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Op-Ed | The end of silence

Published: Sunday, May 19, 2013

Updated: Sunday, May 19, 2013 08:05


In October 2012, around the third anniversary of her sexual assault, Ali Safran came up with the idea for Surviving in Numbers, a sexual assault awareness project. She thought about all the people she had told over the past 3 years and how she’d reported her assault to the police, gone through the legal process, done everything a victim is “supposed” to do — without getting any real justice. It occurred to Safran that other survivors of sexual assault must have had experiences on the same spectrum. She then reached out to multiple colleges, including Tufts, and began developing the project with them. With the help of Action for Sexual Assault Prevention (ASAP) at Tufts, we decided to premiere it in April, coinciding with Sexual Assault Awareness Month. The project was on display for a week in the campus center.

The name of the project is doubly meaningful: It’s a play on the phrase “strength in numbers,” as there truly is an unspoken bond and strength among the project participants and other survivors who speak out about their experiences. Additionally, the project is about survivors and the numbers around their experiences: how many people they told, how the assault cost them relationships, etc. Statistically, sexual assault is a huge problem: One in four women in college will be assaulted during her time on campus, and one in 33 men will be assaulted in his lifetime. Contrary to the popular belief that rapists are scary, recognizably mischievous characters who appear suddenly out of the bushes, nine out of 10 females surveyed by the National Criminal Justice Reference Service knew their attackers. Perpetrators of sexual assault are often not punished, both for lack of a criminal justice system that is supportive of victims and because many victims/survivors find it difficult to come forward about what they’ve experienced.

That’s why this project is powerful: Survivors are able to share their stories anonymously and reflect on how their healing has progressed without the stigmatization that can often come with disclosing a story of sexual assault. Many survivors who have participated in the project have shared statements made by friends, including harmful statements such as, “I thought that would happen to you because of the way you are with men,” courtesy of a former best friend.  Aside from shaming a survivor, these words make it even harder for that survivor to try to talk about what they’ve experienced to anyone else, out of fear of perpetual blaming. Statements like these impede a survivor’s healing process post-assault and force survivors to keep silent about the violence committed against them. Surviving in Numbers offers a community for survivors who may never meet but who all share the experience of being victimized and struggling to heal from the initial trauma of assault and the re-victimization through the legal system or friends’ victim-blaming.

For too long, the cultural dialogue around sexual assault has been dominated by victim-blaming and shaming. This project aims to give a voice to survivors and give others a tangible view of reality. The project will raise awareness of how prevalent sexual assault is on campus and how many survivors there are on any campus. This happens at Tufts, but not only at Tufts. If survivors are supported and believed when they come forward, it starts them down a supportive path to healing; if they’re admonished or blamed for what’s happened to them, it has terrible effects on their ability to move forward from the trauma. It is our hope that the Tufts community will continue to support survivors and continue to engage in this important dialogue. 

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