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Love Letter to Survivors

Other | February 29, 2016

My dearest survivor of sexual violence,

I’m so sorry for what you have been through, and I’m so sorry for what you will still have to go through. You can do it. You can still have the same dreams. People will still love you. I know it’s so hard to believe that. I was raped too.

To start, many people have different definitions of rape. It’s okay if you need time to figure out what to call your experience or experiences. You have survived something traumatic, even if your body can’t let you know it yet. It’s okay if you need to protect yourself.

When you start to be able to think about and talk about those experiences, you might doubt yourself as others doubt you. They may say you invited it. They may say it wasn’t really rape. What matters is that someone cared more about being sexually active with you than they cared about you. It might feel easy to blame yourself, because then it feels like you had control over the situation, and should be able to learn from it, move on and be wiser. However, the sad truth is you were not in control. Someone made a very intimate decision for you, and now you have to be strong.

TV shows do not portray rape accurately or portray survivors to their full credit, and this can affect how people, from your friends to your parents to your administrators, see you. It does not matter if you were drunk or if you knew your rapist or if you loved your rapist. Remember: they cared more about having sex with you than they cared about you. You need to hold onto that. You need to trust yourself, even if others won’t.

Before we get into reporting, I want to say that you do not have to report. It is your decision and your decision alone whether or not you want to report your rape. Some people find closure and empowerment in reporting, while others are intimidated by the prospect of having to prove their story to strangers in positions of power. Reporting is never easy. Only do it for yourself.

There are people you can speak to at Tufts without reporting. They are confidential resources, and they include: Nandi Bynoe, the Sexual Misconduct Resource Specialist; Carolyn Schwartz, my favorite clinician at Health Services (although all clinicians are confidential); Ears for Peers, an anonymous student-run nighttime support hotline; Counseling and Mental Health Services; and the chaplaincy. You can also access legal, medical, and counseling resources at the Boston Area Rape Crisis Center (BARCC), without reporting. BARCC works outside of Tufts. All non-confidential resources at Tufts are mandated reporters. If you directly tell any mandated reporters at Tufts that you have experienced sexual violence, they will have to report it to the school, and a copy of their report will make its way to the Office of Equal Opportunity (OEO). The OEO is tasked with handling cases of sexual misconduct at Tufts. Mandated reporters include professors, Resident Assistants, and administrators aside from Nandi. Likewise, if you tell a police officer about your experiences, whether they’re from the Somerville Police Department, Medford Police Department, or Tufts University Police Department, or even from a police department at home, they will have to begin the necessary steps to launch a formal investigation.

I reported my rape, so I do not know what it is like to navigate the stigma of not reporting while trying to heal. Nevertheless, there are resources, be they Tufts sanctioned, independent, or student run, to help you navigate your healing process. Regardless if you report or not, I strongly suggest that you seek mental health support if you can. You can be so good at pretending you’re fine that you fool yourself. Your feelings and fears are valid, no matter what they are.

If you are new to counseling and are looking for a long-term therapist, the most important thing is finding a good fit. Often times you need to meet with a number of counselors until you start to discover what sort of person works for you. For example, I know now to look for older, humorous women, and I give them permission to guide my sessions if need be. Although I like my therapist now, I have only ever seen white women, and if I need to change therapists again, I will look for women of color.

The next part of this letter will discuss details and instructions on how to report your rape.

Your first step is to call the Boston Area Rape Crisis Center or a similar resource. They will also walk you through the next few steps, but I have listed them out so that you will be familiar with them. There is still the option of changing your mind.

If you are considering reporting, it can be a good idea to get a rape kit collected. Most people do not know that you still don’t have to report if you collect evidence, but it does give you more options for the future. If you can stomach it, do not shower. You have five days for any evidence collected to be considered investigation worthy, but the first 24 hours are the most valuable. If you are not wearing the clothes you had on at the time of the assault, bring them in a paper bag—not plastic, as the plastic will destroy organic evidence. Evidence collections might violently remind you of your rape; it’s okay to bring a friend you trust with you. I suggest bringing money for food and transportation, as well as a change of clothes, including underwear, even if you are not wearing clothes that you think are evidence. Mental Health Services at Tufts offers taxi vouchers to help you get to and from the hospital if you are having a rape kit collected, and there is a counselor on call 24 hours. You can also call BARCC for assistance. Do not just go to any hospital. BARCC works with Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, trains nurses to best assist you, and sends medical advocates to explain your rights and support you. The police may come to take an initial statement. Do not talk to them if your rape happened on Tufts property and you are still unsure if you want to report. I will discuss this further below.

Rape kit collections are largely misunderstood. In addition to the collection of evidence they also include pregnancy and sexually transmitted infection preventative measures free of charge. The STI preventative measures include antivirals to retroactively attempt to prevent HIV and antibiotics to kill most everything else. Listen carefully to side effects and probable risks so you can evaluate for yourself what you consent to taking. It is your decision whether you want to take either, both, or neither. You have the utmost authority on what happens to your body. If you take the STI preventative antibiotics, you should have a friend pick up probiotics and Imodium for you. Antibiotics can cause diarrhea, and the antibiotics cocktail that the rape kit collections offer is very strong. It includes an intramuscular injection and three types of oral antibiotics. The antibiotics can also make you nauseous. Do not worry if you have taken them and you throw up after you are discharged, because the pills will have already passed through your stomach.

