vaccine, and STILL GET THE FLU. Likewise, someone can forgo all of those risk reduction techniques and NOT GET THE FLU. Drinking at a fraternity party does not increase one's risk of being sexually assaulted. Furthermore, NOT drinking at fraternity parties will not prevent one from being sexually assaulted. As a philosophy student, one of the many logical rules drilled into our heads was, "correlation does not imply causation." In other words, perhaps Amy is right in saying that sexual assaults happen somewhat frequently at fraternity parties. That does not mean that because someone attends a fraternity party that they will get raped. It doesn't mean that because someone is drinking that they will get raped. It also doesn't mean that abstaining from those to activities will prevent rape. Amy is attempting to make a sweeping generalization about the victim's judgment based upon her own biases. Sadly, this is not an uncommon phenomenon. A sociological study done by Ashley Wenger, found that,

"In general, if sexual assault victims fail to achieve "legitimate victim status," ...victim substance use is one factor that is likely to detract from the victim's status. For example, female victims tend to be viewed as less credible, and held more accountable, if they were intoxicated rather than sober at the time of the assault (Hammock & Richardson, 1997; Schuller & Wall, 1998). Intoxicated victims are viewed as more "deserving" of such punishment because they had placed themselves in a high-risk situation (Wenger)."

By taking this position early on in her response to ViV, Amy is perpetuating the idea that victims who place themselves in "high-risk situations" are at least partially to blame for the incident. She is also negating anything positive that she says to the victim later in the response. She does recommend seeking a counselor and finding resources at RAINN.ORG, which is certainly positive. Unfortunately, since research has proven that the first response to a victim is usually the one that stands out most to them, any later redeeming comments by Amy are completely useless.

Amy goes on to ask about the perpetrator's level of intoxication during the attack. My question is, WHO CARES? Is a drunk driver who kills someone any less to blame for their actions because they were drunk? NO! In fact, it's quite the opposite. Because they were drinking they are more responsible because they made the CHOICE to get into a car. This perpetrator made a CHOICE to force himself upon an unwilling woman who was intoxicated. There is no fault here beyond that of the perpetrator. A common rape myth is that men lose control of themselves and "can't help it" when it comes to their sex drive, especially while intoxicated. This is a complete falsehood. Rape is about POWER and CONTROL. It is about the perpetrator's desire to violate the victim. Rape is not about sex. ViV wrote, "I let a guy take me to "his" room because he promised that he wouldn't do anything I wasn't comfortable with. Many times, I clearly said I didn't want to have sex, and he promised to my face that he wouldn't. Then he quickly proceeded to go against what he "promised." I was shocked, and maybe being intoxicated made my reaction time a bit slow in realizing what was happening." Even while intoxicated, the victim clearly communicated MANY TIMES that she did not wish to have sex with this man before going into a room with him. He "promised" that he would not do anything she was not comfortable with. Considering that he quickly "broke his promise" once he had the victim alone, it is clear that this attack was planned. The victim admits that her reactions were slow. She writes that she was (understandably) shocked at the man's actions. I fail to understand how Amy could feel anything but compassion for this victim.

The victim writes that she "hasn't felt the same" since the incident. This is a common reaction for victims of rape and sexual assault. Amy does not attempt to reassure the victim, she merely criticizes the victim, suggests that she confront her rapist to "find out what happened" (as if he would actually ADMIT it?). Amy also fails to suggest that the victim pursue legal recourse (reporting the incident to the police, filing a complaint on campus, etc.) Even if the victim was not interested in pursuing this option, the columnist should have offered it as an option.

This entire column made my blood boil. Here is a syndicated columnist perpetuating rape myths and flagrantly blaming the victim. There is a website (link below) with a petition asking Amy Dickinson to correct her victim blaming article and issue a formal apology. I'm also providing a link to the original column in the Chicago Tribune. I highly recommend signing the petition and writing an email to Amy (and her editors) criticizing this incredibly inappropriate advice and commentary.

The Petition:

The Column:

23 August, 2009

My life...or how I got here

Sexual and Relationship Violence Prevention Coordinator. Yeah, it's a mouthful. And for a long time, I didn't know exactly what I wanted to do with my life. I went through a lot of phases. I was Political Science/Pre-law, then I was Philosophy (undergrad), then I decided I needed a Master's degree so I became a Philosophy grad student, and about halfway through my program, I realized that Philosophy didn't fill that place either.

It didn't just start this spring. I can distinctly remember going to the Take Back the Night vigil at St. Joe's chapel in April of my freshmen year (2005), standing up in front of a few hundred people, and telling my story. It was frightening. It was terrifying. It was SO worth it. I felt empowered, like I'd reclaimed (at least temporarily) a part of me that had been stolen. That was the beginning of my realization.

