Freshman year as a sorority pledge was chaotic in the most exhilarating way. As a bright-eyed 18 year old, I was fairly innocent to the world that I now know to be. I was excited and swept up in the world of sisterhood, frat parties, and “shenanigans.” I didn’t walk into situations fearing for my safety. We drank too much, we laughed too hard, and we were lucky enough to be in the age where social media hadn’t quite reached the height of documenting every walk of shame and every drunken mishap.
Contrarily, social media, at that time, was not a force that could also easily make you feel validated and less alone.
It was a night in February, in 2009, when I lost my virginity. No, correction: it was a night in February that my virginity was stolen from me by rape.
The night started out like any other – pre-gaming rituals in the dorms, picture and laughs, and a bus ride to a fraternity bar party that was meant to raise money for kids with cancer. It didn’t cross my mind that my philanthropic offerings would also include my virginity, without my permission. I was sober when I arrived at the club and told a friend I was going to the bar to get a drink, with my fake ID. I vaguely remember taking a drink that a friendly and charming fraternity boy offered me; then, it all goes black. I’m talking 100% blackout. I found out, days later, that my friends went looking for me when I didn’t come back from the bar after 30-45 minutes. I was nowhere to be found.
I woke up the next morning, groggy and disoriented and partially paralyzed – all what I’ve now come to know are common side effects of the drug GHB (a.k.a. “roofies”). When I regained consciousness that morning, in a strange apartment with no clothes on, I knew something was wrong. I’d never had sex, so obviously I could tell from the pain “down there” that sex had occurred. I tried to move, to find my clothes, to get the hell away from wherever I was… but he climbed on top of me. I remember snapshots of him raping me a second time and I remember that I couldn’t command my body to move, no matter how hard as I tried (I also learned that partial paralysis is another side effect of GHB). He told me to tell him that I “liked it,” as he was raping me that morning. When I didn’t answer, because, truthfully I was in pain and I did not like it, he insisted I tell him that I did.
I quietly and meekly said, “yes,” hoping that it would make him finish quickly, so I could leave safely.
I don’t know how I got back to my dorm, exactly. I remember having this type of tunnel vision in certain snapshots of my memory. I remember climbing into my bed in my freshman dorm room and never wanting to get out. I remember seeing that I was bleeding every time I went to the bathroom (and it wasn’t due to my period). I didn’t talk to anyone about it… because I honestly did not realize that what had happened to me was not okay.
My sorority never talked about sexual assault or rape. We never talked about the “Me Too” moments.
In fact, I remember hearing about how we would get more “derby” points for Sigma Chi’s philanthropy event, if we slept with the “upperclassmen” in Sigma Chi.
I’ve grown a lot since those days as an active sorority member at my college. Unfortunately, in the years following, I endured many battles and destructive seasons that resulted from that rape (that I didn’t get help in recovering from). In the year following my assault, I started drinking too much, sleeping around, struggling with an eating disorder, and just being all-around reckless in my behavior. A few sorority sisters, concerned for my well-being, simply did not know how to “handle” me, especially from a “PR perspective.” Anyone skirting outside the lines of the normal (and acceptable) drunkenness and reckless behavior was a cause for concern. I was either the one that my sisters joked about and laughed about in saying “you were hammered last night,” and “she’s a shit-show,” to the one my sisters said, “You need to get your shit together, we’re worried about you.”
But the topic of sexual assault, even among the members I did share it with, never took precedent in our conversations. And, to be honest, I don’t fault them for that. They were not much older than me.
So, I am calling on national sorority representatives to take a stand on this issue. I am calling on national sorority advisors to feel responsible as educators and mentors for their chapters – not in simply “policing behavior,” but in truly cultivating a community that understands their rights as women to not be violated and to be supported and get help when they are.
National sorority organizations should FEEL compelled to protect their young members from this pervasive epidemic in our culture – where women are victimized far too easily under the premise of “partying too hard.” Where they don’t speak up and say anything because it is “par for the course.”
It is not okay, and I have realized that in these past two weeks, following the nationally trending “Me Too” campaign. I have seen countless sorority sisters, whom I have not spoken to in seven years and felt I had no connection with, posting “Me Too.” And I’ve realized that as an 18-year-old freshman, I was probably nowhere near as alone as I felt I was.
If my sorority had cultivated a community that held space for this type of conversation… maybe the next few years of my life would not have ended up as destructive as they did.
What I do not is that now, we have no excuse. So I am calling on all sorority advisors, house moms, chapter presidents… to create and hold space within your sororities for the “Me Too” conversations.
STOP allowing a culture of “drunken mishaps” to sweep a member’s experience of rape under the table.
Sororities were founded on the basis of sisterhood. Sisters, you have an opportunity, right here, right now, to foster an authentic, active, and intimate community that stands together and says,
“Sexual assault is not okay and we will not stand for any activity or culture that promotes it. We will not support fraternities that feel they have a right to do whatever they want with our bodies, and we will not shame our own members for their bodies. We will not blame or shame our sisters who are victimized. We will love them, we will hold them, and we will demand justice. We will demand better of our Greek community. We will be better. We refuse to be part of the problem. We are a powerful body of women with immense influence and we are rising up, together, and deciding to be part of the solution.”