By Carly N. Mee, Staff Attorney
As a staff attorney at SurvJustice, I frequently assist clients who have suffered from sexual violence and who subsequently are left on their own to deal with the aftermath. Too often, their peers abandon them or even retaliate against them because they can not see how a fellow student could be responsible for such a heinous act. This leaves survivors to cope with an already traumatic event in isolation, which only compounds the harm.
For me, these types of situations are personal, not just professional, because #MeToo. As a first-year student in college, a fellow classmate made the decision to rape me during my first week at school. When I reported and spoke out, I received significant backlash from those who I formerly believed were my friends. They sighed when I couldn’t go out with them because I couldn’t get out of bed as a result of my severe PTSD and depression in the aftermath of the assault. They rolled their eyes when I asked if they wouldn’t mind walking me back to my room because I felt unsafe on campus. When I was at a party and the person who assaulted me showed up, they felt it would cause too many problems to ask him to leave and instead left me to walk home alone in tears. I frequently saw classmates chatting and laughing with him on campus, or sitting in the cafeteria with him. To this day, I feel the sting of betrayal when I see that my peers are friends with him on Facebook. I was left alone despite what had been done to me.
Then one day, someone showed me what a true ally looks like. A close friend told me that her boyfriend had been reported for sexual violence. She had broken up with him because she couldn’t stand for that. In order to fully support me as I pursued justice in my case, she told me that she had to stand by other women doing the same. She was an example of what most people had failed to do for me in the past. She stood by my side in order to #SupportSurvivors.
I am sharing this experience because it is not always easy or convenient to stand up and speak out against those who engage in sexual harassment or sexual violence. Such erroneous beliefs have arisen during the recent media storm around the Harvey Weinstein sexual harassment scandal and need to be dispelled. It is frequently the case that people are unsupportive of survivors. When someone they know is the one responsible for committing sexual violence, they often refuse to believe that person would do such a horrible thing. But the reality is that certain individuals do commit sexual violence; they could be members of our family, our friends group, in or co-working circle. Just because we know someone and want to believe they are better than that, we cannot give them a free pass since that perpetuates rape culture to ignore and disbelieve survivors. It is crucial for us to #SupportSurvivors even when it is not easy or convenient as good public policy and as moral human beings. We must believe, support, and encourage survivors to seek help and justice if they wish to do so. Only then can the stories of repeat perpetration that have gone unchecked for decades become a thing of the past.
At SurvJustice, we stand with survivors every day and fight beside them, rather than turn our backs on them when society has done so. While conversations around sexual harassment in the workplace grip the headlines, we want to reflect on how this starts within educational settings. If you support survivors, or can say #MeToo to experiencing sexual harassment, we ask that you stand with us this Thursday, October 19 at the U.S. Department of Education to #Support Survivors. SurvJustice is co-hosting the National Vigil for Survivors of Campus Sexual Assault in Washington, D.C while sister vigils are being held across the country. We ask that you join us in solidarity to support survivors by attending our vigil, a sister action, or joining the discussion on social media around #SupportSurvivors and #MeToo.
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