I'm A "Sad But Brave Girl" Who Spoke Out About Campus Rape

Updated April 05, 2016 5:44pm PDT
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I have been on the local news three times: once as a kid when my parish priest won an award, once in high school when a reporter did a story about a charity I worked with, and once in college to talk about my rape.

This was about two years ago when it felt like I couldn’t open my laptop without being bombarded with articles about campus rape. It seemed like every channel and paper had a testimonial. Blogs and viral stories were constantly forwarded to me. It was comforting at the time, people cared and people were speaking out. I had refused to shut up about my case and the mishandling of it by university officials. Anyone who would listen would hear about how our procedures violated Title XI. Half my papers that year incorporated sexual assault policies—including my final project for an art class.

I used whatever I could to publicize the problems on my campus.

When I was approached by a friend who worked at a Crisis Center to do an interview, I didn’t think twice. Channel 3 News had been asked to be put in touch with rape victims who were willing to be interviewed. They were having trouble finding someone who would let their face be shown. I went to a relatively small school. I had already told my parents. It felt like I had nothing to lose.

I also, perhaps naively, felt it was my duty to speak out.

I tried to prepare for it: rehearsing potential questions, thinking about how to pivot from the personal to public policy. I didn’t kid myself—I knew the interview was about getting a good story, but I felt like if I was calm and clear I could help other victims learn about resources. I wore this obnoxious pink shirt that was somehow too bright and too pastel. I don’t think I’d ever worn it before; I never wore it again.

I wanted desperately to look like someone people might like.

My dad went with me to the interview; I think he had to take a day off work. I realize now it was for more than moral support—he wanted to make sure the interviewer wasn’t taking advantage of me. I’m not sure I realized how vulnerable I was during that time in my life.

The interview was uneventful. I went through my talking points, largely about how schools needed to reform and serious crimes didn’t belong in the hands of student tribunals. I think the interviewer was disappointed with my restraint. Watching it, I looked small and nervous, but my responses were dull. My rape wasn’t “splashy” and my interview certainly wasn’t going viral. I was a filler. Every channel needed a Sad But Brave Girl, and I was the best one they could find.

This was made incredibly evident when they bumped the clip twice, once for a storm and a second time because the local basketball team hired a new coach. One of the most traumatic events of my life was trumped by five minutes of sports coverage.

I braced myself for backlash after the interview finally aired—it never came. Someone I went to high school with emailed to say their mother had seen it and my neighbors called my parents about it. If anyone else saw it, I may never know. Channel 3 never put the clip online. If there’s a record of it all, I can’t find it.

Looking back I don’t know that it was worth putting myself out there. I don’t know what was gained or if my story was exploited. My mom told my relatives before it aired because she didn’t want anyone to find out while channel surfing. It hadn’t occurred to me I would have to disclose to my entire extended family. I wanted to share my story if it would help, I was desperate to do anything useful. It’s possible the interview had an impact that I never knew about—I certainly felt like it didn’t matter.

Would people have cared more if I was prettier? Should I have talked more about the violence? Was my story not important enough? Exciting enough? Emotional enough? Did I fail to make my story matter?

From time to time I remember that interview, and think about all the viral stories I read back then. What happened to them? The girls and the stories? Campus rape was a trending topic two years ago; now the stories are found sporadically on feminist blogs, if that. This is still a problem. Why is it no longer “trendy” to admit the problem still exists?

For all the media buzz back then, for as much as news outlets were eager to use stories like mine to piggyback on the “timely issue” of widespread suppression of sexual violence against women on campuses across the country, my experiences were less newsworthy than a guy getting a new job. How many women have had their education, their careers, disrupted by this unchecked violence?

I came forward as a victim, one of hundreds of girls interviewed by local media, a token Sad But Brave Girl. I’m still here—maybe not sad enough, or brave enough, but still here.

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Artist, Social Scientist, Generally strange and critical human.