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Sexual assault survivors speak out in Pitt Breaking Out Campaign - The Pitt News

The Pitt News

Sexual assault survivors speak out in Pitt Breaking Out Campaign

Chantelle+Farley%2C+a+junior+Cultural+Anthropology+major%2C+wrote+in+a+letter+to+her+boyfriend%2C+%22why+did+I+let+you+treat+me+this+way%3F+Did+you+think+you+were+tough+and+manly+for+making+me+feel+weak%3F%22+Courtesy+of+Chantelle+Farley
Chantelle Farley, a junior Cultural Anthropology major, wrote in a letter to her boyfriend,

Chantelle Farley, a junior Cultural Anthropology major, wrote in a letter to her boyfriend, "why did I let you treat me this way? Did you think you were tough and manly for making me feel weak?" Courtesy of Chantelle Farley

Chantelle Farley, a junior Cultural Anthropology major, wrote in a letter to her boyfriend, "why did I let you treat me this way? Did you think you were tough and manly for making me feel weak?" Courtesy of Chantelle Farley

By Lauren Long / For The Pitt News

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Pitt junior and cultural anthropology major Chantelle Farley wrote an open letter to her ex-boyfriend addressing the most difficult questions of her sexual assault.

The letter reads, “Why did I let you treat me this way? Did you think you were tough and manly for making me feel weak? Did you gain power every time I cried in shame of how physical I was with you? Did you think you won?”

As Farley discloses in her letter, after screaming “no,” pushing, shoving and biting, she gave up. But even though it took her a while to see, Farley’s boyfriend did not win, she wrote in her letter. She did.

“I am stronger and more loved than you ever made me feel,” Farley wrote at the end of the letter. She signed it as “the ex who is more than you ever told me I’d be.”

Farley’s story is one of 16 short stories included in Pitt’s Breaking Out Campaign, an online exhibit exploring sexual assault’s personal and social impacts through the lens of student survivors. The stories all come from Pitt students whose lives have been affected by sexual assault. All pieces, currently on display on Facebook, utilize a quote from a longer dialogue to communicate sexual assault survivors’ stories. The campaign is part of the Genocide Relief and Awareness Club’s larger 30 Days of Consent movement and an extension of Duke University’s Breaking Out community, which began in 2013.

In light of the Stanford rape controversy, GRAC president and founder Sam Mostofa is hoping to extend GRAC’s outreach and provide an outlet for victims to come forward about their experiences with a continued photographic exhibition in the fall.

“We want to elicit support for those affected by assault and rape and hope we can mitigate some of the stigma as well as making the Pittsburgh community more aware and cognizant of sexual assault issues,” said Mostafa.

Pitt’s Breaking Out Campaign accepted artwork in the form of stories, poems, songs and quotes through April 29. These stories were published both anonymously and by name with author’s permission. Anonymous artists kept their identities hidden from the general Pitt student body because they did not want to subject themselves to a poisonous environment, said Eric Talbot, Pitt Breaking Out Campaign spokesperson.

“We wanted to create a safe space for student conversation because we are either uncomfortable about sexual assault or we have turned a blind eye to it,” Talbot said. The campaign is not limited to victims — those who support and want to validate the experiences of victims are welcome to submit pieces as well, said Mostofa.

According to the Association of American Universities Campus Survey on Sexual Assault and Sexual Misconduct, nationally, 1 in 5 undergraduate women experience some form of sexual assault during their college years. According to Pitt’s September 2015 report on campus sexual violence, that statistic is closer to 1 in 4, at 23.6 percent.

Although rates of sexual assault and misconduct are highest among undergraduate females and students identifying as transgender, genderqueer, non-conforming, questioning or as something not listed on the survey, according to AAU, sexual assault is prevalent across genders, ages and sexual orientations.

The social stigma attached to the phrase “sexual assault” can prevent an individual from taking a proactive stance in response to his or her assault, said Helen Ann Lawless, a Pitt graduate student who is eager to continue the fight to eradicate rape culture and victim blaming on Pitt’s campus.

“We need to change the way we talk about consent and healthy sexuality,” Lawless said. “Most survivors are assaulted during their first few weeks of college, and as much as we try to have meaningful programming during those weeks, it may be too late for some.”

According to the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network, about 2 out of 3 sexual assaults go unreported in the U.S. College-aged women have a 20 percent report rate. In an investigation of sexual violence crimes not reported from 2005 to 2010, RAINN found the primary reason for not reporting sexual violence to police was fear of retaliation. According to the 2015 survey, Pitt’s highest report rate was 27.1 percent for incidents involving penetration and physical force. The primary reason for not reporting sexual assault was that the survivor didn’t think it was serious enough to report.

Jillian Mae, a senior nursing student, said she hopes her artwork will not only raise awareness of sexual assault but also contribute to ending violence and hate on Pitt campus.

“Please listen to the young women and femmes in your lives,” Mae said. “We are smart, we know what we’re talking about, and our voices, experiences and opinions matter.”

Lizzie Schnarr, a sophomore nursing student, and Mae both agree that alcohol is not an excuse for rape. Schnarr said she would have resisted her assailant if she were sober. If someone had intervened when he was tugging her to the bathroom, she would have taken any excuse to leave.

“We all deserve better than this. We have to stop thinking that sexual assault isn’t something that happens all around us. We have to stop promoting rape culture,” Schnarr said.

Schnarr said she shared her story because she does not want anyone else to suffer the same fate.

“I want to go back to my very first day of college and beg and plead with [myself] until she learns everything that I have learned through the pain,” Schnarr said. “It’s too late for her, but it’s not too late for so many others.”

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Sexual assault survivors speak out in Pitt Breaking Out Campaign