In the next year at SJU, I took a few more baby steps toward my ultimate goal. However, it really wasn't until I transferred to West Chester and got involved in the Women's Center that I really started to transform. On a whim (and after a particularly painful breakup) I decided to try out for the Vagina Monologues in November of 2006. I met some amazing women and began to find my place at West Chester. The following year, I became president of the Women's Center club, a student worker at the Women's Center, and the Coordinator for the Vagina Monologues. I also began to take my passion into the academic sphere, writing a paper for my Contemporary Moral Issues class entitled, "She Asked for It: Examining Victim Blaming in Acquaintance Rape Cases." That paper was accepted to a Philosophy conference that spring, and earned a 3rd place recognition out of all the papers submitted from across the state. I was thrilled.

I graduated in May of 08 having already been accepted to the grad program at West Chester. I started classes in the fall and began to realize that I may have made a mistake. I wasn't excited about Philosophy like I used to be. However, in an attempt to make the best of things, I used two of my classes as opportunities to further my real interest, acquaintance rape awareness and prevention. For my Existentialism class, I wrote a paper entitled, "The Traumatic Aftermath of Acquaintance Rape" and for my Aesthetic Theory class, I did a journal project using entries that followed the incident. Both were well received by my professors, and I began to feel whole again.

In February, I submitted the "traumatic aftermath" paper to five conferences, mostly to see if I'd get in to ANY of them. My paper was accepted to ALL of them. I didn't expect that. So in March, I flew to Cleveland and presented at the Eastern Society for Women in Philosophy; in April I drove to NYC and presented at the philoSOPHIA Feminist Philosophy conference, and in July I came full circle and presented at a Social Philosophy conference held at (you guessed it) St. Joe's. With my dad and his g/f in the audience, I felt like I was on top of the world.

While all that academic stuff went on, I had been doing a few things on the side. In April, I attended a screening of "Speak Out and Stand Up," a documentary produced by Security on Campus, which is an organization that focuses on Sexual Assault Prevention Education. I met with the program director and she hired me as a Peer Educator. I went to a high school in Bucks County and gave three 90-minute presentations on Sexual Assault Prevention/Awareness. I felt on top of the world. Security on Campus also hired me (and paid me $500) to design a study guide, discussion guide, and pre/post-test to go along with the documentary. These documents would be nationally published and sent to colleges all over the country.

A few weeks ago, I took a Crime Victim Advocacy class, which was a 40 hour training to volunteer with the Crime Victims Center of Chester County. I met some fantastic people, and a few of them had actually heard of me, which was a pretty incredible moment to experience.

Finally, Adale (the new director of the Women's Center) decided to give me a title and position in the Women's Center, which led to the mouthful title at the beginning of the post. I now coordinate all of the SRVP activities on campus, give presentations, design programs, begin to form a group for Men as Allies, and I'll be running a peer-based support group for Survivors of Sexual Assault/Domestic Violence.

Last week, Adale and I participated in a sexual assault panel in front of about 50 new Resident Assistants. We both spoke, and afterward a few students came up to thank me for my presentation. I felt high. This is what I want to do with my life. Nothing up to this point has given me this sort of contentment. It feels great.

24 June, 2009

Insightful passage

This passage was written by a girl who, at 15, was raped by her 17 year old boyfriend. She was also abused by him multiple times during the course of the relationship. She writes about how it affected her life, and her future marriage (to another man).

"Through the abusive relationship, I was taught that I existed only for sex. I felt as though if i couldn't be good for anything else, I would be very good at sex. My present husband was the first person I went out with following the abusive relationship. My Boundaries were gone. I became promiscuous with my (then future) husband early in our dating relationship. I never told him "No." I don't think I would have said "No" to anyone at that point. Thank God my future husband valued me more than I valued myself.

Throughout our dating and early marital relationship, I used sex to try to fix any problems between us. Anytime my husband touch me or winked, and so on, I responded sexually. It was overkill. He gradually stopped touching me because he did not want sex that often. I then felt rejected and was even more sexually aggressive. It was a vicious circle. I began being unfaithful to my husband--looking for validation of my attractiveness, and so on. My self-esteem sank even lower...For so long, I had functioned as a "sex machine." I worked really hard to be good at sex and to fulfill my partner. I worked so hard at it that I was unable to relax and reach orgasm, which in turn frustrated my husband."

quoted in: Intimate Betrayal: Understanding and Responding to the Trauma of Acquaintance Rape, page 46.

02 May, 2009

Paper in progress

The Traumatic Aftermath of Acquaintance Rape
*Trigger Warning*

This paper seeks to uncover the traumatic effects of acquaintance rape on the self and debunk the notion that stranger rape is the most damaging. It will examine acquaintance rape from an existentialist and feminist perspective, drawing on the philosophies of Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone De Beauvoir for the conception of self. It will include testimony from acquaintance rape survivors. While it does not at all seek to minimize the trauma experienced by stranger rape survivors, the paper strives to expand the common notion of what constitutes trauma. Many consider acquaintance rape the “preferable” type of rape because they view it as somehow less terrifying and dangerous. This could not be further from the truth. Although there may or may not be imminent threat of death or bodily harm, I argue that the after-effects can be as severe, if not more severe, than stranger rape because the former constitutes a gross violation of trust.

