It Happens Here is the first magazine about sexual violence at Amherst College. We hope that it will serve as a safe space for survivors of sexual violence and relationship abuse to speak about their experiences, in an effort to break down misconceptions and stereotypes about this form of violence, its victims, and its perpetrators.
For many of us, rape is a totally foreign concept. It is something that happens far away — to poor women in impoverished countries or careless women who just “don’t make good choices.” It is perpetrated by deranged men lurking in alleyways. It could never happen at Amherst. It could never happen to our friends. It could never ever happen to us. It often takes a personal experience before we wake up to the reality that rape, sexual assault, and relationship violence do happen here at Amherst. Women are victims. Men are victims. Men are perpetrators, and so are women. Smart people, strong people, cautious people, confident people — sexual violence doesn’t discriminate among them.
And there are a lot of survivors here. One in five women will be sexually assaulted during her time at Amherst. (Think of all your female friends, and do the math.) The Peer Advocates frequently throw these figures at us, but, for some reason, they don’t seem to take on any meaning until we — or someone we love — become part of the statistics.
You may wonder, “Who are all these survivors? Why don’t I know any?” But knowing survivors and being aware that we know survivors are two very different things. You may then ask, “Why aren’t they speaking up? Why aren’t they talking about the injustice they experienced?” The truth is, some are; but most are not. There are dozens of reasons why survivors do not speak up. For many, Amherst — like so many places in the world — is not yet a safe space for them to share their experiences. As a community, we are still blaming victims rather than perpetrators. We are still asking victims questions like, “Why did you drink so much?” or “If he really raped you, then why did you keep dating him?” We are still defending perpetrators, declaring, “I know him — he’s a good guy. It must’ve been a mistake or miscommunication or entirely fictional or something.” As long as we disbelieve, blame, and judge survivors, and as long as we defend and excuse the actions of perpetrators, we will continue to keep survivors silent, and we will, consequently, fail to be cognizant of their presence here at Amherst. We hope this magazine will provide an opportunity for survivors to speak and be heard.
Many people have asked us well-intentioned questions, like, “Why would anyone ever read this magazine? It’s such a depressing subject.” We would like you to consider instead the consequences of not reading it. While sexual violence may be something that is uncomfortable for you to think about, it is a reality for twenty percent of the women — and many men too — on this campus. They are your friends, your teammates, your classmates and casual acquaintances. They may be your future girlfriend or boyfriend. How are you going to help the person you love? If you have tuned out survivors’ voices all these years, then how are you going to help a friend heal when he or she joins the ranks? If you have never paid attention to the language you use to talk about rape, then how are you going to make sure your friend does not feel blamed or judged by you? If you have never pondered what it’s like to go through an Amherst disciplinary hearing, how are you going to support a friend through the process?
Rape is happening here. Raising money for rape victims in some impoverished part of the world is a noble deed in its own right, but it is not going to change the dark reality on our campus. We need to go deeper. We need to examine our attitudes about women, question the ways we stereotype men, change our assumptions about perpetrators and victims, and change the language we use to discuss sexual violence.
We ask you to please read this magazine with an open mind and open heart.
Dana Bolger ’14E, Sonum Dixit ’13, Kinjal Patel ’13, Nancy Yun Tang ’14