Rape victim responds
Letter to the Editor
Try to imagine yourselves in this situation. You are relaxing on a weekend night, socializing with friends and drinking far too much to be cognitively coherent. At some point in the evening, you find yourself alone with one of your friends and, before you realize it, things get physical. Although you have not actually consented to it, you find yourself unable to stop what is happening to you. You awake the next morning and realize you have engaged in nonconsentual intercourse with a friend and are left to deal with the consequences of what has taken place. Not an entirely unfamiliar story, I'm sure.
Sadly, I think that many of us have encountered situations like this at some point during our time at Notre Dame. And yet, it was not until I reported my recent experience with acquaintance-rape that this issue started being openly discussed in The Observer and across campus.
None of us want to think of ourselves as being vulnerable, unable to control ourselves or easily victimized. We lock our car doors to prevent automobile theft and we try not to leave our books and electronics unattended when we venture to the basement of the library to buy a Coke. When it comes to our friends, however, we rarely protect ourselves against personal victimization. We do not look at our friends as being possible perpetrators of rape. When we are having fun at parties and we lose track of the time, we rarely stop the festivities to look for that one friend we haven't seen in a couple of hours. We never think that something might be happening behind a closed door that we had the power to prevent. Now, from my own personal experience, I can see that we have a difficult time applying the label of "rape" at all to situations in which friends are involved — to situations in which friends take advantage of us.
My personal experience of victimization has left me questioning a number of things. What could I have done or said differently? What if I hadn't had so much to drink? What if my friends and I had made more of an effort to keep track of each other periodically throughout the night? There are so many ways in which hindsight is 20/20. But that does not help us to deal with the emotions which well-up after we are forced to admit that something like rape has occurred.
I have read over my peers' comments, as well as the faculty and administration remarks, that have been recently published in The Observer in response to my report. I wanted to take this opportunity to thank all of you for writing and stimulating such an intense discussion. However, I'd also like to ask a favor from you now. Let's stop talking about MY story. The larger issue is that rape can affect anyone, including you. Perhaps that is something which needs to be discussed.
As was mentioned in Monday's article, I have decided not to press legal charges against my perpetrator. For me, it has been more empowering to confront him about what he did to me and about the severity of this issue than it would have been to have him expelled or punished at the federal level. That was my decision. It was the right decision for me. It may not be the right decision for somebody else, but you should all know that Notre Dame offers a wealth of resources that you can call upon for help if you find yourselves similarly victimized. I have received help from Notre Dame's Counselling Services, as well as from Sex Offense Services and the Notre Dame Police Department. There is, however, other help available. If you feel that you have been raped, or even if you feel you might have victimized someone else, please seek whatever type of help you feel would be most beneficial for you.
I can honestly say that I was a bit shocked on Monday when I saw the front page of The Observer and knew that my story was out. Part of the reason I have decided not to press charges is because I did not want to make a public issue out of my very private experience. I hope that I am not opening the floor for any unnecessary speculation or accusation when I tell you that I am a senior this year. I am close to completing my final semester as a student at Notre Dame, and I did not want this last month and a half to be interspersed with any further interrogation. I want to enjoy the time I have left here with my friends, and I want to enjoy my Senior Week and graduation with family and loved ones without having to be constantly reminded about this unfortunate occurrence. My perpetrator and I have recently discussed this incident, and have, I feel, finally been able to close the door on it. We are both considering receiving counselling therapy to help us through this difficult time. I speak for both of us now when I say that we'd really like to learn something from this and move on.
I am glad that one good thing did come from this whole situation: it triggered a very candid discussion of rape at Notre Dame. It is, however, unfortunate that my report was the reason this discussion was ignited. We need to learn to speak about the prevalence of rape before it gets to this point. We need more informational meetings and peer advising on this topic. We need to become more aware that rape happens, and it doesn't have to be violent or involve a total stranger to be recognized as a violation. We need to take more personal responsibility for ourselves, while we continue to look out for one another. And we should NEVER think for one second that this can't happen to us.
Thank you again for all of your support and advice. I hope that the students, faculty and administration of Notre Dame will continue to speak so openly about issues of importance such as rape. But please respect my privacy and my emotional well-being by now putting the discussion of my personal victimization to rest.
April 5, 2000
All Viewpoint Stories for Monday, April 10, 2000