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When Rape Survivors Are Silenced


A woman holds a sign at the One Billion Rising event in Washington DC on Feb. 14.

CREDIT: Tara Kutz, Campus Progress

Today around the world, "1 Billion Rising" dance rallies in public spaces are protesting violence against women. It's a global outcry against the silencing and shame that survivors of sexual violence too often endure—and news events from the last few months have drawn increased attention to that silencing. 

A common thread in a flood of rape stories coming out of India was the callous treatment that women endured in the aftermath of their trauma. According to many of the victims, police showed little to no concern and barely followed through with an investigation.

As reported in a recent New York Times article by Gardiner Harris, minutes after talking to a police officer about her rape, a woman in South Delhi witnessed the same officer laughing and joking with her attacker. The officer pleaded with the woman to settle the case without an investigation.

Harris's investigations revealed that India’s culture upholds a notion of women as “modest” beings, unable to display any signs of turmoil. When women experience violence, police tend to plead and negotiate with them not to publicize the incident. The intent, according to Harris, is to restore the modest and polished image of women, resisting any actions that could be perceived as disturbing.

India’s lack of care for rape victims has resonated among young women in this country, too.

Angie Epifano, a student raped on the campus of Amherst College, shared her story in an article published by the school’s newspaper. After confessing her despair over being raped to a college counselor and making an offhand suicidal remark, Epifano was escorted into an ambulance by campus police and ended up being involuntarily committed to a psychiatric ward. She wrote that the doctors were skeptical of her claims of rape, and that they called her anger and sadness "unfounded and irrational."

Epifano then endured a series of escalating nightmares. First Amherst almost didn't let her back on campus because she had been committed, whereas her rapist was allowed to return. Then she was denied the opportunity to study abroad in Africa because the country was too "traumatizing," only to be traumatized by being forced to stay on campus in the dorms with men she didn't know. Then she was denied the opportunity to complete her major in African Studies—and that's when she decided to withdraw from the college. A counselor, hearing this news, called Epifano “emotionally volatile” and unable to “follow through with the decisions that she made.”

Both encounters, experienced by Epifano and the woman in Delhi, revolve around the idea of silencing the “disturbed” woman. According to the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network, 6 in 10 rape cases are not reported, while only 6 percent of rapists as punished with jail sentences.

In a blog, started by Epifano, other women who were victims of sexual assault shared their experiences.

“It is time that we demand from our administration transparency, dialogue, and priority of students’ safety over Amherst’s image,” one victim blogged.

Another victim unsettled by the unjust treatment she received from her school’s administration concluded, “Silence has the rusty taste of shame.”

Cherise Lesesne is a reporter for Campus Progress.

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