Sartre and De Beauvoir discuss the Self in terms of its relation to others. There is an important distinction between being-for-itself (the subject) and being-in-itself (the object)[1]. Feminist thinkers have come to view these writings as applicable to rape trauma because it objectifies the survivor through the act, and she in turn objectifies herself in an attempt to distance herself from the trauma. While the focus of many of the articles in my research revolved around rape trauma from stranger rape, this paper explores the idea that acquaintance rape is more objectifying than stranger rape, because the perpetrator is normally someone who has the trust of the woman. I want to stress—this paper does not in any way try to undermine the pain and terror associated with stranger rape. It merely attempts to bring the trauma of acquaintance rape into the spotlight belonging solely to stranger rape for so long. Survivors of rape often engage in self-objectifying behavior ranging from de-sexualization, (cutting hair and wearing baggy clothes), to over-sexualization, (engaging in unsafe sexual behavior). This behavior, on either side of the spectrum can be potentially problematic for the survivor’s sense of self.

Through the writings of Susan Brison, we will hear a feminist critique of the rape experience. We will also consult various feminist thinkers who can provide insight into the philosophical and psychological aftermath of acquaintance rape. Simone De Beauvoir’s The Second Sex is incredibly useful to see the feminist implications for being-in-itself and being-for-itself. Finally, this paper will draw on the personal experiences of three women who are survivors of acquaintance rape to get first-hand accounts of the effects in their lives.

Susan Brison, a rape survivor and philosophy professor, describes the importance of this issue, saying, “Sexual violence and its aftermath raise numerous philosophical issues in a variety of areas in our discipline. The disintegration of the self experience by victims of violence challenges our notions of personal identity over time…”[2] Since the notion of the self is so vital to Continental thought, it seems helpful to examine the existentialist concepts of self, which are held by Simone De Beauvoir and Jean-Paul Sartre. For the latter, human beings are characterized by facticity (what is true about an individual at any given time) and transcendence, (an individual’s knowledge of his/herself and awareness of it). Being-in-itself or ĂȘtre en soi is simply an object like a stapler or rock. Sartre points out that interaction with others are necessarily ones of conflict, because they represent a threat to one’s personal freedom by his or her existence, in that the person’s perception of one “objectifies” oneself as a mere object in the world. One can only combat this threat by treating the other person as an object without freedom, or trying to possess the person’s freedom. Rape is a crime of power and it is an example of a being-for-itself trying to possess the freedom of another being-for-itself and turn her into a being-in-itself. De Beauvoir explains the relationship between men and women saying,

…what peculiarly signalizes the situation of woman is that she—a free and autonomous being like all human creatures—nevertheless finds herself living in a world where men compel her to assume the status of the Other. They propose to stabilize her as object and to doom her to immanence since her transcendence is to be overshadowed and forever transcended by another ego (conscience) which is essential and severing.[3]

Women are compelled daily to assume a secondary status…it is evidenced in pop culture as well as interpersonal relationships. It is rare to see billboards of naked men in submissive positions, or hear a man be subject to catcalls while walking down the street. Likewise, it is less common to have a woman attempt to take advantage of her close relationship with a man physically to exact what she wants from him. Sadly, the reverse situation is significantly more common.

In rape trauma, the person’s fundamental project is drastically disrupted in at least two respects. First, one’s sexual project—i.e., one’s chosen sexual being-in-the-world—is radically altered, and in this way, all of the other embedded projects, such as one’s relation to others…are similarly affected. Second, one’s sense of safety and trust is seriously undermined, as is made evident by such commonly reported post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms.[4]

Brison’s point about a person’s fundamental project is a decidedly Sartrean claim. In Existentialism is a Humanism, Sartre describes the first effect of existentialism saying, “…it puts every man in possession of himself as he is, and places the entire responsibility for his existence squarely upon his own shoulders.”[5] After a rape, the woman is no longer in possession of herself, and thus no longer responsible for her existence for the duration of the trauma. Without that sense of control, she cannot hope to have an authentic existence until she regains it. Furthermore, in Being and Nothingness, Sartre discusses the effects of the “look” of the Other. Michelle Darnell describes it saying, “I am aware of my full existence in the world, including my freedom, and the vulnerability of my being, when I am looked at…That which looks at me, which brings my whole existence into the world, and thus objectifies my existence, cannot be an object, but another subject.”[6] If the gaze of the Other can be considered objectifying, then rape is exponentially more objectifying. This notion is supported by Susan Brison in her essay, Outliving Oneself, where she writes,

The study of trauma also replaces the traditional philosophical puzzle about whether the soul can survive the death of the body with the question of whether the self can reconstitute itself after obliteration at the hands of another—that is, after what Cathy Winkler (1991) has labeled “social murder”…Indeed the victims inability to be—and assert—her self in the context of a rape constitutes at least a temporary social death, one from which a self can be resurrected only with great difficulty and with the help of others.[7]

The Rape Abuse Incest National Network defines acquaintance rape as, “Acquaintance assault involves coercive sexual activities that occur against a person's will by means of force, violence, duress, or fear of bodily injury. These sexual activities are imposed upon them by someone they know (a friend, date, acquaintance, etc.)”[8]

Based on that definition, the following three passages are firsthand accounts of acquaintance rape. Survivor stories can illustrate the reality of the trauma and its real-world effects. The following are three stories from college women, one of them being my own. Names have been changed for anonymity.

