Sexual assault survivors share personal letters to attackers

Category:  News
Wednesday, February 1st, 2017 at 5:30 PM
Sexual assault survivors share personal letters to attackers by Macala Leigey
Graphic: Shelby Kirk

No.

A word we first learn in the earliest years of our adolescence. From our parents telling us not to put everything we touch in our mouths, to the rejection of our first high school crush. A word our brains comprehend from the very beginning of our lives, yet has seemingly lost its worth in today’s society. A word that has lost its power in situations where just mumbling it can prevent pain and permanent emotional damage.

According to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center, one in five women in the United States and one in 16 men are sexually assaulted while in college; with more than 90 percent of those sexual assault occurrences not being reported.

“No means no, at any given point,” said Executive Director of Boro Women and Family Services Betty Jo Lyons.

Lyons continued: “As simplistic as that sounds, we need to educate that. We need to have more conversations, and not just on Edinboro University’s campus; I think this is any campus throughout the entire country, [where] we need to have a better conversation with individuals about sexual activity, what is acceptable, [and] what is not acceptable. We need to stop assuming that everyone has heard this. Assumptions are dangerous.”

In 2016, we were re-educated by the letter from the victim of the Brock Turner Stanford sexual assault case; a letter that was verbally broadcasted and published for millions to see and hear on CNN. A letter that came from a university student. A letter that metaphorically represented thousands of other university sexual assault victim letters; including those from Edinboro.

The following excerpts are from sexual assault victims, previous and current Edinboro University students, who have written letters to their assaulters. Some of this content is graphic, but is proof of the harsh reality of sexual assault.

“The Misunderstanding”

“I guess you heard about the misunderstanding we had.”

That is what you tried to call what happened between us when you talked to my friend right? A misunderstanding.

I didn’t think that anything bad was going to happen that night. We had only gone out for a few hours. At the end of the night, when we all parted ways and you asked if you could “walk me home,” (as if my apartment wasn’t right across the street) I told you no. The guys laughed and clapped and made fun of you for even trying. It was still all just fun.

It didn’t start getting weird until half an hour later. You started texting me and asking if you could come over. Despite my efforts to tell you no, I got the text saying you were in my stairwell so I should let you in. All my roommates were home, so I figured, despite the bad feeling I had, it would probably be okay.

It didn’t take long for you to be putting your arm around me and to be trying to kiss me. While at first I tried to brush you off and laugh it off, you didn’t get the hint then. Actually, you didn’t care.

I told you no and that I didn’t want to kiss you, but that didn’t stop you from continuing to try. I told you no, over and over again. Despite the fact that I struggled to push you away, you’re so much stronger than me that it didn’t matter. You physically pinned me down so that I couldn’t get away from you. You shoved my hand down your pants, and despite the fact that I used all the strength I had to try and pull my hand away, you kept it forced there.

I woke up covered in hickeys and with your spit all over my face from all the times that you had been sloppily trying to kiss me. But it was just a misunderstanding right?

I didn’t realize that it was possible to misunderstand someone saying no and pushing you away. I didn’t realize the fact that you had to pin my arms up above my head, because I was struggling so hard to get away, could be taken as anything but me not wanting what was happening. I didn’t know that forcing someone to do things they didn’t want to do, when they were audibly saying no, was a misunderstanding.

— Dannielle McGahen 2016 alumna of Edinboro University

In a report released by the Bureau of Justice Statistics, the National Center for Education Statistics, and the American Institutes for Research, it was stated that sexual assault on college campuses jumped from roughly 4,000 in 2012 to 5,000 in 2013.

“We don’t know what dynamics people come out of in family home life. There’s many different possibilities as to why someone has done this (sexual assault),” said Lyons.

She continued: “Some of it is behavior. Some people are engaging in activities they may not be [ready] for, whether it's extracurricular drinking, drugs, or maybe somebody’s just totally exploring themselves and losing perspective as to what is acceptable and what is not acceptable. We have far too much emphasis on sex in everything in our community [and] our society as a whole.”

“After A Storm”

Dear Assailant,
Three Months.
It took me three months to realize what you 
were doing to me.

You gave me work, but I was in a desperate state to take care of myself; too blinded to see what your true intentions were. I needed what you had offered me.

You would yell at me as if I was in an abusive relationship. You would sneak in during my vulnerable moments to graze my side with your fingers. You would kiss my neck and tell me that I was so important to you and that I wasn’t allowed to leave. You made me feel like a piece of property.

I sat in my house for two weeks. I wore sweatpants and T-shirts to hide what you touched. I thought about what I was going to do. The variety of masks I had to put on to make it seem like everything was alright.

The slightest touch from a friend made me cringe. You took my worth. You took the value I had in myself.

