Getting raped at Harvard: A guy’s experience

And ways you can convince yourself it was your fault

I am a senior majoring in English Literature at Harvard – and last year I was raped.

It happened on campus, and I kept it to myself for a month.

Here is my fun list of ways you can convince yourself getting raped was your bad and you probably shouldn’t even mention it to anyone. Be advised: this piece contains graphic details of what happened to me.

You thought he was a great dancer

Let’s start with the basics. Everyone knows rapists aren’t kickass dancers. Kind of like those Bailey School Kids books you used to get in Scholastic book orders (“Vampires Don’t Wear Polka Dots,” “Mummies Don’t Coach Softball,” “Rapists Don’t Cha-Cha Slide”). Rapists frown and skulk in corners and you’re supposed to be smart enough to stay away from them. Like vampires! This guy, on the other hand, gave you a lap dance in the middle of a slowly-emptying party to Beyonce’s ‘Partition.’ It was ridiculous. It was awesome. You had a great time. Surely what happened later was a misunderstanding.

You thought he was hot

Realistically, no sane person is going to give you shit for this, but other people’s feedback isn’t really relevant to this situation – you don’t talk to anyone about the incident for a month, and the greatest devil’s advocate you’ll encounter in this situation is yourself, between the hours of 2 and 3am. So, your inner section kid says, just to be clear, you got fucked by an attractive guy you met at a party, and you’re upset about it? I just want to push back on that a little. Some people have real problems. Would this reasoning hold up when spoken aloud? Nope! Good thing the thought of sharing this shame with another person seems totally impossible to you, so you don’t need to worry about it!

You’re a guy

This one is big. Guys don’t get raped.

OK, so of course, you know that they do. You’ve seen it on posters. You’ve heard it from celebrity PSAs. You’ve read (while doing research for this piece) that 1 in 16 men report experiencing sexual assault during their time at college, and that those numbers are almost certainly drastically underreported due to the perceived stigma of such an event. 
 But, like. Come on. You’re a guy. Admittedly you’re unathletic, but you could probably foist off another guy who was pinning you down on a bed. Right? Maybe if you’d tried harder, you wouldn’t have gotten raped. Moms can push, like, cars off their children, and you couldn’t even push a drunk undergrad off of you? Dude.

He was drunk

Well, this is a no-brainer. If he was drunker than you, can you really hold him responsible for his actions? Who among us hasn’t gotten a little messed up on Malibu and misinterpreted a signal or twelve? You’d seen how much he’d drunk that night. You knew the risks: awkward fumbling. Whiskey dick. Forcible unwanted penetration. Just some of the wacky complications that arise when boinking while buzzed!

You got into bed with him

D’oh! Sure, there are people out there who say you can change your mind no matter how far you’ve gone – and even those who say that getting into bed doesn’t mean any clothes have to come off at all – but that’s no excuse for you to be giving mixed signals. It works better if you just give off one signal at all times. Like a stoplight. Wait. No. Bad example.

You’re a guy

Did we mention this?

After a few times, you stopped saying ‘no’

He asked if you liked getting fucked, and you said not really, but you didn’t stop him from getting on top of you. He asked if it was OK for him to not use a condom, and you said absolutely not, but you didn’t leave the room then and there. Then he asked if he was hurting you, and you said yes, and he asked if he should stop, and you said definitely, but then after that when he acted like he hadn’t heard and kept going, you got quiet and said…nothing? 
 Hold up. Record scratch. What?
 Rookie mistake! Insert facepalm gif here. Constantly reaffirming consent is a vital part of any healthy sexual encounter. How was he supposed to know your wordless groans of pain were a way of refusing consent? Plus, some of those louder pain noises were probably muffled by his pillow! Maybe he didn’t even hear you tell him to stop! Honestly, sounds like your communication skills are just lacking.

Afterwards, he offered you his shower

Installment #56 in the Bailey School Kids series: “Rapists Aren’t Nice To You Afterwards, Probably.” And then after you showered you left in such a hurry you forgot your underwear. Who does that?! Rude! If anything, he comes out looking like the considerate one in this encounter.

You didn’t tell anyone for, like, a month

Whaaaaat? Where’s your sense of urgency? Or agency?

