When I woke up this morning a friend had mailed me this anonymous article by a current under-graduate about Harvard’s mishandling of her sexual assault case. “This made me think of you,” my friend wrote.
Five years ago, I, too, had written an anonymous article published in another newspaper about a similar topic.
I, too, went to Harvard, and years later (when I least expected it), I was raped. Ever since that day in April 2008 — when I was pushed into the mud by a violent 15-year-old boy — I’ve been thinking a lot about how our society handles the problem of rape. Most of the time, it doesn’t do a very good job. Even at Harvard, they’ve screwed it up.
Some might say my own experience of sexual assault is very different from that of the anonymous Harvard student. I was raped by a stranger in Belfast, Northern Ireland, who followed me when I was walking in a park in the middle of the day. She was raped by a friend in his dorm room, after a night of drinking.
My rape was the stuff of lurid headlines — newspapers afterward screamed: “Tourist dragged into the bushes and brutally raped.” Her rape was the kind no one wants to talk about, even though it happens all the time, behind closed doors.
They’re both rape, but as devastating as mine might seem, I would find it more devastating to be deceived first by a friend and then by my university. And yet, this student is hardly alone in her experience of an indifferent campus.
In 2012, Angie Epifano wrote a scathing article about her rape at Amherst College by another student, which eventually triggered an obligatory President’s Statement. But did her speaking out bring a significant change to how sexual assault is handled on college campuses?
Since my own rape, I’ve become much more aware of how under-reported a crime this is, with one in four women experiencing at least an attempted assault in their lifetime. In fact, I sometimes marvel that I made it through college unscathed. At Harvard, I was often drunk. I had lots of guy friends. Why wasn’t I ever raped? And then I realize how ridiculous it is, that in one of the world’s most prestigious institutions of higher learning, I should consider myself lucky that I didn’t manage to be assaulted during my four years there.
And yet, years after I graduated, the statistics caught up to me. In Belfast, my attacker was ultimately caught, convicted, and sentenced to eight years in prison. Again, I realize how lucky I am that my rapist was convicted — something which only happens in 6 percent of reported rapes in the United Kingdom. I also know how lucky we are to be living in the 21st century, where technology can lead to the identification and arrest of rapists, and where a democratic justice system can supposedly uphold the rights of victims. In medieval times and in places like wartime Congo, rape was (and is) an everyday occurrence, hardly considered a crime. Today we live in an affluent, peaceful, flourishing society — and yet, we still can’t guarantee the safety of students at universities. Surely at Harvard, bastion of learning and enlightenment, we should at least expect some modicum of justice for the wronged.
Evidently, appearances are important. I know that in my case, appearances were in my favor. As a victim, I was a well-educated, Chinese-American media professional in my late 20s. My assailant was an illiterate teenage boy from a rough part of Belfast. I wasn’t wearing a mini-skirt, I wasn’t drunk. I was sober and wearing hiking clothes. When the police found me, I had 39 separate injuries. They were always inclined to take my word over his. But if the socioeconomic differences between us hadn’t been so stark, would the case have resulted in a conviction?
Read more at the Huffington Post