Reclaiming College After Sexual Assault: BUST True Story

by Lilly Jay

Getting into college is difficult. Getting your college back, reclaiming it as your own after a sexual assault, is nearly impossible. I was raped a few weeks into my freshman year. I became a student by day and prey by night. For a year, I pantomimed learning, and I watched educational opportunities slip away.

The day I found out that the student who had assaulted me had raped someone else, I led a disciplinary complaint against him. I joined survivors across the country in announcing our truth. My newfound activism seemed like a promising antidote to the loneliness of surviving assault. But the truth is, it didn’t help me reclaim college.

Whether you’re thinking about it because you’re scared of the boy down the hall or because you’re planning a meeting with the college president, recalling rape always hurts.

That’s the terrible irony of sexual assault activism: using your experience to protect others from rape is so empowering, but it also tethers you to your pain. In order to be heard, I had to talk about the night in which violence silenced me.

When nonsurvivors step up and say, “I don’t need to be hurt to care about assault,” they give survivors permission to move our hearts from the edge of our sleeves back to where they belong. Hearing my friends, family, and professors say, “You don’t need to stay hurt to convince us to care” freed me. That’s when I got back my college experience.

Every moment or statement of support makes it easier for survivors to nally mourn for our younger selves and nd reasons to love our com- munities again. Allies do more than prevent future assaults; they help carry the heavy truth that colleges are not safe, but they can and should be. Only nonsurvivors can ensure that when we look back, we can say that compassion, not trauma, changed the world.


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Lilly Jay adapted this piece from a speech she gave on September 19, 2014, introducing Vice President Joe Biden at the White House launch of the It’s On Us initiative to raise awareness of campus sexual assault. It’s On Us specifically encourages that bystanders intervene to prevent sexual assault. 

Excerpted from WE BELIEVE YOU: Survivors of Campus Sexual Assault Speak Out by Annie E. Clark and Andrea L. Pino published by HENRY HOLT AND COMPANY, LLC.  Copyright © 2016 by Annie E. Clark and Andrea L. Pino. All rights reserved.

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Founded in 1993, BUST is the inclusive feminist lifestyle trailblazer offering a unique mix of humor, female-focused entertainment, uncensored personal stories, and candid reporting that tells the truth about women’s lives.

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