Lily was a third year student, had a friend over to her dorm room late at night to study, and he raped her. She was not dressed provocatively—she was wearing pajamas. They had not been drinking, merely spending time in her room studying. Her roommate was not home at the time. When she went to the police to report it, the (female) detective who interviewed her said, “Well, you know, you shouldn’t have boys over at two o’clock in the morning.” She implied that Lily was at least partially to blame because she invited this man over to her room to study. Although she had no idea what he was going to do, or any reason to suspect that he would rape her, the detective still made her feel at least somewhat responsible for the crime. In the weeks and months that followed, Lily withdrew from her normal activities. Although an active member of her sorority, she refused to go to mixers or even the Spring Formal, which was the most anticipated event of the year. Her grades suffered, and her GPA of 3.5 slipped to a 3.0 as a result of that semester.

During her second year, Jane was at a fraternity house with some friends. It was not a wild party, just approximately ten friends spending time together on a weekend. She was of age, and drank one beer. After her beer, she began to feel lightheaded and disoriented. She laid down on the couch and fell asleep. When she woke up, she was unclothed and in a bed with one of the males at the party. She had no idea what happened, or how she got there. She realized later that someone at the party had drugged her, because she was sure that one beer would not have caused her to pass out. When the police interviewed her weeks later, they chastised her for drinking. She argued that she only had one beer, but her interviewers were unsympathetic. Jane did not have a rape kit done or blood tests to prove that date rape drugs were involved because after the event she went home, took a hot shower, and laid in bed for two days. She was still dealing with the shock of the rape. The District Attorney refused to prosecute because Jane did not have enough evidence. Like Lily, she began to withdraw from her normal activities. She stopped drinking completely and avoided being alone with men at all costs. She went home every weekend just to be around her family so she could feel safe. When she started dating a guy several months later, she insisted they take things very slow. Even when she felt comfortable enough to kiss him, she had a flashback of the incident and broke things off with him shortly after. She has just recently sought counseling.

Finally, Nicole was over at her ex-boyfriend’s house spending the afternoon listening to music. They were down in his basement and he began wrestling with her. Then he started wrestling clothes off, once he got her to the ground. Suddenly, and unexpectedly, there was something inside of her. She said it was painful, but was shocked and didn’t know what was going on. He rolled off her to get a condom. She sat up and informed him that she did not want to lose her virginity. He simply replied, "Penetration is virginity, so it's gone." He continued, “You might as well just let me finish, it's not like you're a virgin anymore.” She laid down, more in shock than anything, and he finished. She was thirteen years old, and in eighth grade. Her perpetrator divulged his “conquest” to many of his friends at the high school, so when she started high school in the fall, she already had a reputation for being a “slut.” Unlike the other two women who withdrew from all things sexual, she became hyper-sexualized and saw herself as nothing more than an object. Her only definition was as a vehicle for pleasure, because she lacked the self-confidence to see herself as anything but. She is still undergoing extensive counseling to break out of the “sexual object” mindset.

These three cases illustrate various situations in which a woman may find herself at any given time. They are not random occurrences. Spending an evening with friends, having someone over to study late at night before finals, or going over to an ex-boyfriend’s house are not extraordinary circumstances. Many women find difficulty in immediately identifying their experience as rape. When the perpetrator is an acquaintance and the woman is spending time with him voluntarily, the lines are not nearly as clear compared to a stranger in a dark alley. Each of these women suffered from rape trauma in varying degrees. Sandra Caron describes the symptoms of the women whom she interviewed saying, “the most common responses were: a heightened distrust of other people and especially men, feeling guilty about what happened, and feeling angry…a feeling of isolation, strained relationships with others, low-self esteem, and sadness were other common responses.”[9]

Trauma is a common result of all rapes and sexual assaults. What differentiates acquaintance rape from stranger rape, besides the gross violation of trust, is the ongoing trauma. Many rape survivors are prone to flashbacks of the rape. Traumatic flashbacks coupled with the reality of seeing the rapist on a regular basis make the recovery process significantly more difficult.

