Friday, March 3, 2017

“Sexual assault does not affect just UAF or the US. It affects the entire world.”

Content warning:  Prior to reading, please note that this blog entry contains information about sexual violence.

This blog entry provides perspective on one UAF student's experience and it includes local, national and international resources for others.

Shame. It can be a noun. A painful feeling of humiliation or distress caused by the consciousness of wrong or foolish behavior. Humiliation. Mortification. Chagrin. Ignominy. Embarrassment. Indignity. Discomfort. A loss of respect or esteem. Dishonor. Disgrace. Discredit. Degradation. Disrepute. Shame can be a verb. A person, action, or situation that brings a loss of respect or honor. Shame can be used to “take down a peg or two, cut down to size”.

It was 4am, I was on the phone with my mom. She just received difficult news from me. We had one of those crucial conversations one prepares for but hopes never becomes a reality. For the life of me I wish I could remember what she said about shame, her passionate 5-minute rant on why shame and guilt are emotions that infest our minds, which feed off the negativity of doubt and loneliness. How she defined shame made me quit crying. Made me listen and reevaluate my position. There was strength lurking under this blanket of shame that society threw over me. I made my bed with it, without questioning its ethics, its morality, and slept there content in hiding my experiences from the world.

Let me rewind a bit. Mid-October. It is 9pm, I am seated next to a police officer as one of the most empowering women I know lets her story of shame spill out of her mouth. Her eyes. I am thrown back to the moments of my shame. Their creation. Born from slaps and spilled beer. I remember exactly how it felt to be alone, in a foreign country. Her confession makes me realize what I tried to hide from myself. Where the puzzle pieces from the last two years finally situate themselves to paint the picture of truth. As they come together, there is no denying the picture they create.

This is also the start of the spiral. A movement into myself that dug up my past trauma from the grave I tried to smother it in. I fell apart. My identity shattered into a million pieces once I recognized my trauma. The mind is powerful. I lost some of the pieces. I replaced them with the ones I dug up. I am in transition. I am confused by identity. I doubt every action, every thought. I try to distance myself from the truth to find some sort of resemblance to that past girl. It does not work. The distraction only lasts so long until a word, a look, a thought, will send me right back into that bed. The pit in my stomach contracts, and I am consumed by that night. This is what I am fighting through in classes, struggling to maintain composure. When out with friends, this is why I drink minimally for fear that anymore will open my vault of self-control. These are the thoughts I try to force away while I get ready in the morning, hoping I can keep the facade together.

I am vulnerable. I am raw. I have hit the point of acceptance, one that has allowed me to recognize that what I went through is not new, is not rare. In fact, it seems to be “normal”. Through my newly begun process of healing I have come to terms with the fact that I cannot continue to be silent. In my spiral, I saw the details more clearly. I am not at fault. I did not deserve this. I do not need to carry the weight of loneliness conveyed through dishonest conversations and actions.

I was raped while on my foreign exchange. By another foreigner. I won’t tell you the details. Not what country, or who he was. None of it matters. What matters is that it happened in the first place. Sexual assault does not affect just UAF or the US. It affects the entire world. The circumstances of an individual's traumatic experience vary drastically, which only complicates the prosecution process further. In a foreign country, as a foreigner, it becomes even more convoluted, as definitions of sexual assault differ, or in some cases, don’t exist. Abroad, I had no direction following this trauma. I did not believe the reality of what happened.

Two years later, I find myself taking the action I wish I had known existed. Title IX, contacting an advocate, counseling. I googled “sexual assault on exchange”, the results were troubling. Troubling because all of them were either like mine, too old to be of use, or the processes of investigating sexual assault in the host country is mediocre at best, or layered under social and cultural customs. In most cases, the perpetrator is let free. The woman is shamed. Lack of resources, reported cases, general discussion has made me feel directionless. This directionless search is suffocating, especially to someone like me who has always had a vague plan of my next step. Right now, I don’t have a next step.

Instead, I have found a release from this constant anxiety. I will take up this new identity, and sew it into the quilt of my life. I did not want this piece, I fought to hide it. Now it is mine, and I hope that there comes a time when nobody has to do the same. How? It started with women who were brave enough to fight the systemic injustices, who through their own beautiful risings showed me that honesty is powerful. It continued with me writing this, and it will continue with you reading it.

Recognize the actions that lead up to an assault, the “normal” behavior that leads to such violence. I had a wonderful time dancing that night, as the hip, foreign-club played bands like the Red Hot Chili Peppers. It was something that had the potential to be a highlight of my time abroad. Some will disagree, will argue that we each had a choice. Or that my experience is invalid because of its circumstances. I will argue that while we each made our decisions that night, to go out, to dance, to drink, none of those decisions should have led to rape. No decision should ever lead to rape or abuse.  

I don’t know who made him feel as if he was unlovable, when it happened. Maybe he was a young child or maybe it was much later in his life. Whatever the circumstance, he selfishly used his loneliness and his inability to recognize that loneliness to take advantage of me. Without a thought, he used me for a minute’s worth of pleasure, subjecting me to years of emotional turmoil. If we do not do something about how our societies teach boys and girls to view their sexuality, view love, view relationships, do not recognize the responsibility we have of shaping society, we will never make progress away from this perversion of intimacy.

Going on an exchange did not cause this to happen. My being alone did not cause this to happen. I am not even sure what did, and I will not take fault for it. On most days I am fighting with my mind, urging myself to let go of the blame and guilt I have layered over the assault. I am choosing daily to not be afraid. I am choosing to continue pushing the boundaries of society that define acceptable and unacceptable behavior.


Here is the best resource I could find on sexual assault abroad after searching the internet for resources:

There many options for help if you have experienced a sexual assault, want more information on how to handle sexual assault, or want to become more involved:

UAF Campus Resources

Resource & Advocacy Center - Confidential
A program of the Interior Alaska Center for Non-Violent Living

UAF Wood Center Room 130
Phone: (907) 474-6360

UAF Student Health and Counseling Center - Confidential
612 N. Chandalar Drive,
PO Box 755580
Fairbanks, AK  99775-5580
Phone: (907) 474-7043

Office of Diversity and Equal Opportunity – Title IX Reporting
Nordic House, 739 Columbia Circle
P.O. Box 756910
Fairbanks, AK 99775
Phone: 907-474-7496

Nanook Diversity & Action Center
101K Wood Center
505 Yukon Dr.
P.O. Box 756640
Fairbanks, AK 99775
Phone: 907-474-6029

Fairbanks Resources

Interior Alaska Center for Non-Violent Living - Confidential
726 26th Avenue, Suite 1
Fairbanks, AK 99701
Toll Free: 1-800-478-7273

Statewide Resources

Alaska Network on Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault
130 Seward St., Suite 214
Juneau, Alaska 99801
(907) 586-3650

National Resources

RAINN (Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network)
National Sexual Assault Hotline 800.656.HOPE,

Know Your IX

NCEDV (National Coalition Against Domestic Violence)

NNEDV (National Network to End Domestic Violence)

International Resources

SASHAA International Toll-Free Crisis Line (available 24/7)
Outside the U.S. and Canada, follow these two steps to contact the toll-free international crisis line:
  1. Find your country-specific AT&T direct access code here.
  2. Dial your AT&T access code and, at the prompt, enter this phone number: 866-USWOMEN (866-879-6636).
To call the crisis line from the U.S. and Canada,
dial 1-866 USWOMEN (1-866-879-6636).

Article on how to respond if someone comes to you with their story:

Additional Resources:

What Consent Looks Like; accessed 3/3/2017;