During my senior year of college, I was raped. As two black students at one of the nation’s most prestigious PWIs, my rapist and I knew each other well. I’d considered him a friend. My rapist was hard working, charming and eloquent and had made a name for himself as an athlete, a sweetheart and a scholar. He was handsome, intelligent and well respected by fellow students, faculty and campus staff alike. My rapist was, by all indications, a good guy. He was the kind of guy you couldn’t help but root for.

The morning after my assault, I went to the university health center to get a rape kit. The doctor confirmed trauma and, with my permission, called the campus police. As I sat in the exam room, wearing nothing but the terrible paper gown they’d given me, waiting for the police to arrive, my mind began to race. If I gave them his name, this would explode. He was weeks away from leading our school back to the NCAA tournament. This would not go away quietly. If I took action through the university, would I be robbing our school of one of our good black men? If I took legal action, would I be robbing the world of the impact his charm and success could have made? Was justice for my rape worth furthering society’s assault on the black male image? Could I stomach providing ammunition to even one racist by taking aim at a successful black man?

Minutes later, my doctor, two police officers and I sat crowded in the tiny exam room as I provided them with the details of the night before. I showed them the torn shirt that he’d ripped off of me and the bruises on my neck, hips and thighs. I willed myself to give them his name but I couldn’t. As I put these thoughts to paper, my words stare back at me and seem foreign. Who is this girl who bites her tongue and lets herself be silently defeated?

For most of us, though we’ve resisted the trope of the angry black woman, being a strong black woman comes with a sense of pride.

As strong black women, we’re supposed to take what life throws at us in stride, while protecting our men, our children and our community. Vulnerability is a vice.

I’ve tried to convince myself that it didn’t really happen. That it was a misunderstanding. Maybe he didn’t hear me say no, over and over again? I should have been louder. Maybe he didn’t realize I was crying? I shouldn’t have worn such a low cut top. Maybe he thought my attempts to shove and kick and claw him off of me were playful? That I wanted it?

I’m still rooting for him. He raped me and I’m trying to explain it away. I’m trying to tell myself that he’s still the good guy everyone thinks he is. Because I’ve chosen, at least for now, to remain silent.

The Department of Justice estimates that among rape victims, one in every six white women will report their assault while only one in sixteen black women will report theirs.

Where every victim of sexual violence has struggled with shame and wrestled with a long list of reasons to remain silent, you don’t have to look far to see that the list is longer for black victims. While we’re not short on reasons to distrust law enforcement these days, stories of police officers sexually assaulting black rape victims attempting to report certainly don’t help.

Still, we can’t overlook the impact of the black community on the decision of black victims, like myself, to stay silent.

I am strong and I am bold, but I’m terrified and it seems I’m not alone.

At this point I would normally write a call to action. I would urge you not to join the ranks of those suffering in silence but to speak out for justice. I would convince you that we are not doing anyone a favor by protecting sexual assailants in our community and letting rapists walk our streets unchecked. I would remind you that most rapists will commit multiple rapes in their lifetimes. I would share with you the overwhelming guilt that I feel when I think about my rapist doing to another woman what he did to me because I chose to be silent.

But the thing is, each and every time I will myself to stand up, call the police and give them his name, the shame and turmoil I felt the morning after the attack comes rushing back. I think of the confusion and disappointment that will hit the young black boys in our community who look up to him, the heartache that will overtake his mother when she learns what he has done and the burden that even the most upstanding men on campus will feel to overcome yet another attack on the black male image. I imagine the rate of micro-aggressions against black students skyrocketing, a white student donning blackface and handcuffs dressing as him at the next racist themed frat party and a few sharply worded opinion pieces against affirmative action in admissions popping up in the school paper. If I stay silent, one person suffers. If I speak out, that number multiplies. I fear that breaking my silence would cause more pain than it would heal, taking me from victim to villain, two roles I never wanted to play in the first place.

I cannot call you to action when I’ve taken no action myself. I cannot urge you to see things my way when I’m not yet sure how I see them myself. What I can do is hope. I hope that if you’re reading this as a victim of sexual assault you will choose to be kind to yourself. I hope you choose to be patient with your conflicting emotions as you wrestle with a decision that too many of us will face in our lifetimes. Whether it’s in the pages of a diary or in a court of law, I hope you’ll speak the truth of your story, your pain and your resilience in a way that feels right to you and best allows you to heal and regain the peace that was taken from you. I hope that we as a community will learn to respect your decision, whatever it may be. That we’ll revere those who choose silence and applaud those who come forward to break it, seeing strength and beauty in all who find a way to pick up the pieces.

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