I Used To Say 'Poor Girl' When I Heard About Sexual Assault, Now I Take Action

by Olivia Cassandro

It's a day like any other. As your eyes open, thoughts begin to flood regarding your upcoming assignments and that pestering to-do list more stacked than your dreaded pile of laundry in the corner of your room.

Not to mention, you're about nine days behind on your gym schedule. Nonetheless, you're a student. In the grand scheme of things, do any of these responsibilities hold any real merit?

You step out of your room, take a shower, maybe make some breakfast (assuming you didn't hit snooze on your alarm around five extra times) and begin your busy day. As you step outside and begin that dreaded walk to the day's first class, you walk past five girls.

These girls, dressed like any other, share stories, tell jokes and express nuisances. From the outside looking in, nothing appears atypical, right?

Wrong. We, unfortunately, cannot deem every one of those five girls “typical.”

According to Isaac Asimov, an American author and professor of biochemistry, “the saddest aspect of life right now is that science gathers knowledge faster than society gathers wisdom.”

And according to research, one in five undergraduate college women are sexually assaulted during their time in school.

So, we can lie to ourselves all we want about how these girls appear so “normal” on the surface, but if this tried-and-true numerical value possesses such a painfully inconvenient truth, maybe this personified statistic isn't as “atypical” as we try to convince ourselves.

Maybe we've convinced ourselves it's atypical because when we open our eyes, thoughts begin to flood regarding our upcoming assignments and the pestering to-do lists more stacked than our dreaded piles of laundry in the corners of our rooms.

Maybe we simply “don't have time” to come to grips with the truth that ignorance is bliss, and that this is typical.

How sickening that this is our new normal, or perhaps even more than sickening, because what we have on our hands constitutes itself as nothing short of an epidemic.

So, there's this friend I met two years ago. Upon discovering by chance we had both mutual friends and interests, we decided to get bagels together. Her humor, so exquisitely unique and familiar all at once, captivated my attention.

The stranger quickly became a close friend, one whose genuine interest and respect for every human she encounters bewilders me to this very day.

Her motivation in all that she put her mind to surpassed all those I know her age, and I couldn't help but feel like I knew her my whole life, despite our first encounter just occurring a few bagels ago.

I began to associate her name with strength, resilience, sunshine, pep and everything in between.

But in due time, I found out that this same young woman comprised of strength, resilience, sunshine, pep and everything in between survived sexual assault.

While the incident occurred long after I first called her a friend, I couldn't fully grasp that I knew someone who experienced that degree of personal devastation, and emerged more kind, driven and persistent than most women my age.

I recalled my public education health classes, the countless news headlines. I recalled the cautioned advice about what to wear, how to act and who to talk to, the advice I know damn well men my age were not necessarily privy to.

I brainstormed (or at least tried to brainstorm) the identities and experiences of these survivors. Were they like my friend?

That didn't matter. The names didn't matter. Neither did the hometown, the major of study, the outfit, what have you. The sheer fact that a gross violation happened to a member of my generation, my friend — only the reality and intimacy of this particular event mattered.

What mattered was its secrecy, the bigger picture's taboo. Why do we avoid the topics that matter most?

This could, honestly, probably, will happen to someone else tomorrow and the day after that, and the day after that. Moving forward, all that matters here is the urgency to do something, anything, because this simply cannot happen any longer.

I would be lying if I said my clarity on this situation came overnight. In the moment I heard the news, I couldn't type, write, read; my daily responsibilities seemed irrelevant.

What made this friend of mine any more different than me? Oh, that's right, literally nothing. Because we all have the same color blood.

Males, females, children, adults... this could happen to anyone. Yet, somewhere down the line, we deemed this topic one large taboo.

In fact, I would put any wager on the harsh reality that the selfish mindset our generation almost universally adopts funnels into a deeper issue.