Since rape kits are time sensitive, you may have had one collected before having time to get legal counsel. If you have collected evidence and do not have legal aid yet, I heavily suggest that you seek it out immediately. I did not seek an attorney to protect my interests until over a year after my rape, and it is a decision I have deeply regretted since. BARCC is a good place to start in your search because they have trained legal advocates and connections with organizations such as the Victim Rights Law Center, which works nationally and locally in Massachusetts to provide pro bono attorneys for survivors of rape and sexual violence. They have a lot of experience working with Massachusetts colleges and universities. I wish so dearly that I had requested their help.

There are several ways of starting your reporting process at Tufts. One way is speaking to a mandated reporter you trust, for example your resident assistant or your dean. Dean of Student Affairs Marisel Perez is an exceptionally kind mandated reporter. Even though your professors are mandated reporters, many of them do not know it or understand the process and may not be the best option for you if you are looking to begin the process in a timely manner. Although I did not have her as a resource when I was reporting, I strongly recommend that you begin by speaking to Nandi Bynoe. Nandi is confidential, and in case you change your mind about reporting, she can walk you through what reporting looks like. She knows very well how to begin a formal investigation for you if you wish.
You can work with different police departments depending on where you were raped. If your rape happened in a Tufts building (which includes frats and dorms), as mine did, the Tufts University Police Department will have jurisdiction and the OEO will inevitably get involved. When the OEO gets involved, Tufts will conduct a private investigation separate from and regardless of any work that police departments are doing. You can still pursue criminal or civil suits, and your police contact will be TUPD Detective Sergeant Joseph Tilton. If your rape occurred off campus, you can also choose to report completely outside of Tufts. There are several differences between reporting through Tufts and reporting outside of Tufts. Outside of Tufts you can stop a criminal or civil investigation at any time, and no matter how anyone treats you, you can walk away on your terms. In a Tufts investigation, there is no way out until someone else decides they are done. However, Tufts does try to make certain resources accessible to survivors that are difficult to get through the legal system, for example, a Stay Away or No Contact Order. You can request a Stay Away Order against any student without citing a reason. If you are part of an ongoing or previous investigation of sexual misconduct at Tufts, it becomes a No Contact Order requiring stricter penalties if breached.

If you end up working with the Office of Equal Opportunity, you will be meeting with Sonia Jurado, Tufts’ in-house Title IX investigator. She is a lawyer by training, and after collecting written testimonies from both you and your rapist, you will be called the complainant and your attacker will be called the defendant or assailant. Sonia Jurado will interview the people you both mention who can corroborate your stories. This part can be difficult because it is challenging to collect evidence of rape that cannot be easily explained away. Believe in yourself. Remember: someone cared more about having sex with you than they cared about you. Sonia might offer to include your counseling records as evidence, but activists do not encourage survivors to let her. Yes, if your counselor has documentation of your story of sexual trauma it can be considered hearsay evidence, but so will everything else. More importantly, once you consent to handing over your counseling records to Tufts, they become part of the formal investigation, and if your rapist ever sues Tufts for whatever reason, they can access those records and use them against you in a number of legal ways. Again, I want to stress that you should have legal support if you start working with the OEO. I was told that I did not need my own attorney as long as I was working with Sonia’s office. I now realize it was a huge conflict of interest for Tufts to tell me I did not need an attorney to prevent Tufts from ignoring my rights.

Since the entirety of my reporting process occurred within Tufts, with the exception of talking to Boston Police Department officers during my rape kit collection, I cannot give advice on how to report outside of Tufts. If you want to report outside of Tufts, I suggest that you use BARCC as your first resource. I cannot stress enough that BARCC is a beautiful organization. It should be your first line of defense in anything you need.
I tried to outline what I have learned from the reporting process most clearly and understandably. Your experiences may likely not occur in this order.

However you navigate your healing post-trauma, there are people around you to help you balance your healing with school. Balancing your healing process and your academic success can be very hard. It is your decision and your decision alone how to best approach this balance. If you think that an administrator is not looking out for your best interests, I suggest that you follow your gut and talk to someone you trust. On the other hand, I learned through my experiences that professors at Tufts are very kind and accommodating. Again, they are mandated reporters, and I had already reported my rape. People with the means to may consider taking time off from Tufts so that they can heal full-time without having to worry about school. It is a personal decision. I heard someone say once in regards to their decision that taking a semester off would have been more emotionally damaging than staying. I did choose to take time off, and I will likely no longer return. The two hardest things I have ever done were reporting my rape and choosing to go home. When I was first raped, I thought that if I had to leave Tufts, it would mean that my rapist had won. It took me two years to see it differently.

If you too are feeling alone, have memories tied to every building, and are suddenly scared of walking alone at night, I want you to know that you can have a beautiful, successful life outside of Tufts. It is in Tufts’ interests to make you think that all the good things in your life will start and end with its influence. I was so relieved when I finally learned otherwise.

Life is going to be hard for a while, but don’t give up on it. Sleep might be rare or constant, classes might be impossible, and your sex life might be a mess, but it won’t always be like this. One day it will be easy to wake up. One day you will have a day from start to finish all to yourself without the people who hurt you. Please don’t give up on yourself, and please fight to get there. When you do, you will be so strong, and you will be wise, and you will have learned things about yourself you never imagined.

Don’t count the days to your rape anniversary, and don’t count your scars. Don’t look back on what ifs. Count the people who love you. Look forward to the beautiful person you still deserve to be.

You need to put your fight to be well above all other fights. Nothing matters more than your health.

I wish you love and strength.

Audrey Chu

Boston Area Rape Crisis Center 24-hr hotline: (800) 841-8371
Nandi Bynoe: nandi.bynoe@tufts.edu
Ears for Peers 7pm -7am: (617) 627-3888
Victim Rights Law Center: (617) 399-6720