On your side
“SAAM Says” is a collection of narratives by sexual assault survivors and victim advocates being published during MIT Sexual Assault Awareness Month. This is the last of four pieces in the series.
My freshman year, I awoke in the middle of the night to the sound of someone moving about in my room. Leaning up slightly in bed, I saw that my roommate’s bed was empty and the door was ajar. I said his name wearily to verify that it was him. It wasn’t. A dark figure slipped out so silently I questioned whether I was actually awake. Adrenaline kicked in like a turbo-lagged engine, adding to the nightmarish unreality. I told no one what had happened. Probably just a drunk person in the wrong room, right? But he had moved so stealthily. I began locking my door at night.
That didn’t stop him. One night, my roommate came back late and left our door unlocked for a few minutes to take a shower. My stalker saw his opportunity and crept in while I was vulnerable. When I woke up he was standing over me, hand outstretched. This time my survival instincts kicked in. “Get the FUCK out of here!” I yelled. He fled, and I pursued him, filled with terror but more afraid to stay put. I intercepted him, confronted him, kept yelling. “You didn’t have my permission to be in there!” I said. “I left that door LOCKED!”
I’ll never forget how I felt in the days following what happened, nor do I wish to forget. I was confused, angry, distracted, and depressed, but most of all I was scared. I fled the company of my suitemates; I was irrationally terrified that they knew what had happened and blamed me for it. I kept my door locked all the time but didn’t feel safe anywhere. As crazy as it sounds, I blamed myself, constantly thinking of what I might have done to “lead him on,” whatever that means in this context.
For those of you that have felt this way, or feel this way now, I can tell you with conviction that it gets better. For me, it started getting better when I opened up to people. Understandably, not all of my friends were well equipped for my disclosure, and some of the questions they asked me stung. But the friends who really listened were invaluable to my recovery. I also called Violence Prevention and Response’s (VPR) hotline and connected with Kate McCarthy, who is wonderful. Revived by their compassion, I found what I needed more than anything: someone to tell me that they were on my side.
Now I am a peer educator, trained by the very people who helped me get back on my feet — namely, MIT’s VPR and Students Advocating for Education on Respectful Relationships (SAFER^2). Through my involvement with SAFER^2, I’ve joined a movement of students from all different backgrounds trying to solve some of the biggest problems our generation faces, including sexual assault and gender-based violence. This started as and continues to be a grassroots movement, with origins in conversations held in dorm rooms and over dinner. Now we enjoy the support of Chancellor Barnhart’s office, and are able to get through to more students than ever before — I always love to see an It’s On Us sticker on the computer of someone I have never met, which I take as evidence of successful outreach. But the most important work still occurs in conversations between students, when we talk about consent, being respectful to one another, and creating safer spaces in our living groups.
My mission as a member of SAFER^2 has been to address the conditions that make students feel unsafe. Through all of the work I take on, whether it’s leading a discussion on bystander intervention or organizing the One Night Stand for Student Rights, I am trying to tell those around me what I needed to hear after my stalking crisis: I am on your side. You are safe here. It gets better.
At MIT, sometimes it feels like you don’t have time to care. I get it; when I’m not tabling for It’s On Us in Lobby 10, I’m usually rushing through and dodging charitable solicitors as well. Problem sets are like a constantly recurring natural disaster that keeps us all holed up alone in our rooms, with our stores of caffeine for survival. But if we are to uphold the values of our institution — if we are to improve ourselves and thrive collaboratively, rather than settle for an environment where a lucky few prosper at the expense of many others — then we must support each other, and do more to say, “I’m on your side.” Whoever you are, you have a stake in this, and you have the power to make things better.
Note: This account has been kept anonymous to protect the author’s privacy.