It's on all of us: Naomi Zeigler urges AU to support survivors
I was thirteen when I first understood what the word “rape” really meant. I had read Alice Sebold’s "The Lovely Bones;" it was one of those novels that I read too early, I was too young to cope with the text. Although I never finished the book, from the moment I read of Susie Salmon’s rape, it became one of my greatest fears. I developed an apprehension of older males, like the novel’s villain. I hid from them when I walked around antique stores by myself. I felt my skin crawl whenever I thought they were looking at me, staring at me, as I crossed the street. I imagined a stranger waiting for me in the darkness as I walked around my neighborhood at night. Now, seven years later, a part of me wonders if perhaps I could have prevented my greatest fear from happening to me. Maybe if I had not been running from imaginary strangers in the night,Iwould have noticed the danger of the boy who took me to his prom and the man who took me to Kramerbooks and Afterwords.
Both times I was raped, I didn’t shout or struggle. I didn’t put up any fight at all. When it was over, they smiled at me, walked me to my door, kissed me goodnight and said, “I had a great time, I’ll see you again soon.” And they did. Sometimes I replay these moments over and over in my head to try to make sense of them. I remember how they complimented me, bought me dinner, and told me I was special. I remember how I remained silent even when all I wanted was to scream. I remember looking at myself in the mirror and feeling like I had lost something. People tell me that I’m assertive, aggressive, even abrasive. I ask myself how I was none of these things when I needed to be.
As a member of the Peer Educators for the Elimination of Relationship and Sexual Violence, one of the most important things we tell people during our workshops is that one of the most common reactions to sexual violence is to freeze. It isn’t a matter of fight or flight. Sometimes violence is immobilizing.
My silence was not consent and my lack of resistance did not mean that I was not a victim. He was my boyfriend and he was my Tinder date, but they are still my rapists and nothing will change that truth. It has been a work in progress for me to realize that this is my answer, this is the sense that I can make of the situation. It wasn’t my fault, it isn’t my fault.
Every April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month. According to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center, one in five women and one in sixteen men will be sexually assaulted during their time in college. Supporting survivors goes beyond quoting the White House’s It’s on Us campaign. We are called to do more than attend Take Back the Night and wear teal colored pins. Nearly every month, crime alerts are posted on the walls of residence halls, reminding us that this is not a problem that will just go away. Creating a ‘communityofcare’thatbelieves,supports and listens to survivors means holding ourselves, our peers, our administrators and our school accountable, regardless of how painful that may be. It means challenging ourselves to do more instead of lying stagnant and falling back on what progress we have already made.
Our work has just begun and now, it’s on all of us to make strides of change each month of the year.
Naomi Zeigler is a junior in the College of Arts and Sciences and the Opinion Editor for The Eagle.
If you or someone you know has been sexually assaulted, you are not alone. On campus resources include the Office of Advocacy Services for Interpersonal and Sexual Violence at the Wellness Center (OASIS@american.edu) and the Counseling Center (walk-in hours from 2 - 4 pm every weekday).