Hands of Harvard: ‘Last semester was the first time I experienced sexual assault’

‘It was after a party at Harvard’

Hands of harvard

Disclaimer: The ideas presented below are true and unadulterated testimonies from people at Harvard. All information presented is based on their personal opinions and views. Their identities have been kept confidential and all information is anonymous. If you are a friend or loved one of the interviewee and are able to recognize their identity, please respect the confidentiality of these intimate posts. It is possible that some information presented will be challenging, controversial, or triggering. If you are going to participate in the comment section, please be mindful of the emotions of the interviewees who have so graciously opened up for this project.

To properly portray the gravity of this particular interview, I have posted the entire dialogue. This will be the most controversial and triggering of the interviews thus far, and I encourage readers to be incredibly aware of these qualities. Please, if at any point you feel triggered or upset, reach out to the support systems available to you. Likewise, this interview is based on the real and honest experience of a human being and I encourage you to keep that in mind even if you do not agree with what is stated in the interview. Hateful comments do not create peace.

So you can start talking or I can prompt you, whichever you prefer.

“OK, I’ll go… So last semester was the first time I experienced sexual assault/sexual violence in my life. It was after a party – which I guess is the typical story, that assaults happen at parties or after parties – but this was done by someone I was very close to and who was a very close friend and someone I had a lot of trust in… So it was very disempowering – if that is a word – to know you can feel completely safe in a situation and think that you are taking all the correct, assumed precautions and someone can completely strip you of all your securities in a moment.

“After that experience, I felt like I was very different in terms of my sexuality. I broke up with my boyfriend who I was seeing at the time because I could not handle being around men and didn’t want to be touched by anyone. I still have nightmares about it and it was a really hard thing to deal with so for most of the year I distanced myself from any male interactions at all. It is only recently that I am starting to recover from it.

“My first time having sex after the event was a very different experience than any previous experience because… well…first off, it took a super long time for me to get to that point because I couldn’t trust anybody and didn’t want to talk to my partner about it, even though it was with my current boyfriend who is super awesome. Because now I knew someone was able to take the act of sex away from me and could force it on me I put these limitations on myself and I didn’t want to expose myself or put myself in that situation again. Even while the act of having sex again was happening I was worried that something was going to go wrong or my partner was going to take advantage of me. It was a very different dynamic in the experience…But I definitely feel like having sex was an important part in my recovery experience and in doing so I was able to gain my power back and take back control of my body and my sexuality.”

So what is it like going to Harvard now with this person still here?

“I mean, there are good days and bad days. I go to OSAPR a lot and they have great counseling and support. Running into the person is definitely not something I look forward to but it happens due to the circumstances. At first it was really triggering and problematic for me but now it is not as bad. When I encounter this person I don’t have a panic attack but I am still uncomfortable. I feel like I am a lot more guarded now in everyday Harvard interactions, especially going out into social scenes.

“The thing is that I took all the precautions before, right? Like I followed all the stereotypical rules that people place on others to avoid these incidents. ‘Don’t go drinking alone!’ or ‘Don’t go here alone at night!’ or ‘Don’t wear certain things!’ I feel like adhered to all these regulations and it still happened to me. I think that has been the most disturbing aspect of the entire event- like you can do everything right and it can still happen to you.

“I definitely go out a lot less now and when I go out I take a larger group of people and I distance myself from unfamiliar faces. I haven’t participated in the Harvard hook-up scene at all because I am so afraid of encountering another sexual predator. It kind of has put a damper on that aspect of Harvard for me… But OSAPR has been a really good support network. I am very happy that Harvard has it.”

Yeah, OSAPR is one of the most progressive bureaus and that is saying something because they have an incredibly small staff… and I’m so thankful for OSAPR but it is sad to consider that if we have one of the best offices in the nation and we only have six people then what is the state of the alternatives out there?

“Yeah, absolutely. I definitely empathize with that because OSAPR is understaffed and under-budgeted and its really sad as a victim to know that OSAPR has played such a key role in my recovery yet there are women on other campuses that don’t have a similar office to turn to… It is hard to imagine having to go through this without such a strong support system.”

What do you take away from this for the future?

“In terms of moving forward, I think the most important thing for sexual violence survivors to accept is that life will never go back to your old normal but life will get better and there will be a new type of normal. I personally had put a lot of emphasis on this idea of ‘Why can’t I get over this issue?’ and ‘I’m at Harvard, I should be fine, I should be grateful for all of these other things, why am I upset?’

“You will have to accept the idea that you were a victim of trauma and that you are going to have bad days. You are going to have flashbacks and nightmares and panic attacks and you will not feel comfortable encountering this person and you will experience anxiety for a while but eventually you will find a new normal.

“So I guess moving forward, it is a long road to recovery, and I am not sure anyone ever fully recovers from experiencing sexual assault or sexual violence but I think a big part of my recovery was regaining my sense of security, my control of my body, and my overall sense of my sexuality and who I am as a person. I feel like some of that was stripped away from me during the incident and gaining that back is a really hard process that I will be working on for a while.”

Have you considered reporting the incident?

“I have thought about it but I decided against it because at the time I didn’t think anyone would believe me… Which is what everyone thinks and everyone says but it is so true. I didn’t think that there was evidence. I thought it would be my attacker’s word over mine and it would be a very hard process to fight against. I ultimately decided against it… I’m not sure if that was the right decision or not. I have considered that going through the process of reporting may be incredibly traumatic in terms of going over the incident over and over and having to fight to convince others of something that I am still sometimes in denial over.

“But I really encourage others to report, which is hypocritical. I realize that it is super important for people to report it, otherwise it cannot be prevented, and its really important to vocalize your experience, but the way that works is different for everyone. And I chose to take a path that did not involve the legal process.”

Yeah, it’s hard. The system can fight you but its incredibly essential to generate the conversation. The way that I see it, every time one victim comes forward the system inches towards being more progressive and being more accepting. It’s hard though, trying to restore yourself and build yourself up after everything that you have experienced and then adding navigating the legal process into that mix. But, I mean, every time this conversation is held in the public eye the system changes.

“Right. It was problematic because I was dealing with the aftermath shock and trauma from the experience and I didn’t feel emotionally ready to face the process of reporting. But I feel really bad about it. I guess the worst aspect is not knowing if this is a repeated action in this person’s history or this is an isolated incident… But now I feel like too much time has passed and no one will believe me after so many months.”