Section: Opinion

Silence and fraternity culture isolate sexual assault survivors

Content warning: sexual assault

Last semester, I was sexually assaulted by a member of a fraternity on campus. I’m writing this because as a campus, we need to talk more openly about sexual assault. I hope my story helps other victims and motivates fraternities to reexamine how they handle sexual violence.

The assault happened in September at a North Campus Apartment party thrown by some upperclassmen in the organization. Though I don’t normally socialize with this fraternity, Sisterhood had been personally invited to the party, so I felt safe attending. Then a man in the fraternity sexually assaulted me in the crowd. My friends had to physically separate the stranger from my body. I was visibly intoxicated and incapable of giving consent.

The next morning, I woke up feeling disgusted and ashamed. I felt dirty, irreparably tainted. After the assault, my previously manageable anxiety and depression symptoms became unbearable. In addition to unrelenting headaches, powerful bouts of nausea and chronic fatigue, I started having panic attacks for the first time in my life. I now have panic attacks when I think about the assault, when I see my assaulter on campus, when I enter crowded or noisy spaces — I can no longer eat in Peirce Dining Hall — or when I interact with people in that fraternity. The worst panic attacks include projectile vomiting. This semester, I’ve vomited in every bathroom in Peirce and in every building I have a class in.

I began pursuing Title IX action but quickly discovered the toll it took on my body — as accommodating as Civil Rights/Title IX Coordinator Samantha Hughes was, filing a report was like reliving the assault. Even with my boyfriend there for emotional support, I had to leave the room multiple times because of panic attacks. The process was unsustainable, so I only met with Hughes once.

I also started anonymously texting a senior in the fraternity about the assault. The senior let me know that the fraternity would conduct an internal conduct review. When my assaulter was made aware of this decision, he voluntarily and indefinitely suspended himself from the organization. “By all means he is not a member [of the fraternity right now],” the fraternity president texted my housemate on Feb. 1. Although he is not currently a member, he can choose to reinstate himself at any time, at which point he’ll reenter the conduct review process and a different set of 20-year-olds will assess the validity of the sexual assault allegations against him.

Two weeks after my housemate informed me my assaulter had suspended himself, the same senior I had  been texting sent me a voice memo as the mouthpiece of the fraternity. “Sorry it took so long. Frankly,” he said, laughing, “I just kept forgetting to let you know. … I think I speak for everyone in the group when I say we are incredibly sorry this happened to you.” The voice memo left a sour taste in my mouth — literally, since I vomited after hearing it — but I believed him. According to him, my assaulter could no longer attend that fraternity’s social events or vote as a member. The voice memo told me that the fraternity brothers regretted my assaulter’s behavior: He was a bad apple.

However, less than a month later, I saw another senior in the fraternity dapping up my assaulter (giving him a casual handshake that became a hug). When I confronted the senior, not once did he apologize or ask me if I was okay, even after I said the sight of them together gave me a panic attack. The senior stood by his actions and told me he was against “ostracizing” my assaulter. Once a brother, always a brother — that much was clear to me.

It took me months to reckon with the fact that I was sexually assaulted — that what happened was real and wrong and not my fault. Some days I believe I deserved to be assaulted. Other days I’m convinced that nothing traumatic happened to me, despite my body’s trauma response. 

Sexual violence survivors can sometimes doubt the validity of their assault due to the isolation victims can feel as a result of limited dialogue about assault. Victims are often unable to share their experiences due to a fear of retaliation and to avoid reliving their assault. In my experience, information identifying abusers is usually only shared among a survivor’s close friends and family, if that.

I had never heard a single bad word about my assaulter’s fraternity until after my assault. Once I began speaking out, I heard stories of other instances of sexual violence by my assaulter, by other members of that fraternity and by members of other Greek organizations on campus. Strangely, the influx of sexual violence allegations I heard from friends and other members of the community made me feel better. As awful as it was that my sexual assault didn’t occur in isolation by one bad actor, it meant that I wasn’t imagining things.

I urge fraternities to reflect on the consequences of sexual misconduct and to hold their brothers accountable. And by speaking out, I hope to validate other sexual assault survivors in their experiences: You did not deserve to be assaulted. What happened to you was traumatic. I believe you.

Bea Bolongaita ’25 is a political science and Chinese major from Dublin, Ohio. She can be reached at bolongaita1@kenyon.edu.

If you or someone you know has experienced sexual assault, the New Directions Domestic Abuse and Rape Crisis Center Hotline is is free, confidential and available 24/7. You can call the hotline at 740-397-4357.

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