• Mama PhD

    Mothers attempting to balance parenthood and academics.


The Harvard Letter

When colleges don't help victims.

April 6, 2014

First, I understand that there are some problems with this letter. Because the writer is anonymous, the veracity of the charges is impossible to determine, and confidentiality issues prevent the university from responding.

It rings true for me, though, based on stories I have heard from friends and patients. And, sadly, so do the responses of the people this young woman turned to for help and validation.

So many people don't seem to get that sexual assault can cause severe psychological damage, and that being forced to encounter one's assailant every day is not at all equivalent to "a divorced couple working in the same factory."

When I supervised clinicians at a counseling center that specialized in treating survivors of domestic violence and childhood sexual abuse, I heard so many stories about clients being urged by their families to forgive and forget, to not make waves, and so many instances of victim blaming, that I started thinking a out this phenomenon in terms of identification with the aggressor, and of Milgram's experiments on obedience to authority.

Like many species, we tend to affiliate with members who are seen as powerful, to ensure our own safety. Serial perpetrators of sexual assault are often charismatic and/or powerful manipulators; that is how they get away with their transgressions. They are by definition dangerous people. So the natural response may be to side with the assailant, and to urge the victim to keep quiet for her own safety.

Obviously, natural=/=right, otherwise I, at least, would eat all the chocolate in the state and club to death anyone who hurt my kid's feelings. But becoming aware of this tendency could be helpful in addressing the way it plays out in familial and academic systems.


Back to Top