One year since Tier Town: How Tufts student-activists silence survivors
Content warning: sexual violence, victim-blaming language
Note: This is a follow-up to a Tufts Daily op-ed published in December 2019, which can be read at bit.ly/tiertown.
I’ve written before about my experiences with sexual violence in Tufts student-activism, focusing on how I was raped in Tier Town. But activists have done more harm than just the initial atrocities. There are far more dimensions to my reaction than the courage to fight back.
Not only did she rape me, she kept me isolated from the rest of the community, forcing her way past every boundary and intervention to control and coerce me. The guilt over my submissive response to her coercion has only intensified with time. The shame over my body’s response to her touch persists just as she did in Tier Town.
A year ago when I was still in that relationship, I felt that something was wrong, but I didn’t trust myself enough to feel right telling anyone. I felt pressured to welcome her advances, not reject them, in order to prove that I deserved my place in the Tufts student-activist community. She and her friends had been incredibly effective at convincing everyone, including me, that what she did to me was not rape or abuse, but that her insistent advances were merely the natural product of her confusion over my “mixed signals,” while she “only liked [me] as a friend.”
She claimed to know me more intimately than I could ever know myself. She said I was “not an open book, but a different book every time.” I felt obligated to unlearn my own discomfort in order to validate her expert opinion. She made me question whether my memories were real. Her dominance over me compelled me to unequivocally value her desire over my needs.
I fought so hard to unlearn the gaslighting and the lies that she nearly drowned me in. It took incredible amounts of emotional labor from others for me to finally understand that it wasn’t my fault. I am deeply grateful to the comrades, some of whom were survivors battling similar thoughts themselves, who held me through my darkest moments. They guided me toward understanding that it was not my fault for letting it happen, but that she was to blame for assaulting me.
I was certain that the rest of the community would overwhelmingly disagree with me. I was surprised to receive an outpouring of support after I left her, and again after the first op-ed. But in the end, I was right to expect much worse. Influential community members with only their own interests in mind seized control of accountability processes meant to help people in vulnerable positions like mine, cutting me off from the resources I needed to thrive as a person and make this community a better place.
Do these activists understand the impact of their actions?
You require that I assume good faith in everything that you have done to harm me and refrain from holding you accountable in any way, no matter how much harm your actions caused to me. This insistence forced me into silence and out of your spaces. I avoid entire Tufts buildings and organizations where I once belonged but can no longer enter because I fear further harm. The toll that your deeply harmful actions have taken on me has been immense regardless of whether you meant well or not.
I know now that your vision of community that you hold so dear never made room for me. I feel less than human in your eyes, since you chose to discard the false pretense of caring for me in order to support those who harmed me instead. You demanded my silence in order to maintain your own comfort and obliviousness. You paint me as the wrongdoer because my difficult truth offends you. You bar me from believing that it is wrong to have harm inflicted upon me, to the point that I feel I do not deserve to trust myself when I sense that something is not right.
Your unfailing insistence that I constantly take care of those who have harmed me has taught me that it is immoral for me to seek safety because that would be unfair to you. You denied me the most basic forms of stability and security in order to avoid confronting the possibility that you might have made a mistake. I feel that your denial takes up so much space that you have no room left to acknowledge my humanity and my pain.
You have pushed me to learn that it is better for me to fail alone rather than be spectacularly betrayed. I would much rather walk home half an hour by myself at night than accept a ride from someone else driving back to campus. You pushed me out of spaces intended for people like me. I hesitate to seek out resources that exist for survivors. I have become wary of accepting help from activists, no matter how well-meaning they appear to be. I feel unwelcome and unsafe at Tufts. It is too dangerous for me to trust this community any longer.
I cannot exist on this campus without feeling an all-consuming sense of fear endlessly wrack my body. The anxious chills running through my veins feel all too similar to the cold night in the tent city. Your vicious words become indistinguishable from hers. I wish the secondary assault of your withering glares and whitewashing lies would end, but it has only escalated with time.
I was once a strong and powerful survivor. But the way you frame me as causing harm and yourself as the victim has thrust into my mind the thought that I am to blame for the violence done to me. Is it immoral of me to think that I have been wronged? Am I unworthy of your compassion? Have I deceived this entire community into presuming that I am a victim? You act as though I should be known as the offender instead.
Even in the midst of a rape flashback or panic attack, I wonder if it is wrong of me to feel victimized. I feel as though this is the deserved result of my personal shortcomings. I should have just stayed silent and never said anything about Tier Town. I should never have claimed that what she did to me was rape. I don’t deserve the platforms this community has given my story. After all, she did this because I “[sent] mixed signals.” My accusation caused her “repercussive social trauma,” “forced [other survivors] to relive their trauma,” and created an unnecessary situation “that has caused irreparable harm.” These spaces are far more important to this community than I could ever hope to be, so how could I have the audacity to tear them apart by bringing my story into the public eye? I have internalized your aggression towards me, a feat that even she could not achieve.
I hope that no one else will ever have to endure what I have.
Imagine a world where bystanders act to intervene in situations of sexual violence. Where you do not normalize or defend abuse. Where you do not victim-blame, gaslight, or attack survivors. Where you believe in my humanity.
When this article is published and circulated within your community, you will undoubtedly deny having engaged in any of these actions or broadcast any of the beliefs I have internalized from you. I expect nothing less from those who repeatedly have denied my truth.
You might validate my feelings but refute the charges. You might admit to behavior that caused me to believe I was harmed, but not display real understanding that you harmed me. I will no longer accept the smallest shreds of acknowledgment as sufficient amends.
I ask for accountability. I ask to be believed. I ask to not be vilified for speaking up.
I ask to feel once more that I am deserving of humanity and compassion.