Advancing the Public Debate on Sexual Assault – from a Survivor

This week, The Huffington Post ran my article on sexual assault, written in response to an anonymous op-ed by a Harvard undergraduate, which recently enraged many people.

I felt that as a Harvard alumna and an “out” survivor of a highly-publicized rape, I had a certain duty to speak out about the appalling fact that many educational institutions — when confronted by a sexual assault between students — often prefer to sweep everything under the carpet.   If you read my article and agree with it, please do share it.  It’s time educational institutions took the issue of sexual assault and the ethics of their students seriously.  And only a public and visible dialogue will prompt any kind of improvement.

As you may know, I was raped while visiting Belfast for a Mitchell Scholar reunion in April 2008.   My assailant was a 15-year-old boy who followed me in a park one afternoon.  Since then, I’ve realized how important it is to pierce the embarrassed public silence which often hangs over the issue of rape — a crime which is shockingly frequent and often silently devastating for its victims.  So I’ve never hesitated when asked to talk about it on radio, in print, in books.

Many thanks for those of you in the US-Ireland Alliance community who have shown me support and encouragement in dealing with my own assault.  Without this kind of support, I would find it much more difficult to speak out about the issue.

As for my assailant, his story continues in interesting ways. In 2012, he had violated his parole in Northern Ireland, gone missing, been re-arrested in Dublin, and then released on bail by District Court Judge John Lindsay (despite the objections of the Garda).  And then of course, escaped again and vanished.

Last November, he was finally re-arrested after having gone missing for over a year.

This week (on the same day that my article went live on the Huffington Post), I received an email from the police informing me that he had been transferred back to Belfast after serving time in Dublin.  He has the legal right to apply for High Court bail and has been remanded in custody until next Saturday, April 12.

Coincidentally, next Saturday will also be the 6-year anniversary of the attack.  As I grow into my mid-30s, many of my friends have wedding anniversaries and increasingly, children’s birthdays to celebrate. But I think it is equally important that we take the time to commemorate those “dark days” which sometimes befall us in our lifetimes. Otherwise, we don’t really appreciate our non-dark days.

Each year, on the second Saturday of April, I walk around a park on my own — wherever in the world I happen to be.   Last year, it was Fort Canning Park in Singapore, and the year before, it was Al-Bidda Park in Doha.  This year, it’ll be somewhere in London.

At any rate, if you ask me what I’m currently doing in London, I’m enrolled in a Creative Writing MA at Goldsmiths, University of London, and hard at work on a novel inspired by the attack — both my assailant’s story and mine.

It’s called Dark Chapter.  The first draft will be finished in the next few months — but maybe some chapters in our life never really finish.

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