Finally, we will consider two vital statistics regarding acquaintance rape. “Seventy percent (70%) of completed rapes in 2006 were committed by non-strangers”[10] Seventy percent—that is a staggering number. This statistic is even more poignant: “31% of rape victims develop some form of rape-related Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).”[11] What these statistics tell us is that not only is acquaintance rape common, it results in almost a third of the survivors developing some form of PTSD. Common symptoms of PTSD could take up several pages, but generally there are physical symptoms (rapid heartbeat, uncontrollable shaking, nausea); emotional symptoms, (depression, anger, self-blame); and sexual symptoms, (de-sexualization or hyper-sexualization).[12] These symptoms are detrimental to a woman’s sense of self. The most problematic aspect of rape trauma in acquaintance rape is that the trauma does not end with the act itself. “Women may be hesitant to characterize their experience as a crime for a number of reasons including: embarrassment, not clearly understanding the legal definition of rape, not wanting to define someone they know as a rapist, self-blame, or because others blame them.”[13]

I do not argue that stranger rape is not traumatic. As we just learned, Post-traumatic Stress Disorder is common among all rape survivors. However, I find the continued minimization of acquaintance rape troubling on several levels. First, acquaintance rape survivors are less likely to report their rapes because they fear judgment and skepticism. Second, these survivors are also less likely to seek support from family members and friends because the perpetrator could be a member of that circle. Finally, it contributes to an overwhelming societal tendency to blame the victim and rationalize the rape, which traumatizes the victim months and years after the incident occurred.

It is evident based on the research presented here and the testimonies of the three survivors that acquaintance rape is as severe, if not more severe, in its impact on the self of the woman who was raped. Robin Warshaw, author of I Never Called It Rape sums up the concept succinctly saying, “Acquaintance rape is a crime, and no less a crime because the perpetrator has a familiar face.”[14]

[1] The “being for itself” and “being in itself” are phrases coined by Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone De Beauvoir.

[2] Brison, S. (2001). Aftermath: Violence and the Remaking of a Self. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

[3] Beauvoir, S. (1993). The Second Sex (Everyman’s Library (Cloth)). New York: Everyman’s Library

[4] Mui, C. (2005). A Feminist-Sartrean Approach to Understanding Rape Trauma. Sartre Studies International , 11(1 &2), 153-165

[5] Sartre, J. (2007). Existentialism is a Humanism. New Haven: Yale University Press.

[6] Darnell, M. (2004). “Being-looked-at: Ontological Grounding for an Ethics in Being and Nothingness”, page 21. Sartre Studies International, Volume 10, Issue 1, 2004. Retrieved 12/3/2008 from http://search.ebscohost.com /login.aspx? direct=true&db=aph&AN=15629718&site=ehost-live&scope=site.

[7] Brison, S. in Feminists Rethink the Self (Feminist Theory and Politics Series). Oxford: Westview Press, pg. 18.

[8] Acquaintance Rape | RAINN | Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network. (n.d.). Retrieved December 14, 2008, from http://www.rainn.org/get-information/types-of-sexual-assault/acquaintance-rape.

[9] Caron, S. (2007). Assessing the Impact of Acquaintance Rape: Interviews with Women Who Are Victims/Survivors of Sexual Assault While in College. Journal of College Student Psychotherapy, Vol. 22 (2): pg. 43.

[10] "Bureau of Justice Statistics Criminal Victimization, 2006." Office of Justice Programs. 20 Feb. 2009 .

[11] National Center for Victims of Crime & Crime Victims Research and Treatment Center. (1992). The National Center for Victims of Crime - Home. http://www.ncvc.org/ncvc/main.aspx?dbName=DocumentViewer&DocumentID=32306 (accessed February 20, 2009).

[12] Mui, C. (2005). A Feminist-Sartrean Approach to Understanding Rape Trauma. Sartre Studies International, 11(1 & 2), pg. 157.

[13] Caron, S. (2007). Assessing the Impact of Acquaintance Rape: Interviews with Women Who Are Victims/Survivors of Sexual Assault While in College. Journal of College Student Psychotherapy, Vol. 22, pg. 33.

[14] Warshaw, R. I Never Called It Rape : The Ms. Report on Recognizing, Fighting, and Surviving Date Rape. New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 1988, pg. 4.

Analysis of project

Contrary to what many would think, I did not become interested in rape trauma immediately after my rape at age 13. I spent several years in denial before the reality of the situation finally sunk in. Looking back after becoming more knowledgeable about the after-effects of acquaintance rape, I began seeing the effects in my life throughout high school and most of college. In the course of my research in the past two years, I began making connections and realized how typical my reactions were of an acquaintance rape survivor. The more I researched, the more I wanted to know. It is cathartic for me to share my story and learn more about how this situation affects other survivors. The most troubling thing that I found in the course of my research was how few people truly understand what the survivor has experienced. That inability to empathize, coupled with the tendency to rationalize the rape and/or blame the victim, provided me the impetus to do this project.

I never experienced to trauma narratives before taking this class. When it was discussed at the beginning of the semester, it seemed like an ideal way to convey the depth of emotion experienced by the survivor. How better to explain what the survivor is feeling than to have access to her journal and read her thoughts? Of course, when I initially conceived this project, I did not anticipate that I would be using my own story or emotions as showcase.

