Thoughts from an assault survivor in philosophy

An anonymous guest post:


Over the last few years, the the philosophical community has begun to take public notice of sexual harassment and abuse in our profession. On the whole, this is A Good Thing: It’s hard to address as a profession a problem we pretend doesn’t exist.


But, as is so often the case when the topic of the abuse of women is raised, not all of these discussions have been constructive. There has been a lot of skeptical speculation: “The allegations can’t be true because Professor is clever, well-educated—he’s too smart to put himself at risk”, “they can’t be true because he’s too good-looking, too well-situated in life. Why would he harass someone, rape someone? He must meet loads of interested women”, “the alleged victim has a boyfriend, a husband—she’s lying to cover up a consensual relationship”, “she’s probably just mad he dumped her”, “the alleged victim didn’t complain to the university right away, didn’t call the police—a real victim would never do that”, “I know Professor; he’s a good guy. He would never do a thing like that; if he had, I would have known, there would have been some sign”, and on, and on.


Listening to these discussions, online, on the various blogs and on facebook, at conferences and other professional/social events, I often find myself wondering what impression such speculation makes on victims, who are there among us, whether we know it or not. My speculation, though, isn’t entirely idle. You see, I am a professional philosopher, a senior woman. And when I was in grad school, I was raped by another philosopher.


For the survivors:


The single, most important thing for you to know is it gets better. I remember quite well the aftermath; the feeling of unreality, as if you aren’t quite fully connected to your body. And the feeling of incredible fragility, as if brushing up against another object would cause you to shatter into small pieces. I remember the confusion, the unwillingness to accept that this is something that really happened to you because….well, how could that happen to you? How could another human being do this to you, torture you for his sexual pleasure? And the months of brain fog, the insomnia, the sudden bouts of paralyzing anxiety. The bizarre feeling of deep shame that makes no sense. I remember.


It seems like it will never end. But I promise you, I PROMISE you, it gets better. The fog will lift. You will think again. And, if you choose, you will be a philosopher again. I count myself as a moderately successful philosopher; I am in a research-oriented department; I love my colleagues; they are generous and kind. And I love what I do; I love my students and I love my work. And there are many others out there just like me. We’re aren’t particularly heroic, we don’t have special abilities, we don’t have super strength. But we made it through this. Victims can make it through this.

In saying this, that recovery is absolutely possible, I do not mean to suggest that it is easy. Getting better can be hard work, work that is made a lot easier with the help of supportive friends and professionals. If you continue to have trouble with anxiety, depression, or insomnia, please seek the help of a professional who is trained to help survivors. The Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network (RAINN, ) is a good place to start. Please, please take care of yourself.


For the speculators:


Gossip can be fun. I get that. I imagine a few folks in our profession enjoy gossip regardless of its consequences. But I’m betting most folks aren’t like this. Most of us, I imagine, would most like to put an end to the victimization of women in our discipline. And I bet most of us recognize that part of what is required to make that happen is for victims to come forward.


So, let me tell you what a rehearsal of the near-platitudes of dismissal I mentioned above sound like to survivors who are standing right there, I promise you, when you utter them or stand there quietly when you hear someone else do so. The translation is: “I very much doubt these allegations, despite the fact that I am not acquainted with the parties at all, don’t know the particulars, and don’t even have any idea who the complainant is. Nonetheless, I do not believe her.” When you do this, you make it rational for victims to hide. You want to know why a victim didn’t complain to the university, didn’t go to the police, or didn’t go right away? Review these conversations in your head and you have your answer. You, when you casually dismiss serious allegations or when you stand there silently while others do, demonstrate the pointlessness of speaking out. You are the reason victims do not advocate for themselves.


It is within our power to fix this problem. But we need to stand up, speak up. I hope that now you know, you do.

7 thoughts on “Thoughts from an assault survivor in philosophy

  1. What do you think the proper response to sexual abuse allegations is? Obviously immediately jumping to the defense of the accused can be very harmful to the victim (as you said), and in cases where there has been a false allegation, jumping to conclusion may likewise be unwise.
    It seems to me that the appropriate response is refraining from gossip. I don’t like gossip about less serious matters, but here especially it seems to turn a very serious situation into mere entertainment. I think we can offer support to both the accused and accuser without immediately taking a side. On the other hand, it may alienate a victim to have everybody else in a state of suspended judgment during their suffering. I’m not sure.

  2. I’m glad you’ve posted this. Regarding this claim:

    ‘You, when you casually dismiss serious allegations or when you stand there silently while others do, demonstrate the pointlessness of speaking out’

    in my experience as a survivor, it is worse than pointless. Part of the harm of being raped/sexually abused is that you are negated, you are crushed. When you hear your allegations, or other victims’ allegations, being dismissed, it is as if the rape has not ended yet.

  3. Thank you for the original post. I have heard these sentiments expressed by others but never so well. To the respondent George: the point isn’t to make a correct judgment (how could one?) but to refrain from harming the (potential/ though probable) victim. Refraining from gossip is surely a good idea in general but that might not be the sole solution in the context as the goal is to provide a safe environment so victims of private violence can make their accusations public. Complete neutrality (which pretends that the probabilities of guilt are 50/50 between the man’s version and the woman’s version) might not be it. Many more men actually rape than do women who falsely accuse. Why couldn’t a conditional “if that proves to be the fact I hope he gets real time” might be more the support that’s needed, without committing to a potentially wrong judgement.

  4. This is completely beyond the pale. I am angry for you, hurt with you, hate with all my aching heart what happened to you. Bystanders must speak up, those who don’t know must assume a default presumption that what you say is true, and above all else, we must chip away at the climate of privilege and women’s fuckability that allows this abuse to happen.

  5. […] Unfortunately, that was not the worst of it.  I was subsequently raped by another philosopher, someone who is still in our profession and whom I occasionally see at APA meetings.  I’ve already written about this experience anonymously, here. […]

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