This week, The Tide will publish a series of three reflections from Wheaton students on their experience with sexual assault. The series seeks to give voice to the stories of survivors in the midst of a larger campus conversation on this issue. It is our hope that these reflections will draw attention to how deeply personal and real sexual assault is to survivors on campus. If you would like to add your story to this collection click here.
Today’s submission comes in the form of three raw reflections from a student who wishes to remain anonymous.
Before I even came to Wheaton, I had already heard the phrase “Wheaton bubble”. This concept was reinforced throughout orientation and the rest of my time here, by both fellow students and administration. The idea is that everyone at Wheaton is a Christian, so you start to get comfortable in your faith. A “bubble” implies that life at Wheaton is easy, pain-free, and impenetrable.
My “Wheaton bubble” was popped when I was the victim of a sexual crime, committed by a fellow student and close friend. Although the crime itself was incredibly painful, I was hurt even worse by the shock and heartbreak of being betrayed by someone I trusted implicitly. This was a person who helped me lift weights at the gym, who gave me relationship advice, who even encouraged me to stop sleeping through chapel by sharing what they had learned from each message.
The crime was sick, but the person behind the crime was charismatic, funny, and kind. How could someone who posted verses on Facebook and went to church every Sunday do something so evil? How many others at Wheaton are complete frauds? My expectation was that Wheaton would be a place of safety. My expectation was that, in order to encounter “real” sin and “real” pain, I would have to leave campus. My expectation was that a Wheaton student could not be capable of such a “big” sin. My expectations were naïve and unrealistic.
The biggest struggles at Wheaton are not tests and relationship drama, despite what people say. Students here are dealing with death, loss, sexual assault, discrimination, and so much more. These are “real” sins and “real” struggles. This is the real world.
Wheaton College, I urge you to do two things: 1. Start talking about hard issues like sexual assault as if they exist on Wheaton’s campus – because they do. 2. Stop referring to Wheaton as a bubble. It discredits the very real pain and suffering that so many students are experiencing.
When I was the victim of a sexual crime at Wheaton, I struggled to decide which of my friends I was willing to share with. This became especially difficult when one of the first people I told responded with the words “too much information.”
Why is there so much shame in sexual assault? The stigma associated with sexual assault is not just personal; it is cultural. If Christians are supposed to be advocates for the innocent, then why does it seem that the shame of sexual assault is even worse in a Christian setting? Perhaps purity culture has messed up the Christian community’s ability to see sexual assault the way that God sees it.
We live in a community that is obsessed with sex (Yik Yak, anyone?), but we won’t talk about it. Somehow, as Christians, we have put sexual sins on a different level from all other sins. There is something permanent about “losing your purity” that does not apply to lying, disobedience, or other sins. We talk about “losing your innocence,” as if sexual purity, once lost, is lost forever. If you lie, your sins can be wiped clean. God will forgive you, forget your sins, and you can start afresh. But if you have sex, you are permanently “damaged.” This separation between sins is cultural. It is not found in the Bible, where some of the greatest heroes are guilty of sexual impurity.
This stigma of sexual sin impacts the victims of sexual violence. The shame associated with sexual assault can be directly linked to the shame associated with sexual impurity, regardless of the fact that one is intentional and one is forced.
In contrast with the “TMI” response I mentioned earlier, another friend who I decided to share my own experience with said “thank you for telling me. Now I know how I can pray more specifically.” Perhaps we should start viewing sex in a way that acknowledges its importance but does not regard it as shameful. This means that when someone like Dennis Hastert is accused of sexual abuse, our campus talks about the situation instead of removing his name from our building and pretending like he never existed. This means that we as students discuss the issue of sexual assault more than once a year when we complain about sexual assault training. This starts with being willing to be vulnerable with our own sexual struggles and sins, with the belief that God’s forgiveness stretches from the East to the West.
A Day in the Life:
10:00 am: Class is almost over. My heart begins to pound. I’m sweating and shaking; I can barely breathe. Is this a panic attack? I force a smile and walk to chapel.
12:45 pm: I’m at Saga eating lunch. I’m irrationally afraid that everyone will know what happened to me just by looking at me. I think I see him and knock over my glass of milk. No one can find out. They will look at me and only see a victim.
2:00 pm: I’m sitting in the counselor’s office. I’m not really sure what I’m doing here. I don’t want to answer her questions. She says I have “high anxiety” and should come back. I don’t.
4:00 pm: “Are you ok?” asks my roommate “I’m fine.” I wasn’t.
9:30 pm: I’m running on the track. My anger gives me energy. I run farther and faster than I have in a long time.
11:30 pm: I’m trying to do homework. How can I concentrate on my work when I feel like I am drowning? I start walking aimlessly around campus. Eventually, I stop and sit behind the Wheaton sign in between two bushes. My knees are pulled up to my chest, and I am sobbing. Various noises combined with my location and the time of day allows me to cry without fear that anyone will notice me.
3:00 am: I’m lying in bed, wide awake. I know the amount of sleep aide I’ve already taken is unhealthy. But maybe if I have some more NyQuil…?