It has been almost two years since then. I have something to say to you that is for my benefit, not yours. I am not the person who you thought I was. You took away every ounce of my being, but now I have gained so much more. I have helped others that have been in my shoes; because of you, I showed them that the sun still shines after a storm.

You may have taken my body and my dignity. You may have said things to me that will be forever on repeat in my mind, but there are three things that you will NEVER take away from me:

My faith. I will forever have God by my side to walk with me through the darkest hours.

My grace. I am angry for what you have done to me. I will never forgive you, but I have the grace to move on with the constant reminder of why it is I do the things I do.

My strength. As long as I live, I will fight for those who have had things done to them like what you have done to me.

— Leslie Shaeffer, 2016 alumna of Edinboro University

“The biggest part is the emotional toll. The emotional effect can last very long, depending upon the nature and severity of the act. If they’re a student, it can play on their ability to finish their education or stay in classes. Financially, it could affect them — what if it was someone they shared an apartment with,” said Lyons.

Throughout their seven years of service to the Edinboro community, Boro Women and Family Services have assisted roughly 30-50 sexual assault victims, including college students and community members.

“We have to look at who the individual is; not everyone has the same form of resources. Someone being well taken care of isn’t a protocol. It isn’t ‘this model’ takes care of everybody. It’s ‘how is this person struggling’ and ‘how do we get them the help they need.’ I wanna make sure they’re getting some sort of counseling and whatever support they need,” said Lyons.

She continued: “We [Boro Women and Family Services] offer peer support and some referrals to different agencies; like Crime Victim Center, SafeNet; we will give them a referral for physicians, [and] if it’s college related, we’re going to try and get them in contact with Take a Stand.”

“I Am A Survivor”

To my attacker.

It has been five long, painful years since you changed my life forever.

Five whole years and I can still see your face clear as day as I type this letter. I see a scared, confused 14-year-old girl and you on top of her, ignoring her continuous cries for you to stop. I see your one, sharp, disgusting vampire tooth in my face. These images and memories haunt my mind every single day, and will continue to do so until the day I die.

Then there’s you.

I have no doubt in my mind that you continue to live your life like nothing ever happened. You had to pay a few hundred dollars to my family, take some classes, and watch what you were doing for the few months of probation.

You probably think this all was something that didn’t have to happen, and you would be right. It didn’t have to happen. None of this would even be a thing if you had just accepted my declination.

What you probably don’t realize is you didn’t just hurt me, you hurt every single person close to me as well. My parents had to relive my experience when I had to tell the nurses, police officers, attorneys, and investigators.

They had to see me at my lowest point. A razor blade in my hand, blood covering my entire arm, pills in my system, and a note in case I didn’t make it. You caused so many internal and external scars that will never go away.

I wouldn’t wish what happened to me on my own worst enemy, but at the same time I am thankful that it happened to me rather than someone else. This truly horrible experience has completely changed my life, and my goal is to use it to my advantage, in hopes of helping others who may not have the strength and support I did during my recovery process. I have already helped so many people and I will continue to do so.

So thank you for providing me with this opportunity to use your own stupidity and selfishness to my advantage, because I refuse to be a victim in this situation.

I am a survivor, and you are just a pathetic rapist, no matter how much you refuse to believe it.

— Madison Scofield, sophomore at Edinboro University

“It’s not easy for me to talk about it, to think about it, to see other people go through it, but if that means I get to help other people and potentially protect them — I just don’t want to see other people go through that,” said the President of Edinboro University’s Take a Stand Against Sexual Violence (TAS) campaign Madison Scofield.

Scofield continued: “We [TAS] have internal resources and external. Anything they (victims) need [in order] to get justice or closure, we want to be able to provide that. I want to make sure if someone does have an issue, they are more than happy to come in and talk to us. We want to help. We don’t want anyone to live in fear.”

“We need to educate the general public about the tactics of people who commit sexual assaults, so as to prevent these crimes from occurring. A lot more focus needs to go into prevention of rape by focusing on those who commit those crimes,” said the faculty advisor of TAS, Dr. Molly Wolf.

She continued, “We also need to do more in terms of making sure that survivors of sexual assault understand that nothing that happened was their fault, they have nothing to be ashamed of, and they are not alone.”

Wolf also commented on the progress TAS has made, “I am very proud of the work that Take a Stand and EUP have done in order to help survivors of sexual assault, and in this way, I think that EUP is leading the way towards a brighter future for survivors.”

Yes.

A word that, in our younger days, allowed us to go to the movies with our friends, or commit to the university of our choice. A word our mind recognizes as giving permission or communicating respect. A word that is still a part of the human vocabulary and still must be said for clarity. A word that still matters, separating love from assault.

Macala Leigey can be reached at eupnews.spectator@gmail.com. 

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