We worry about our own needs, like getting to the grocery store before our bag of frozen chicken runs out, putting gas in our cars and submitting our assignments on time before we ever stop to realize that one day, out of the blue, without any rhyme, reason or warning, someone can make us feel so powerless, defenseless and unsafe in our own skin.

I did what I do best when I find out information I don't want to hear. I fled my apartment, laptop and books in my bag, and “committed” to spending my day immersed in my studies.

After half an hour, I felt my mind running one hundred miles a minute. I retreated to my apartment and forced myself to fall asleep to further avoid the fact someone evoked such a shameless act of personal terror on someone close to me.

When I woke up, the thoughts persisted. I began to ask myself, “What would I do if, one day, my daughter called me to tell me she was raped?” “What if I was in the same room as him last week?” “What if we've had a conversation before?” “Is he a bad person?” “Am I a bad person for not knowing what to do?”

With a single lingering question, I put all others to rest: "If this was me, what would I want my friends to do?”

At the most fundamental level, I knew this friend needed me to think long and hard about the culture of our generation that causes tragedies like these and the habits we hold to let these tragedies ensue behind closed doors.

We live in a culture saturated with over-sexualizing our every move. Not only do we have the same blood, but I would also argue we have many of the same insecurities. Are we too young? Too sexual? Too desperate to prove something?

Conveniently, the access to drugs and alcohol will never be as high as they are right now. There's this overwhelming pressure sitting on our shoulders in the absence of our parents (let alone any real permanent guidance to tell us “Hey, kid, you're doing all right”) to never make a single mistake.

In fact, we're only allowed to make mistakes if we're fucked up. Under these pretenses, we're allowed to go out, get drunk, blackout and wake up the next morning without any clue of who we wake up next to.

Here, we get the exquisite pleasure to live, just for a few hours, without any sort of liability whatsoever.

This may be our new normal, but is that what allows ourselves to get taken advantage of? Most importantly, do people actually think they can do whatever they want, to whomever they want, just because they're “messed up?”

Do people think they can do whatever they want, to whomever they want, just because they're 'messed up?'

Want to hear six words of utter crap? “It's OK, you were just drunk.” It's not OK. It will never be OK.

In fact, I have every reason to believe such ignorance exists as a desperate attempt to justify this epidemic.

We hear stories on the news, online, on the cover of a magazine and say to ourselves “poor thing” and go about our daily business. Yet, if we took two seconds to realize this epidemic's far reach, put ourselves in these survivor's shoes and ask ourselves “What would we do?”, those two seconds would compound into a lifetime of greater empathy and mutual respect.

In fact, we'd change the culture. Because in all bluntness, throwing in a few “poor things” will not do a thing until we think big picture about the horror we subconsciously create, then ignore, on a daily basis.

All it takes is one conversation for your worldview to change.

I am not an "outside" perspective to this epidemic. As a woman — so long as we teach other females what to do to prevent rape instead of teaching men not to do— this epidemic will live with me for the rest of my life.

Our generation's culture. infused with the rite of passage to get drunk, receive attention and live in the moment, may cause one to rationalize that story on the news about the girl who woke up next to a guy she didn't know.

I am fortunate enough to attend a university with great programming and support for rape survivors like my friend, but in this world, where a college-aged rapist can attend prison for a shorter span of time than when I last got a manicure, and where the president-elect of the United States literally brags about grabbing women by the pussy without their consent, I can't stay silent any longer.

In fact, now that I call a rape survivor a friend — a friend who had the misfortune of encountering some selfish imbecile who didn't care about her dreams, what she had to eat that day, a "man" who only saw her as a body to take to his room — I cannot and will not rationalize this culture.

And neither should you.

We need to define the issue. “What is sexual misconduct?” “Why do these things happen?” “What is consent?” Could Jonas Salk have created the vaccine to Polio had he not known the disease inside and out?

It's on me, you, your friend, their roommate and everyone who ever hears a story of that “poor girl” to bring this epidemic to the forefront of your attention.