Using my story as fodder for the narrative was born from trying, (unsuccessfully), to create a fictional narrative. It seemed so contrived to fabricate emotions and situations when there were so many people who had real stories and real emotions to share. Selecting my story had an empowering effect, so I knew it was the right choice. The next hurdle was trying to remember exactly what I felt at various times in my life that would fit well into the narrative. Since it has been ten years since the incident and only about five years since I truly accepted it, my emotional experience was interspersed with many other factors in my life. Thankfully, a solution presented itself. In February 2003, I began writing in an online journal. In it, I recorded mundane happenings in my life, big events, song lyrics, personal surveys, notes to myself, and various other textual accounts of my life as I experienced it. I spent a few hours going back through my archived entries and trying to stir up memories that I could use in my narrative. It worked. Three hours and a box of tissues later, my memories were fresh and ready for recording. Since my healing took place over a ten year period (and is still not complete), the applicable entries were dotted quite sporadically. I read them closely and came up with a more reasonable time line for my purposes.

My first entry is unlike most of the other entries. The writing style is immature and choppy. I intended it that way. I wanted to convey the awkwardness and naivete of a virgin girl who had little prior sexual experience. I wanted to highlight that immediate recollection of the incident to contrast it with later entries as the depression becomes more apparent, but also the growth takes place. Rape forces a young woman to grow up quickly. That is what I hoped to portray by differing the writing styles. In addition, the first entry discussed the event from a detached perspective, indicating that there was a sense of shock and denial (i.e. the reality had not yet “sunk in.”)

The July 4th entry was a textbook demonstration of the second stage of the grief process—pain and guilt. I wanted to experiment with font and capitalization to convey the first tiny question why followed by greater and greater urgency and pain associated with this basic question. It conveys a sense of loneliness and isolation (I just want someone to hold me) coupled with the reality that at the moment, there was no one to talk to except the journal and God. The section at the end is almost a poem—a prayer—an urgent plea to take away the pain, but to no avail.

With the July 6th entry, I wanted to show examples of the ways that rape trauma can manifest physically and mentally. Mentally reliving the incident caused nausea and loss of appetite. It also affected a part of my life (horseback riding) that up to that point had always been a source of solace. I hoped to convey the idea that even after a few days, a rape victim can lose interest in food and other activities that would normally be sources of enjoyment. The July 7th entry travels along a similar vein, with the continuation of no appetite but with the added symptoms of crying and sleeplessness.

In the July 10th essay, I took a break from first person and gave it a bit of a second person perspective, in an attempt to draw in the reader. It had to be believable, so I couldn’t use “we” as academics sometimes do to make the reader feel included. I used “you” to drive home the idea that it can happen to “you” the reader. It seemed to make it more real. The tone and tempo of the entry when I wrote it felt almost like running when out of breath. There was a sense of heart beating faster, desperation, trying to run unsuccessfully.

The August 21st entry, over a month later, feels angry. There is bitterness and resentment. There is full realization now, and the social implications have already begun to manifest. Survivors feel objectified. It’s a learned objectification, as a coping method in some cases. Sexual assault is polarizing, and while some survivors become asexual, many become hyper-sexual. This entry served to foreshadow how that would affect my life in the months and years to come.

Depression is one of the most common developments for rape survivors. It can range from daily sadness to thoughts of suicide. That was a particularly low point in my life, and I distinctly remember the desire to cease my existence. It was unbearable to be in so much emotional pain. I never actually made a formal plan to kill myself; I just toyed with possible scenarios.

I chose to include a poem I’d written that I found when going back through my old journal entries. It is another example of the tempo I described above, the mood seeming to indicate someone running but not fast enough to outrun the pain. The allusion to “My solace/my sanctuary/my school” came from my desire to get as far away as I could from my high school. I wanted to put lots of distance between the cruel students in my school and myself. I chose an expensive Catholic school near Philadelphia because only two students in the history of my high school had ever attended there and I would be able to start anew. I discovered within the first year of my attendance that although I could put distance between myself and the incident (and my high school classmates), I could not get away from my own mind. After I began repeating old habits and getting a bit of a “reputation," I realized that I couldn’t outrun my past.

The January 2nd entry allowed me to have a self-talk to admit that my behavior had been spiraling out of control and that I was to the point that I needed help. It took many years but finally in April of my sophomore year, I stood up at the Take Back the Night speak out and publicly admitted what had been done to me. It was a turning point.

The final entry is bittersweet. I wanted to show that with therapy, one can begin to heal, but I didn’t want to end it on a completely rosy note because although the healing process had begun, I was still far from being okay again. The difference was that I now had a commitment to myself to change. Hence the Dashboard Confessional lyrics at the end, “This is where I say I’ve had enough/And no one should ever feel the way that I feel now.” It was a call to action, a promise that I would devote myself to trying to prevent this from happening to other women. I finally realized my true purpose in life. That entry was written on April 25th, 2009 directly after my final therapy session.

