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2013 Spring Issue 6 (May 17, 2013)

SpeakUp: Tales, Tears, and Healing

May 17, 2013
By J.M. Hanley

**Editor’s note: the following story may contain triggering or upsetting language for some readers.

“It’s time for me to admit that I was raped,” wrote an anonymous victim. “It is time to speak up.” That exactly is what the unnamed author, along with seventeen other Carleton students, proceeded to do this past Thursday.

The occasion was SpeakUp, an event that has taken place annually since 2007. According to SpeakUp coordinator and Musser Hall Director Rose Rezai, the night offers participants a chance to “recognize and speak out against the impact that sexual violence has on our community, on Carleton.”

Planning for the event begins at the end of winter term.  Rezai and her fellow organizers solicited volunteers to share their own experiences with sexual violence. Those who submitted could read their own stories aloud at the event, or they could request to remain anonymous, in which case their submissions were read by SpeakUp staffers.

Though the event has traditionally been held on the Bald Spot, this year menacing skies prompted a move to the Choir Practice Room in the basement of the Concert Hall. Candles in white paper bags ringed the podium, while a bright light deliberately placed to the right of the microphone in an otherwise-dark room cast a shadow over the faces of the readers. As audience members entered – quite rapidly; the crowd eventually stretched beyond the door and up the stairs – they saw a montage of Carls holding whiteboards inscribed with messages of support  displayed on a projector screen.

According to Rezai, the theme of SpeakUp this year was “Process.” “As you re-process your experiences with sexual assault, you make different things out of them at different points in life,” she explained. Yet she stressed that many submitters touch on the topic only tangentially or disregard it entirely, an approach that she did not discourage.

Indeed, in one of the first pieces read, the author described how her height had made her a target for jeering and unwanted sexual come-ons during an off-campus studies trip.  Those tensions reached a climax at a nighttime festival, when a stranger “put his hand on my back, pulling me closer to him,” then, “asked me to have sex with him.” The author described feeling “paralyzed and afraid” until the man finally left some time later.

Others recalled incidents from their childhood. One anonymous submitter described how, at the age of four, she had been sexually assaulted by a teacher. Though all she could remember was “the blanket over us,” she said that the attack had permanently scarred her childhood.

“I pretend to remember the cartoons and the innocence of childhood,” she wrote, but the times under the blanket overshadowed it all.

For others, the assaults were far more immediate. One unnamed writer described being raped by “my boyfriend of four months” the summer after her senior year of high school.

“I felt tainted, tarnished, and forever ruined,” she wrote, “Rape is not something that happens with strangers in a dark alley.”

And a few accounts struck very close to home.

“I had been at Carleton for one and a half weeks when I was raped,” said one anonymous submitter, “I was too scared to tell anyone. I attempted to end my own life.” Now, “I just sleep with men, I don’t attempt to form close relationships,” the author wrote, “I still struggle to trust people around me.” The worst part had come, the victim said, when “I realized I’d missed the chance to speak up.”

In another account, a writer described waking in the middle of the night to “a rattling noise in my closet” in her dorm room before “a naked young man holding my favorite bra” emerged. She attempted to laugh off the intruder, a student, but when she came out of her room some time later, he emerged and began running towards her.

Though she eluded the intruder, she said, she could not escape the “invisible dreams” that still haunt her.

“I lock my door every night like a ritual,” she wrote, “I occasionally sleep with my desk lamp on. I sometimes imagine I see a face next to my bed and I duck under the covers.”

SpeakUp saw a record number of volunteers this year, a trend which GSC SpeakUp coordinator Jordan Stevens ’14 attributed in part to popular outrage spurred by a recent CLAP which alleged that a student used ethnic and homophobic slurs.

“I think that there’s an awareness for students that hasn’t hit before now,” she said.

Still, she underscored that the problems that existed were systemic.

“This isn’t a one-term thing,” she remarked. “Whatever you can do to support survivors should always be in the back of your mind.”

The victims whose stories were read on Thursday were unequivocal about what they needed most.

As one put it, “The phrase I wished I’d heard most of all is, ‘I’m proud of you.’”

*Please note: where gender-specific pronouns are used to describe authors, details in the accounts of the victims confirmed their gender.

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