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The Tufts Daily
Where you read it first | Monday, June 24, 2024

Call them the Rainbow Steps

Trigger warning: This article discusses sexual assault and rape.

"Legend has it that the staircase behind Wren was specially designed so that women could outrun a pursuer." So says a Tufts Daily article from 2009, describing what many on campus know as "The Rape Steps." Alumni report that this name has been around since at least 2004. The story of their design is a myth, but the story has a very real negative impact: this name perpetuates false narratives of rape, trivializes the violence of rape and triggers survivors. I am a member of Tufts Action for Sexual Assault Prevention (ASAP), and in an effort to get people to stop calling these steps "The Rape Steps" we have lined the steps with rainbow colored bricks, and encourage you to start calling them "The Rainbow Steps." Let me explain our reasoning.

This name and legend are harmful in three ways: First, the legend of the steps' design enforces the idea that rape is when a male stranger chases a woman late at night and physically forces her to have sex. While this does happen, it is not the most common scenario: The Department of Justice reports that roughly two-thirds of survivors of rape or sexual assault know their attacker. Four in 10 rapes or sexual assaults occur in the victim's home, and two in ten take place at the home of a friend, neighbor, or relative. Many people are raped without ever being physically forced, such as when a person is passed out, intoxicated to the level of incapacitation or threatened with violence, rumors, blackmail or a breakup. Also, while the majority of rapes and sexual assaults are perpetrated against women by men, survivors and perpetrators can be of any gender or sexual orientation. The narrow "male-stranger-jumps-woman-at-night" view of rape allows perpetrators that don't fit that story to think their actions were okay, and makes it hard for survivors who don't fit that story to name what happened to them as rape and not be ashamed to seek help and resources.

Second, the legend of the steps is tossed around as a sort of fun-fact or joke, which can be hurtful for those with direct or indirect experiences of rape or sexual assault. The legend is similar to other casual references to rape (like "that test raped me") and rape jokes in that it can - again - make it easier for perpetrators to think their actions were okay and make it harder for survivors to not be ashamed to seek help if they need it.

Thirdly, the name is triggering, particularly when it is used light-heartedly. A trauma trigger is an experience that brings up a memory of a traumatic experience, often causing the person with the trauma to feel anxious, dizzy, sick or nauseated, and in some cases be mentally transported back to the moment of the event, losing track of their surroundings. While it is almost impossible for someone who has survived a traumatic incident to avoid every trigger, helping create a non-triggering environment for them can be immensely beneficial to their mental health and healing process. That is why it's important to avoid using potentially triggering language, and to give trigger warnings like the one at the beginning of this article. For many Tufts students, hearing the name "The Rape Steps" tossed around so casually will trigger them and shock them out of their normal routine. Therefore, eliminating the name and legend of the "Rape Steps" is both a compassionate and necessary act.

We hope that the new rainbow-lined bricks along the edge of the steps near Wren Hall will remind you to refer to the steps as "The Rainbow Steps." In this process we have partnered with Tufts Queer Straight Alliance (QSA) to acknowledge that sexual assault and victim blaming are issues that impact not only straight individuals, but also members of the queer community. By collaborating in this project, Tufts ASAP and Tufts QSA aim to show partnership, unity and solidarity with the experiences of all individuals on our campus.

We encourage you not to perpetuate the false history of the "Rape Steps." Please don't pass on the story to incoming students. Thank you, and see you on The Rainbow Steps.


Nate Matthews is a junior who is majoring in economics. He can be reached at

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