On some level you always knew you had resources available to you – OSAPR, Room 13, CARE, Mental Health Services – but even though you knew this, you told yourself the incident hadn’t affected you enough for it to be worth discussing. It was, for reasons previously listed, a miscommunication, a mess-up, almost certainly partially your fault, and nothing out of the ordinary. You never see the guy around anyway. You flinch like a motherfucker when people come close to you, but you have always done this (little sibling instinct), so no one notices anything out of the ordinary.

It isn’t until a month later that you totally lose your shit.

You’re in bed with someone you know and trust and respect, and he’s pulling off your boxers, and suddenly you freeze up. You shut down. You fling yourself as far from him as you can get on a twin XL bed, which is not very far. One wall is cold against your back and the other wall you’re just staring at, trying not to look at him, because you’ve just realized that a) maybe you should admit to yourself that you got raped, and b) maybe processing that here and now in front of your confused partner isn’t the sexiest bedroom look.
 But he talks you through it, and he listens, and he’s incredible about it, and afterward you’re able to talk about it with other people. Not many, not at first, but a few. And it feels good. “Yeah, it happened,” you say. “It was a while ago and it hasn’t, like, ruined my life, but…it did suck. I wouldn’t, y’know, recommend it, like, as an experience.”
 Like most things you say, it’s kind of dumb, but you’re glad you said it.

Your friends make you feel supported, but boy oh boy, your school sure does not

Have you seen the “Frequently Asked Questions” for sexual assault investigation procedures, as released by Harvard’s Title IX Office? I have! It’s like if Kafka tried to write a guide to navigating sexual assault. In a ten-page document, the word “consent” is used exactly zero times. To officially recognize an event as sexual assault, “the University must find from both an objective and subjective perspective that the conduct was unwelcome.” Seriously. “Objective and subjective perspective.” It states this twice in two different questions. What does this mean? Does Title IX want me to grapple with the relative nature of truth? Should I get a secondary in philosophy to determine whether or not a guy ignored my wishes not to be held down and penetrated? Or can I just take, like, an ethical reasoning gen ed? These have been my frequently asked questions, and until Harvard starts listening to student voices in these issues, I’m afraid they’ll go unanswered.

As I am writing this, a little over a year since I was raped, it is Sex Week at Harvard. While in the past I have been skeptical of any social movement that involves Facebook profile pictures, I can honestly say from experience that openly discussing these issues – issues of rape, male rape, and the reasons that cause any rape to go unreported on campus – makes things better, not just in terms of improved chance at legislative change, but in terms of making those who’ve been raped feel legitimized and able to discuss and thus process their experiences.

And for those – like me – who hate a thinkpiece that doesn’t come with a tangible suggestion for a solution: if you are a Harvard student, you can effect a legitimate legislative change. This week, students have the chance to vote on a referendum advocating open student involvement in the formation of Harvard’s sexual assault policies.

In other words, you can vote for a chance to help turn one of our most sorely needed resources into something relevant and actually readable (sorry, Kafka). This is a discussion that goes beyond just raising awareness – which is important in and of itself – into raising the chances that the next student to feel silenced by self-doubt, shame, or shower usage will be able to get the help they need in an understandable and non-intimidating way, and in doing so make the campus a safer place for themselves and others.

No matter how compelling the above list may have sounded on late nights alone in my bed, sexual assault is never the fault of the assaulted. This truth is objective, not subjective. I wish I had known this earlier. I wish the university was making this clearer today. I wish I hadn’t forgotten that pair of underwear, because I’m slow to do laundry, and every pair counts. But underwear can be replaced, and archaic sexual assault policies can be improved, and – by using our voice and our vote – tangible change can be made.

If you are a Harvard student who has experienced sexual assault and wants to report the incident or receive help from one of Harvard’s confidential resources, please do not hesitate to contact the numbers listed below:

Harvard University Police Department (24-hour line): (617) 495-1212
Office of Sexual Assault Prevention & Response (OSAPR): (617) 495-9100
Counseling and Mental Health Services: (617) 495-5711
Office of BGLTQ Student Life: (617) 496-5716
Room 13 (trained peer counseling, 7pm – 7am): (617) 495-4969
Sexual Harassment/Assault Response & Education:

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