Journal Project

For one of my graduate classes, we were asked to complete a semester-long project in which we attempted to create a philosophical work in a non-traditional way. I chose to write a trauma narrative in the form of a journal, based on my own experiences. My goal was to give readers who were not survivors of rape a chance to see one survivors deepest and most secret thoughts in an attempt to give them an inkling of what survivors experience. This is not to say that all survivors react this way--everyone reacts differently--but I hoped to convey the range of emotions that can stem from that one life-changing event. My next post will be my critical analysis and explanation of my project. *Major Trigger Warning*

July 3rd, 2005

Dear Journal,

Yesterday I was at Gary's house, so was Dave. Dave was supposed to be meeting his girlfriend for some afternoon romping, and I was going to hang out with Gary. The two boys were smoking weed. I don't smoke, so I didn't have any. Gary kept blowing it in my face. I couldn't help but inhale some of it. I don't remember how we ended up in the basement, but he started trying to wrestle me. I thought we were just joking around, so I fought back a little. Then he started wrestling clothes off, once he got me to the ground. I tried to protect my clothes, but I couldn't do top and bottom at once. I remember he looked at me and said, "You have to give one of them up" so I gave up my shirt. Then he proceeded to wrestle off my pants. So there I was, clad in just a bra and panties. The panties went next. I was still on the ground. He kissed me...we'd done that before. Something was different though...I felt more out of it. He put his hand between my legs. He started to finger me. I was still struggling a little. He said something, but I can't remember what. Something to the effect of, "come on, you know you like it." Next thing I know, there's something a lot bigger than a finger inside me. It hurt. I was tight. I was so shocked; I didn't know what was going on. He rolled off me to get a condom. I sat up...told him I didn't want to lose my virginity. He simply replied, "Penetration is virginity, so it's gone." So nonchalantly, like we were talking about the fucking weather. He's continued, “You might as well just let me finish, it's not like you're a virgin anymore.” I lay down, more in shock than anything, and he finished. There was a puddle on the floor. I dressed in a daze, and walked down the street to meet my dad, who didn't know I had been at his house. I felt like there was something between my thighs keeping them from completely closing.

July 4th, 2005

Dear Journal,

I think I was raped. I didn’t want to have sex with Gary, and yet, we did. I never said I wanted to have sex or that it was okay for him to have sex with me, but he did.






July 6th, 2005

Dear Journal,

Haven't eaten in 24 hours. I was too upset to ride yesterday. In my entire life, that has never happened to me. Horseback riding has always been the one thing that gets me through whatever I was going though. Not yesterday. I went down the barn, groomed Snickers as if I was going to ride her, and then it was just like...I can't. I was thinking about what happened too much. I went to work in a daze, and when I got home and tried to go to sleep, I just laid awake, thinking about it. It makes me sick. Every time I would start to get hungry, I’d think of it and just feel nauseous.

July 7th, 2005

Dear Journal,

I haven't eaten in 36 hours, minus a cup of broccoli cheddar yesterday. I've slept a grand total of 12 hours in the last three days. I can't sleep; I can't eat. All I can do is cry. My eyes are swollen and red. My contacts don't even work because all the tears dried them out.

July 10th, 2005

I’m not planning this out in my head. The words are just going to flow. I hurt right now. So badly. I want you to know what I’m feeling. Every emotion. Anger, betrayal, depression, sadness. You can’t possibly understand being violated by the person you thought you could trust. Having a person force you to engage in that one sacred act, that act of love, against your will. Wanting to run, to scream, to tear through your skin and rip out your heart. Just wanting to sleep, to die, to be unconscious, something to make the pain vanish for a while. Hoping that sleep would bring release but finding yourself restless and tossing and turning, or worse, haunted by nightmares that are so much more vivid than what you pictured while awake. The nausea. The constant nausea every time you so much as think the word "food." Why would you want to eat when you'd rather die? The hurt - the realization that you put your faith in someone who could violate it. The self-loathing...thinking if you had just been better, done this, done that, this wouldn't have happened. The somber acceptance that it did happen, and nothing they say will ever change it. The hatred. Hating him for making you hurt, wanting to hurt him, wanting to see his emotions, wanting him to hurt as much as you do so he would never hurt anyone like this ever again. The prayer. Praying, begging, screaming, asking, God why is this happening? Asking what you did to deserve it. Hoping that He will take your pain away. Waiting, and waiting, and realizing that the solace will not come. Wanting to run forever, run so far that no one will catch you or find you, hoping to outrun the pain. Never being able to. Feeling helpless. There’s nothing you could do to stop it. There’s nothing you can do to change it. There’s nothing you can do at all, except try to survive. But part of you doesn't even want to. You contemplate going out into traffic and hoping an ignorant driver hits you. It sounds crazy. It is crazy. I realized that I lost a piece of myself that day. Now maybe you’ll understand a small shadow of what it’s like.

August 21st, 2005

Dear Journal,

I hate him for what he did to me...how he made me think my body was the only part of me that would ever get a man's attention. How he made me feel like I was just an object for pleasure. How he made me lose respect for myself. But mostly, I hate myself for letting him get away with it. I was told he's done it to two other girls. Virgins. It could have stopped with me.

