On July 13th, 2017, you will be listening to survivors, advocates, students accused of sexual assault, and college administrators. Survivors and advocates are asking you and the Trump administration to maintain systems that support and protect survivors of sexual assault. On July 13th, 2017, I encourage you, Ms. DeVos, to ask yourself the following questions:
Have you ever walked into a room and run through sexual violence statistics in your head?
Have you ever counted the women in the room and thought to yourself that one in five of these women have been or will be sexually assaulted in college?
Have you ever counted the men in the room and thought to yourself that one in sixteen of these men have been or will be sexually assaulted in college?
Although these statistics serve to measure college sexual violence generally, have you ever thought about the individuals behind these numbers?
I, Samantha Carly Skaller, a 22-year-old recent graduate of Syracuse University and a three-time sexual assault survivor, am writing to you to humanize this issue and to beg you to stand with survivors and victims. Here is my story:
When I was a sophomore in high school, I was drugged and sexually assaulted by a senior in my driver’s ed class. After the assault, we were forced to sit next to each other in class, to share the same car, and even to give a class presentation together.
During my first semester of college, I was sexually assaulted while I was asleep by a friend who lived on my floor. After the assault, we were forced to live on the same floor, to share the same communal space, and even to walk at the same commencement ceremony this past May.
The weekend before my sophomore year classes started, I was raped in my own bed by the guy I had been dating. After the assault, we were forced to take the same classes, to attend the same music school, and even to perform in concerts together.
After a formal Title IX complaint through my university in reference to the last assault my rapist was found “not responsible” due to insufficient evidence. The system failed me: the system that you, Ms. DeVos, are now part of. On behalf of the countless survivors across this country, I implore you to make sure that no one else has to go through what I have gone through.
I, a survivor of college sexual assault, share my story with you, Ms. DeVos, to teach you about rape culture math. I am the 20% of women who have been sexually assaulted in college. You, the United States Secretary of Education, have the responsibility of knowing these statistics. But beyond that, you have the responsibility of hearing the narratives behind these statistics and consequently taking action to improve and uphold the systems including all current Title IX guidance, policy, Violence Against Women Act funding and programs.
We need all of these systems to make sure that colleges and universities are giving equal treatment to all parties involved in Title IX cases, so that there is no racial, gender, or socioeconomic discrimination on our campuses. We need you to take action because 1 in 5 women and 1 in 16 men will be sexually assaulted during college, because 8 out of 10 people know their attacker, because 91% of rapes are committed by serial perpetrators, and because one act of sexual violence is one too many.
I have dedicated my undergraduate career to ending interpersonal violence at Syracuse University and more broadly across our country. Survivors and allies on college campuses everywhere have taken the pledge to end this epidemic. We have built campaigns, rallies, art installations, blogs, protests, and more from the bottom up to gain your attention.
Ms. DeVos, we finally have your attention. On July 13th, 2017, it’s on you to assure survivors and victims of college sexual assault that you will uphold current Title IX policy and Violence Against Women Act funding and programs so that together, we can put an end to sexual violence on all campuses in the United States of America.
Samantha Skaller is a recent graduate of Syracuse University with a degree in Viola Performance and Music History. In the fall she will be pursuing her master’s degree in musicology and women’s and genders studies at McGill University. For the past two years Samantha has worked with the national It’s On Us campaign. She was selected as one of seventeen students to serve on the first ever Student Advisory Committee. This past year she served as the Northeast Regional Advisor for the campaign. As a survivor Samantha tries to use her voice to uplift fellow survivors and encourage cultural change in her community. In her future she hopes to continue to combine her passions for activism and music while seeking justice for all survivors and victims of interpersonal violence.