Section: Opinion

Elimination of Take Back The Night will benefit survivors

Recently, I overheard a conversation among high-level administrators in the office where I work that I sincerely wish I hadn’t.

“They’ve cancelled Take Back The Night.”

“Can’t those people who are ‘triggered’ just stay home with their ‘comfort pets?’”

“This is too much. When are people going to shut up and deal with their problems?!”

I don’t want to denounce my office specifically. I like working there, and I like the people I work for; moreover, I know that this conversation did not occur solely in my office, but in many spaces on campus after the news broke of Take Back the Night’s (TBTN) cancellation.

However, I think all community members should know this: Whenever you make remarks like the ones I heard in my office, there might be a survivor of sexual violence within earshot. As much as I wish it weren’t, this is a statistical reality. Because campus assault is such a pervasive issue in our community, we need to use discretion when talking about it in public spaces, and empathy when we are referring to trauma that we ourselves have never experienced. People who disparage those who wished not to participate in TBTN festivities for fear of revictimization clearly do not understand that sexual violence doesn’t end when the physical pain of coerced sexual activity subsides. To have your autonomy, dignity, voice and your own body taken from you by a member of your own community — this is not easily forgotten or forgiven. This is, for every survivor, the worst moment of their life. When reminders of the devastating reality of sexual assault are everywhere, as they are during TBTN, survivors have no escape from them, and can be easily retraumatized. If we can prevent revictimization by canceling a party or series of film screenings, why wouldn’t we?

The need for discretion and sensitivity is an urgent one for me. I survived a sexual assault during my first semester at Kenyon, and for much of the rest of that year, I played the part of the perfect victim. I pretended that it hadn’t happened and that I wasn’t deeply damaged because of it. I pointed no fingers, laid no blame, cried only in the privacy of my own dorm room. In a few words: I shut up and dealt with my problems, because I didn’t want my assault to define me or inconvenience anyone else.

But resilience became a lot more difficult last spring, when Michael Hayes ’14 published a viral open letter, which called out the College for failing to handle an alleged incident of sexual assault against his sister. With every campus discussion, silent vigil and display of student solidarity with survivors, I found it more and more difficult to breathe: Again and again, I was reliving the worst thing that has ever happened to me. Still, I remained silent and did not reach out for help until I finally broke, and experienced a panic attack in class. I considered this a loss, a weakness: I had at last been ‘triggered.’ For the first time, I had failed to shut up and deal with my problems, and for that, I felt almost as bad as I did about the assault that occurred in the first place. Is this how we want survivors on our campus to feel, considering all of the liberal rhetoric we spout, and all of the supposed “resources” we have available to our population?

It is true that we can’t expect things to change if we do not openly address them, but if you think that everywhere on campus people are not having nuanced conversations about sexual violence, you are mistaken. It’s not that survivors want conversation to cease — far from it. We want it to be discussed as a very real part of our everyday lives, not as a nebulous, far-away danger. We want empathy, sensitivity, support, discretion. What the administrators in my office seemed to misunderstand is that sexual violence survivors do not just request trigger warnings or sensitivity because we don’t know how to shut up and deal with our problems. Survivors are some of the strongest, most resilient people you or I will ever meet. We’ve been shutting up and dealing with our problems for a long time; we will likely never stop. Moments, days, weeks, years after our assaults, we get up, go to class, and participate as productive, valuable members of our community. By trivializing our need for sensitivity, you tell survivors that our trauma is inconvenient and makes you uncomfortable. Believe me — there is no one for whom trauma flashbacks and panic attacks are more inconvenient or uncomfortable than the survivors. We shouldn’t have to apologize. We shouldn’t have to mask our trauma to protect the ignorance of others. We shouldn’t hesitate to ask for what we deserve. We are asking that an event designed to empower us be cancelled because we no longer find it empowering. Is that too much to ask?

Charlotte Freccia ’19 is undeclared from Bexley, Ohio. Contact her at frecciac@kenyon.edu.

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