August 31st, 2005

Dear Journal,

I’m back at school now. I can’t focus in class, so I wrote a poem today.



Fenced in


Can’t take the pressure

Everyone is watching



Like I’m an experiment

I need to get out



Go far away from here


I can’t take this anymore

Going to explode

I can’t lose it again

This was supposed to be

My solace

My sanctuary

My school

Where no one could find me

Where I would be far away

Now it’s my prison

January 2nd, 2006

Dear Journal,

It’s been months since it happened. I’ve begun doing things I never expected. I have been sleeping around. I started dating Bruce a few weeks ago and slept with him almost immediately. I didn’t mean to, but it just happened. I’m afraid to be alone, I’m afraid of rejection, and I’m addicted to the attention that I receive from guys. As long as a guy will give me the emotional things I need, I can forgive lying and manipulating. I’ll do whatever it takes to get more of that attention, even have sex with him.

I’ve slept with boys in the past few months because I needed their attention. I am convinced that my only marketable feature is my body. I told Bruce last night, I feel like I’m not worthy enough on my own merits…I have to sleep with a guy, because I fear that if I don’t, I will be left for someone prettier, smarter, and/or more willing to do such things. I feel as though I’m in constant competition for the males in my life, and I won’t ever be able to just relax and enjoy a relationship. I have a deep-seated fear of being alone, and an even deeper fear of never truly being respected and cared for.

January 15th, 2006

Dear Journal,

I started seeing a therapist. She’s helping me through this, and making me realize how much of my recent behavior stemmed from Gary raping me over the summer. It has affected me on every possible level.

Rape. It’s a funny word to say. Something you read about in the newspaper but never actually think will happen to you. It happens to other people. It happens in dark alleys. It doesn’t happen in the basement of your ex-boyfriend’s house with your mutual friend upstairs, seemingly oblivious. It doesn’t happen when you’re a virgin hoping to save yourself for someone who truly cares.

And even if it does happen, you call the police right? You do the things they teach you in school. But what happens when you’re out when your parents think you’re at a friend’s house? What happens when it takes you a few days to even fully comprehend what happened? Why can’t I just erase this from my memory instead of feeling like it now defines every action I take and every emotion I feel? How can I keep this from happening to other people? No one should ever feel the way that I feel now. I found these lyrics from Dashboard Confessional that seem so applicable…

This is where I say
I've had enough
And no one should ever feel
The way that I feel now.
A walking open wound,
A trophy display of bruises
And I don't believe
That I'm getting any better

01 May, 2009

Security on Campus

"Security On Campus, Inc. is a unique 501(c)(3) non-profit grass roots organization dedicated to safe campuses for college and university students. It was co-founded in 1987 by Connie & Howard Clery, following the murder of their daughter at Lehigh University. Jeanne Clery was a freshman when she was beaten, raped and murdered in her dormitory room on April 5, 1986. Jeanne's assailant was another Lehigh student who murdered Jeanne during his attempt to commit robbery as she slept. They did not know each other.

The Clerys quickly discovered they were not alone in their grief. Across the nation, violent and non-violent incidents had been reported to campus authorities, but administrators failed to warn students about crime. As early as 1980, the FBI Uniform Crime Report for colleges expressed alarm at the rapid growth of campus violence related to alcohol and drug abuse.

They were concerned that only 4 percent of higher education institutions were reporting campus crime, even though most schools have state authorized police forces. In 1996, a U.S. Department of Education survey of approximately 1,000 schools revealed 9,550 violent crimes were reported to campus police during 1994: 20 Murders; 5,090 Aggravated Assaults; 2,590 Sexual Assaults; and 3,130 Robberies. Property Crimes reported to campus Police totaled 37,780; 20,430 Liquor Law Violations; 7,230 Drug Arrests; and 1,960 Weapon Possessions.

Surveys by rape crisis centers have concluded that rape and sexual assault are commonplace on many campuses. One in ten women will be raped during their years in college. Studies have revealed that 80% of crime is student on student.

Alcohol is involved in 90% of college crime. Date rape drugs are creating thousands of victims.

Security On Campus, Inc. believes that students and parents have the right to know about criminal activity on college and university campuses. Many schools are still not accurately reporting crime. Parents have the right to know about the academic and conduct failures of their students under age twenty-one."
- Taken from the Security on Campus website: www.securityoncampus.org

***Note from me:***
This organization does a lot of sexual assault prevention programs and peer education for high schools and colleges. They also do outreach for sexual assault survivors. I'll be working with them over the summer and hopefully will have an internship with them starting in the fall. This is exactly what I want to do in the future so I'm really excited about it.

First entry

This blog will showcase my research about acquaintance rape, as well as provide a safe space for survivors to discuss their experiences. I am a graduate student working on an MA in Philosophy, but I have done extensive coursework in Women's Studies, especially female sexuality.