“I’ve channeled my energy into those around me,” Harmony Reid told a group of 50 students on Wednesday. “I’m going to keep talking because I refuse to keep silent.”
The power of narrative is a key tenet of Sexual Assault Awareness Month, which kicked off Wednesday with a talk from Reid, who was raped during her first year of college in 2006 and is now a volunteer educator for the Clery Center for Security on Campus.
At the event in Diana Center Event Oval, Reid described her struggle to cope with the attack and her battle to report the incident, in addition to her current work, through which she provides support and services to victims of sexual violence.
SAAM will host events throughout the month that focus on creating discussions around sexual assault and violence, culminating in a speak-out after the Take Back the Night March next Thursday.
Columbia Health’s Sexual Violence Response organized Reid’s lecture with support from V-Day, Take Back the Night, FemSex, and Alpha Chi Omega.
Danielle Fong, BC ’14 and an AXO sister, said she found the talk moving.
“It’s important because one out of four women on college campuses experience sexual violence,” Fong said. “Our society can’t just keep hiding this as an issue. If we don’t have events and discussions to promote this issue—to move us from saying ‘don’t get raped’ to ‘don’t rape,’ which needs to happen—this won’t stop, and it needs to stop now.”
Reid told the story of her attempts to seek justice from the police and then her school, Plymouth State University. When both avenues failed her, she became depressed and spent time in therapy.
Reid said she has now dedicated her life to advocating for victims’ rights and working to prevent sexual violence and that even seven years after her rape, she is still recovering.
“I was a victim in more ways than anyone should ever have to go through,” she said.
After Reid’s speech, audience members asked questions that covered topics such as the definition of “rape” versus that of “sexual assault,” how to explain one’s rape to a child, and universities’ roles in preventing and adjudicating instances of sexual violence.
During her attempts to report her own rape, Reid said her university considered her “someone who was putting a blemish on our school’s reputation. I was ruining our public image by coming forward.”
Reid said that while she believes society has more work to do in the way it treats victims of sexual assault, colleges and universities are improving.
After helping Senator Jean Shaheen (D-N.H.) write her Senate floor speech in support of the Violence Against Women Act earlier this year, Reid said the increased media attention around sexual violence has made her hopeful.
“I think us as young adults focus on this … but when a law is passed in our government, that transcends generations,” Reid said. “Passing VAWA will increase the popularity of this topic. The passing of it is a big step.”
VAWA—which was highly contested in Congress before its passage last month—included the Campus Sexual Violence Elimination Act, the most significant piece of legislation about college rape in two decades. The act aims to increase transparency and change the culture on college campuses with regards to sexual violence by requiring schools to report more statistics and provide awareness programs for students and staff members.
While it’s difficult to tell how the act will be interpreted, students at Columbia and schools across the country are hoping universities will use it to make significant changes.
Zoe Ridolfi-Starr, CC ’15, said she met with a group of students at the beginning of the semester to discuss Columbia’s policies on sexual assault. Now that VAWA has been passed, she said she is eager to see how Columbia will respond. “For me, refocusing the conversation around prevention, around discussion with men and women about consent, about responsibility, about substance abuse, about how all of these things—how everyone can participate in these conversations to make it a safe campus is really important,” Ridolfi-Starr said.
Students at the SAAM event Wednesday echoed this sentiment, with many of the questions for Reid focusing on educating about consent and bystander awareness.
“As a society, we have a lot more work,” Reid said. “We’re getting there, but it’s really slow. It’s an uphill battle, but we’re getting there.”