A young woman reached out to me recently with an interesting story. 21-year-old Alycia Bennet is trying to raise money to continue her college education and she’s doing it in an interesting way (you can read more about it down the page). She was a lot like other college students; happy and hopeful about the future.. until the night she was raped.
Sexual assault is back in the headlines, thanks in part to the high profile Steubenville rape case but for some, like Alycia, it never went away.
She’s been very vocal about her assault so I asked if she’s mind answering a few questions posed by GEM readers to my Facebook page and she agreed.
Tell us about the incident:
In 2010, I was raped in my dorm at my previous college by a campus coordinator for a well-known, non-profit organization. It occurred just before Thanksgiving. I was a freshman and after the assault, many people on the small campus found out. People spoke to me differently. My boyfriend at the time dumped me and accused me of lying about the rape and being “dirty”. I suffered severe depression, thought about suicide frequently and felt completely alone.
As this was someone you knew, did you think it was your fault?
Before the rape occurred in 2010, I had been sexually harassed by the college coordinator several times and once he pressured me to have sex. I did not want to have sex with him but when he locked all the doors to his house at what was supposed to be a “group meeting”, I was terrified and felt if I didn’t do it, he would rape me. I’ve spoken to several counselors about this since, and many say that they have heard stories of similar manipulative, controlling behavior. With this being said, the night of the rape was very surreal for me. Since he had made me uncomfortable so many times before, I didn’t think anyone would believe me. I decided to have faith anyway and hope that there would be a way to have justice. I told my close friends who were extremely supportive and then they told the resident director. Everyone after the resident director (the nurse, the police officer) seemed suspicious of me and the interrogation was so horrible, that I did not feel motivated to press charges.
What happened after the assault.. did you find many people “blaming the victim”?
The interrogations I received from police officers and nurses was so bad, that I decided not to press charges. I only filed a police complaint and had a rape kit done. I have beaten myself about it many times since, but I feel pressing charges would only bring me more pain, since I have pretty much lost faith in both how the educational system and judicial system addresses rape. I am still considering filing a lawsuit against the college for not appropriately taking care of a rape victim on their campus and failing to have a proper and efficient protocol. I have not spoken to my rapist since and after the attack, the organization he was working for and that I volunteered for, let him go.
After receiving the harsh responses that I did, especially from the nurse who badgered me about more bloody bruises and the detective who asked me whether my rape was a “misunderstanding”, I began to not only blame myself, but also loose my mind. I felt like no one believed me or took me seriously.
What resources were available to you?
While I received a counselor from my previous college after the rape, I did not feel my story was taken serious my the college or the community in which the rape took place. In addition to this, some students told me I was “crazy” and had issues.
What’s the biggest misconception about rape?
The number one biggest misconception about rape is that all attacks are especially bloody and violent. Any time a man forces himself onto a woman and makes her have sex with him, that is rape. A woman or girl should not feel that her rape isn’t “newsworthy” enough if there are not enough bruises or bloody gashes. That sends a horrible message to the survivor and further discourages her from speaking out.
How are your relationships now, intimate and otherwise?
I have dated men since the attack, but I have been very insecure and I have had trouble feeling loved, appreciated and respected in relationships. After almost every sexual encounter I have, I usually feel neglected or abandoned after, even if I am with a good man.
Why are you telling your story?
I was very nervous about speaking up, especially when I thought about the high probability that my rapist will possibly be watching and reading these stories, blogs, videos,etc. However, something inside me said it was time, along with the encouragement of my friends and now that I have spoken out about it publicly, it seems I have been healing much more efficiently. Sharing my story has encouraged other survivors to share their stories with me, which has really touched my heart. Although it has been difficult at times to stay motivated and positive, I feel that speaking out has lead me on a remarkable journey.
What advice would you have for women on protecting themselves?
Of course I believe that everyone (women or men) should generally be cautious about dangerous areas and always be street smart, however what we are seeing is that MOST rapists that attack in the United States already knew the victim and usually, had a close relationship with him/her. Sometimes this relationship was intimate, such as a boyfriend or uncle that has been sexually abusing his victim for years. Because many people do not understand this, rape prevention is approached completely wrong. We need to do a better job as a society, as teachers, parents, lovers and community leaders of teaching our children to respect women and girls.
(Earlier this week, Alycia told her story on HuffPo Live so check out the video. Alycia is using GoFundMe.com as a way to raise money to continue her college education. If you’d like to help her raise money for her education, click here .)
Alycia Bennet is a 21-year-old student, studying Arabic and Middle East Foreign Policy at American University in Washington, DC. As a hard-working student who has overcome a traumatic sexual assault, her goal is to work in diplomacy and help create better policies to help protect women in the Middle East from violence and rape. Alycia hopes to work for The State Department after college.
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