- Posted March 16, 2014 by
Purchase, New York
This iReport is part of an assignment:
Why study abroad? Ask Michelle Obama
Sexual Assault Overseas
I am a recipient of the Benjamin A. Gilman Scholarship and studied abroad in Santiago, Dominican Republic for the Spring 2013 semester. I have had the opportunity to learn more about my host country’s social, political, and economic aspects as well as other Latin American countries. In my courses I learned about the lives and writing of Latin American women writers who struggled to be published in a male-dominated field. I also learned about the rural and urban areas in the DR and how they have developed. In my Latin American Film and Society course I got to watch the history, culture, struggles, and people of different Latin American countries. I have had the opportunity to talk about these subjects in my home university.
I have also been blessed with beautiful, intelligent, and open-minded peers. Conversing, laughing, sharing, tanning and traveling with every student were some of the most amazing times of my life. I had the opportunity to discuss issues on race and ethnicity, the value of money, rape culture, Rick Ross’ song lyrics, Dominican-Haitian relations, the education system in the DR compared to the U.S. and other social issues. We discussed these topics in our excursion bus rides, floating around in one of the bluest waters we’ve ever been in, laying under the hot sun as we felt the peaceful cool breezes touch our skin or during our meals when the beats of Bachata and Merengue crept into our taste buds.
I am forever grateful to two of my study abroad peers in particular. They became my diary, faith, and support system. Both helped me see that I did not give consent to a scenario two people had equal authority in. On the day of my birthday, January 8th, 2013, I was raped by a Dominican who was invited to my celebration. There were alcoholic beverages consumed that night but I also suspect something was put into my drink. The next day I immersed myself in the day’s activities. I cannot clearly recall the events of that night except for what I reported to the program office and my home university. A month later I developed a Herpes outbreak in my genital area and learned he had also transmitted an STD onto me. The image of needles and flames crossed my mind when I used the restroom. I didn't walk the same, I couldn't sleep with the feeling of intolerable agony. I sought out two gynecologists who prescribed the appropriate medication for me.
I have been back in the U.S. for more than a year now and am now feeling empowered to do something. I just recently reported my experience to the professional in charge of Title IX. I searched for resources on studentsabroad.state.gov to press charges if I came to the decision and I could not find something that would give me enough guidance to actually pursue it. I have felt useless in promoting study abroad opportunities without being completely honest about my experience. I am lost in how to appropriately start a conversation about the safety of students, specifically women, abroad. I have learned that there are other young women who have experienced sexual assault abroad. I intend to get involved in events on campus that cater to women and sexual assault issues. I want to know how else to begin to raise awareness on this issue and become familiar with the resources students have available after they come back. Awareness and the available resources for students who have been assaulted is needed.
I will never forget the relief my body felt when I was finally getting better. My legs will never forget the width they spread in order to physically heal, and the taste of my tears remain a cry for healing. I had no revenge or hate in me. I was ready to move on and heal. I believed I deserved this so I carried the heavy consequences on my back and shamefully shared my story with few people. I failed to realize that I needed to liberate myself and my story from this internalized shame to help myself and other women heal. My silence will not protect me, instead it would perpetuate rape culture. I needed to dance in the beauty and body of a survivor, not a victim. After the darkness I needed to see the light, and I am almost positive that I saw the people who love me waiting at the bottom waiting for me to jump.