Survey strengthens voices from survivors of assault

Trigger warning: This article depicts sexual assault.

Disclaimer: The opinions are expressed in this article as a student, not as the official stance of the Campus Climate Survey Group. The names have been changed to protect the identity of those within.
The confessions started in high school. One Saturday morning, Jess called me early—earlier than she ever got up—and told me she needed to tell me something. She had woken up to a stranger screaming at her to get out of a bed she didn’t recognize. She didn’t remember anything after going out to a party Friday night. She had been taken to the hospital for a rape kit. That Saturday morning, I was the first person she ever told, mostly because we were best friends, but also because I had made my own confession to her the year earlier in the late-night quiet of a sleepover. Mine involved no hospital and no screaming— just a boy I thought of as my friend and a deep well of shame.

Since high school, eleven of my closest friends have confessed to me they’ve been sexually assaulted. Some days it feels good to know I am not alone. Other days, I am crushed by the weight of knowing how many of us there are in the world who have gone through this ordeal. Even when I don’t know how to feel, I know this is the truth, and the truth is worth fighting for. There are statistics floating around that tell the same stories my friends do. The biggest—that one in four women will be sexually assaulted in college—always feels eerily impersonal. Perhaps I’m just wary of statements about “women” as if we are a monolithic group with the same feelings and `experiences. Even “women in college” seems too big for me to even fathom. Which college? Is the number of women assaulted at Vassar the same as the number of women assaulted elsewhere? What about women of color? Are we at greater risk? What of men? How many people are hurting on the other sides of these thin dorm walls? I do like to imagine there are clusters of people healing each other out beyond what I can see, closed circuits of friends who know each other’s trauma, but I want to connect all of the circuits to reveal how much power there is in so many of us.

The hope is to do that with the Vassar Sexual Misconduct Campus Survey. Since the beginning of this year, I’ve been working on it with David Davis-Van Atta, our Director of Institutional Research; Kelly Grab, one of our Title IX Investigators (who also has a million other job titles); Renee Pabst, our Director of Health Education; Charlotte Strauss-Swanson, our SAVP Coordinator; and Julian Williams, our Director of Equal Opportunity and Title IX Officer. The survey we’ve crafted is not perfect, but it’s good. At the very least, it’s much better than the surveys other colleges and universities are currently running. The administration of a survey about sexual assault on college campuses is legally required by Title IX, but the content of the survey is ours, not the federal government’s. The goal of the survey is to find out the rates of sexual assault, interpersonal violence and stalking at Vassar College. In other words, the goal is to find out what happens here. Those of us who have been the voice at the other end of the telephone, whispering, “It’s not your fault,” and, “I love you,” already know what happens here. We know this plague of uninvited hands, of non-consent, of rape, is an epidemic. We know what happens here, and in a better world our stories alone would be enough to batter down the doors of an institution that has struggled to find justice for survivors. In a better world, our stories alone would be all we needed to seek and receive justice. But in the fight to create that world, we must use the sharpest tool available: our collective truth.

My hope is that every Vassar student who feels able to do so will take the survey, emailed out by David Davis-Van Atta on April 10th with the subject headline: “Vassar Sexual Misconduct Survey—your invitation and link.” The survey is completely anonymous, but links are personalized so that the survey may not be taken twice. Each student must use the link to the survey in their own email from David. 1500 responses mean more than 1000. 1000 responses mean more than 500. The results of this survey will be a sword in the hand of those who advocate for change. We will use the statistical language of power, the dozens of silent survivors per every one who comes forward, to shame Vassar into admitting change is necessary. To do that, we need your help.


—Hannah Matsunaga ’16 is the VSA VP for Student Life.

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