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“SAAM Says” is a collection of narratives by sexual assault survivors and victim advocates being published during MIT Sexual Assault Awareness Month. This is the third of four pieces in the series.

“Don’t worry. Rape happens, but it doesn’t happen here.”

When I heard a brother at my ex-boyfriend’s fraternity say this in earnest, I wept bitterly. Part of me wants to maintain the safe, confident ignorance surrounding his statement. The other part wants to shout the truth: rape happens here.

My ex was finishing his senior year at MIT, I was finishing mine at Wellesley, and we were attempting to kindle a post-breakup friendship at a fraternity party. Some nights to this day, I lie awake and play the tortuous what-if game: what if I hadn’t attended that party? What if we hadn’t shared Jell-O shots and danced together? What if I’d listened to the brothers who pulled me aside and warned me: “Maybe you should keep your distance,” “I don’t want you to get hurt again,” “Did he just pull you onto his lap?”

What if, when he drunkenly asked for help getting to his room, I’d sent someone else?

What if I’d fought harder and screamed louder?

He woke up with limited memory of the incident, and I only managed to call him “sexually aggressive” in a later conversation before he cut me off, worried about how this would compromise his respectable image. I didn’t use the word ‘rape’ — I couldn’t — and instead left it at that.

I managed to graduate in spite of what happened. In the time that followed, I was nearly overwhelmed by the sheer number of friends who held me, cried with me, and stayed up all night comforting me. Their wholehearted support ignited a seething, roiling anger inside of me towards my ex — my attacker. So many people were shouldering the consequences of what happened, except for the person who needed to the most.

After months of no contact, months of bitterness mounting inside of me, I impulsively texted him, “Are you free to have a conversation soon?” I wanted him to see me. I wanted him to look me in the eye and confront what he did face-to-face. I wanted, even for just the span of a 20-minute conversation, for him to be held accountable for raping me.

And I wanted to do what I could to make sure he’d never do it again.

We met up on campus, and I gave him a detailed account of exactly what he did that night. It’s almost pointless to describe his response because sometimes all I can think about is what he didn’t say: While waxing poetic about how he couldn’t change the past, saying things like “this has been hard for me too,” he didn’t once apologize. He was clearly more worried about being saddled with the “rapist” label than how I was doing. Sometimes, it’s the “sorry” left unsaid that hurts the most.

At the end of the conversation, I told him that I was going to be okay. Not because what he didn’t wasn’t terrible, but because I was stronger than anything he could possibly do to me. I had an amazing support network of people who were going to help me reclaim my peace of mind — the peace of mind that he’d taken away. I concluded by telling him to never contact me again.

As part of a slow and steady healing process, I’m trying to stop mentally reducing myself to the “rape victim” moniker. Some days it’s harder than most, especially in the rare instances when even that very moniker is called into question. There are people who doubt my story, and there will be people who will doubt it in the future. But I am holding onto this narrative as tightly as I possibly can because on tougher nights when I’ve lost faith in my ability to heal, my story is all I have.

I am also learning that it is OK to not be OK — because, quite truthfully, I am not there yet. I don’t want to apologize for my emotions, and I’m building myself back up to be something more than the scars I’ve acquired. I know it’s going to take time, patience, and a great deal of self-care.

But until that time comes, I just have to take it one day at a time.

Note: This account has been kept anonymous to protect the identity of the author.