Last week, my daughter’s “Till It Happens To You” PSA premiered. The foundation has been flooded with responses, reactions and messages about the unfortunate epidemic of campus sexual violence. This morning, I wanted to share with you the personal story of one of the members of the Born This Way Foundation family. I share her resilience, strength and courage with you in hopes that it inspires you to ask for help if you need it, educate yourself on the resources available and take action to stop experiences like hers from taking place on our nation’s college campuses.
Cynthia Germanotta – ‘President, Born This Way Foundation’
Most young adults leave for college feeling excited about the new opportunities and relationships that await them. Many also share the mindset of “bad things can’t happen to me,” myself included. I left home for my sophomore year at a university 1,000 miles away from home, anxious to get back to my sorority sisters and my freedom. However, within my first month back at school I found myself experiencing a set of very different emotions.
Three weeks into my fall semester I was raped by a guy who offered to drive me home from a fraternity rush week party. The excitement and joy I felt just a few weeks earlier left and I suddenly felt extremely alone. I pushed away my negative feelings and pretended I wanted what happened that night to happen but I didn’t and I said “no.”
For years I didn’t tell anyone what happened. I made a lot of choices in that time that I regret and I began to blame myself for “getting raped.” I shouldn’t have been drinking. I shouldn’t have worn that skirt. I shouldn’t have flirted with him. I should have waited to go home with my roommate. These thoughts circled through my brain and I replayed the night over and over in my head. I wound up moving home from school my junior year to constant questions from my friends and family as to why I left.
Many people still do not know what I went through or how deeply it has effected me. I remained silent for three years, which may seem odd to some, but is actually extremely common with victims of sexual violence. In fact, 95.2% of students choose to not report their campus rape. I was not willing to admit to myself that anything like that could happen to me. I was embarrassed by the attack and by many of the choices I made after. I still have days where I wish I hadn’t gone to that party and wonder what my life would be life if I didn’t come home but I try not to focus on the negatives and look at the positives.
Although my parents did not know what I went through having them support my decision to move home was vital to my healing process. Five years following my rape I don’t consider myself a victim. I channeled the pain from my experience and used it to motivate myself. I am currently in my second year of graduate school for psychology and would like to use my experience to help others break their silence.
Having someone as influential as Lady Gaga share her own experiences about this subject and take a stand against campus rape is instrumental to change the status quo. Many colleges still believe that rape is not a problem at their school, which contributes to victims not wanting to report. The reality, however, is that about 20% of women will be subject to some form of sexual assault during their college career. That is 20% of women who will feel used, worthless, and alone if something does not change.
There are ways that you can help stop this epidemic. Organizations such as “End Rape on Campus” and “Know Your IX” work to give victims of sexual assault a voice. If you or someone you know was raped or sexually assaulted – know that you are not alone. Together we can work to empower students and put a stop to sexual violence on campus.
If you or someone you love has been sexually assaulted, there are places to turn for help. For a full list of service providers near you, visit RAINN.com and – for immediate assistance – call the National Sexual Assault Telephone Hotline at (800) 656-HOPE (4673).