Editor’s Note: This author has been granted anonymity for personal safety by request.
When I was raped at the University of Massachusetts in the fall of 2002, I reported my rape to the University. I went to the dean’s office and was told to meet with one of the dean’s assistants to report my rape. I was a terrified 19 year old who barely had the words to describe the trauma I was going through. I sat nervously in the hall, wringing out some paper in my hands that had become so wet with sweat it was starting to stick to my hands. As I wiped my hands on my jeans to clean them, I was invited into an office with a gray-haired middle-aged woman in a gray suit with bifocals. I sat down on the sticky red leather chair in front of her desk and declared that I had been raped in a fraternity.
The woman then pulled out a piece of paper, which at the time was the UMass assault report form. The form asked me to fill in my name, my residence, what had happened and where it had happened. I filled in the information shakily and hoped this report would lead to something to help ease my pain. Once the form was filled out, I was informed that if I needed any advice I should visit Every Woman’s Center, and if I needed support with academics I should speak to my professors.
She then said, “I’m sorry this happened to you,” picked up the paper, opened the bottom drawer of a gray metal filing cabinet, and placed the form inside. I could see the closet was full of papers. She then took me out of the office.
I returned to my dorm in a daze, unsure of what to do or how to proceed. After this meeting, I felt more alone than before reporting my rape. I had thought that by reporting my assault, I would receive support from the University. What I received instead was an institution that wanted to classify my assault along with so many others and pretend it didn’t happen. It was the end of the institution’s involvement in my recovery.
The recent allegations of sexual assault at UMass are painful. What is most painful, but unsurprisingly, is the continued inaction of UMass and Amherst Police. “Every 68 seconds, an American is sexually assaulted. And every 9 minutes that victim is a child. Meanwhile, only 25 out of 1,000 perpetrators will end up in prison, ”according to the National Rape, Abuse and Incest Network (RAINN).
Rape and sexual assault are systemic problems. The reason rape is rarely prosecuted is that the survivors are not believed. There is a cultural belief, whether consciously or not, that the survivor is at fault, and any evidence they provide is hearsay. Therefore, the rape becomes the problem of the survivor. Their to avoid walking with pepper spray, not to walk alone at night, not to wear a short skirt, not to get drunk, not to live on the first floor and so on. Yet we are still raped, assaulted and denigrated for our gender. The systems and institutions that are supposed to protect us behave as if aggression is a shameful secret to be filed and dealt with in silence.
In response to recent allegations of sexual assault on campus, the student protest, and a call for a survivors bill of rights at UMass, the Chancellor sent a few emails with passing language -everywhere indicating that the university knows the “pain” this rape causes and how they “unequivocally” oppose sexual violence.
UMass emails to students with a resource list became the new office and metal filing cabinet. It’s easier for the university and the police if these questions continue to be stored in metal cabinets that will never be opened again. It’s easier to ask for calm and ask those who are upset to send emails about their complaints rather than opening up a space to hear directly from students and survivors how they can best support students who have been traumatized by a sexual assault.
How long will it take survivors to stop hearing “that’s it?” ” in the same way demand to McKayla Maroney by the FBI, while investigating allegations of abuse against Larry Nassar?
To be clear, I blame the frat boy for my rape, and I blame UMass and the Amherst Police for allowing a system that perpetuates rape and sexual assault.
Until UMass opens those drawers and begins to deal with the fact that they have failed to protect their students, nothing will change.
Contributor to the anonymous letter