An open letter to Kirby Wiley
Dear Ms. Wiley,
I am writing to you today on behalf of all the young women you know who have been sexually assaulted. I realize you may not know that you know women who have survived sexual assault. But the statistics — which say that approximately one in six women will experience sexual violence in their lifetimes — say that you do. You very likely sit in class next to assault survivors every day, work beside them in your student organizations, socialize with them on the weekends. The chances that one of your very close friends is a survivor of sexual assault are quite high. And if, by some miracle, you do not yet have a woman in your close circle of friends and family who has been raped, over the course of your lifetime you will.
I am writing to you on their behalf because your recent op-ed in The Daily Campus silenced them. By taking the stance that women who have been raped should accept at least some of the blame, and should be subject to such blame in the media, you have sent a cruel message to women, including those you care about. You have sent the message that they cannot disclose to you that they have been raped, that they cannot come to you as a friend for support after such a devastating event. You have sent the message that, should they choose to disclose that they are survivors of rape, they will be met only with your blame, your skepticism and
Ms. Wiley, let me assure you that victims and survivors of rape do not need to be served a new portion of blame for their assaults. Women who have been sexually assaulted already blame themselves far too often. You might wonder how I know this. I know this because I blamed myself for my own assault at the hands of a man I was dating when I was a first-year in college. An assault that happened when neither of us had been drinking or doing drugs, when we were in a place familiar and safe to me — when I had done all the “right” things according to your logic. And yet, in spite of doing all the “right” things to “prevent” my assault, I found myself raped anyway. Thanks to attitudes like yours, I didn’t go to the police. I searched for ways I could have stopped what happened to me. And though that night is 20 years ago now, I still carry the scar of the victim-blaming culture.
That’s why I’m writing to you today. Because I’ve spent the last 20 years reclaiming my voice and speaking out for women who have been silenced by attitudes and words like those you spoke on the pages of this paper.
Ms. Wiley, I sincerely hope that you are among the percentage of American women who never finds herself the victim of a sexual assault. I hope that you are able to live your life without becoming one of our sorority. But should you ever find yourself in that circumstance, I hope that you have a friend you can go to for support. And I hope he or she meets you with more compassion and kindness than you have shown the women of SMU.
Harper received a doctorate in anthropology from SMU’s Dedman School of Humanities and Sciences in 2005.