Content warning: sexual assault
It’s a typical weekday afternoon. I’m running on the treadmill in upstairs Lasell, brooding over classes and annoyed at my boyfriend. I’m texting my friends about our upcoming trip to New York, when I look up and see someone who makes my skin crawl and stomach turn. I don’t want him to see me here–he can’t see me here. I don’t want him to see my exposed shoulders, my exposed legs. For the next 45 minutes, I stay exactly where I am, not looking up from my treadmill, hoping eventually he’ll leave. I think about him seeing my body and imagining me naked the night he forced me to have sex with him. It makes me want to throw up.
It’s now a few days past the one-year anniversary of that night: January 23rd 2015. My friend “Danielle” came up to me at Paresky and asked if I wanted to go to a fun crew team party, aptly named a “Screw”, with “a really sweet guy”. She wouldn’t tell me any details, but asked what my favorite alcoholic drink was. “That’s so nice, they’re trying to have drinks everyone will be happy with” I thought as I texted her that my drink of choice was whiskey. As a freshman girl yet to be oriented to the hookup scene at Williams, I was thrilled. A formal event where I got to dress up, meet a cool guy, and have some fun? I couldn’t wait! I spent hours getting ready, my entrymates giving me advice and helping me with my makeup. I excitedly told friends, JAs, and upperclassmen, all of whom knew how Screws worked. None of them batted an eye. When it came time for the party, I met Danielle outside my entry and walked with her to the party. Inside, I was met with a room packed with strangers, blaring music, and my date. I had seen my date, “Harry”, around a few times, as I had with most Williams people, but we had never talked. I didn’t know anyone else in the room I could make small talk with, and most of the other girls were in the same position. The guys, on the other hand, all knew each other: After all, they were teammates. Harry was pretty quiet and didn’t make eye contact, but this requisite awkwardness was soon eased by the booming voice of one of the crew team’s captains, who instructed us to pair up with our dates and form a line. We obediently followed directions, and before I knew it my right hand and Harry’s left were duct taped together and attached to a 40 oz bottle of beer. We would only be freed, the captain told us, once we finished the bottle, took several shots, and finished a mixed drink. “This isn’t what I want, this is not what I signed up for” I thought to myself. All I wanted was a nice night of dancing and a cute guy. As my pulse quickened, I looked around the room for friendly faces to help me get out of this scary situation, but I recognized no one. Feeling the pressure and the yelling of the people around us, I started to drink. The team captain approached us and, sliding his hand along my lower back, commented to Harry, “your date is very pretty, you’d better not lose track of her.”
In the course of about 20 minutes, Harry and I finished the 40, mixed drink, and shots and became drunk way past a healthy limit. We were untied and shepherded down a steep flight of stairs with all the other newly intoxicated couples. I clung to Harry on the descent into a dark, dingy basement that had been converted into a dance floor. The meaning of “Screw” was finally made clear: within three minutes, everyone around us was making out. At this point, I could hardly form coherent thoughts, much less understand my situation and remove myself from it. After drunkenly kissing for about 15 minutes, I found myself and Harry heading back to my room. I walked across half of campus, in the middle of January, in a backless minidress, with no coat. Back in my bedroom, he got on top of me. In my inebriated state, I saw what was going on as a distanced observer, having no control or feelings over what was going on. Midway through, however, I began to sober up. I was terrified. I lay there as Harry finished on top of me, rolled onto my stomach to make room for him to lie down after he finished, and whispered into the crook of my arm if he could please go home. He got up and left, and my friends, back from a party, flooded into my room asking how my night had gone. All I could do was flash a smile and giggle, but internally I was numb. I felt like his sweat and cologne had permeated my skin forever. I wanted to shower, to burn my sheets and dress and cut off all my hair, but I couldn’t move. All I could do was curl up in my damp bed and go to sleep.
For months, I tried to dismiss what had happened. I told myself I was silly and immature for feeling so weird about a hookup. My friends teased me for acting awkwardly whenever I saw Harry in Paresky or the library, and I let them, because I believed I was unreasonable for being unhappy or uncomfortable with what happened. All that I had ever heard was that if two people were both really drunk and they hook up, the guilt just disappears: Both people are innocent. I carried this weight with me for months, until I went to a RASAN event that validated all I was feeling. “If both people are equally inebriated, they won’t hook up, they’ll just go to sleep” Meg Bossong said. “If two people are really drunk and something sexual or nonconsensual happens, there’s someone who’s more aware of the situation who’s pushing it along”.
It all finally made sense to me. I no longer had to suppress my disgust or feel guilty for what had happened. What had happened to me was wrong, it was nonconsensual, it was serious. As difficult as it was to process that what had happened to me could be defined as sexual assault, it was so gratifying to know that how I felt was entirely valid. I am a survivor.
Williams proudly proclaims that our campus is free of Greek Life, with the implication being that we are free of dangerous parties and rape culture as well. This ignorance, however, perpetuates a horrifying rape culture as it remains undiscussed since many people are scared to talk about it. The fact that I’m afraid to attach my name to my experience is telling of how ingrained and dangerous this tradition is. For one, I am afraid of getting backlash while I’m still on campus, as stories of previous incidents has taught me. Also, I don’t want Google searches of my name to turn up with articles of a sexual assault case. Despite knowing that this was not my fault, I still can’t help but feel ashamed for what happened to me.
Writing this makes it real for me.
If anything, there are two things to take away from my experience: It was in no way my fault and it could have been prevented. Getting coerced into inebriation at a party full of strangers and losing all volition was a situation planned and executed with this exact conclusion in mind. Those who in other cases would take all precautions not to find themselves in a nonconsensual situation are given a free pass on this night.
In the past year, I’ve heard “Oh, you’re going to a sports formal? Be careful” thrown around countless times. Screw dances are not exclusive to the crew team; they are a widely practiced and acknowledged tool. Screws are known for social pressure, dangerous levels of inebriation, and unspeakable nonconsensual situations. My friends, JAs, and campus leaders all know how it works. Yet no one has ever thought to question this custom of “Screws”. For those on this campus who have been in my situation, and I know there are many, I hope they let go of the blame they may hold and find the healing they need. For the members of Williams College who pretend to be blind to rape culture, I hope you overcome your ignorance and work to end a tradition that oppresses and threatens us all.
For me, reporting what happened to me is not my immediate concern. My primary motivation for writing this is to reveal how this seemingly benevolent team-building tradition is really thinly-veiled rape culture. This kind of party is no different from a frat formal. I want to challenge the established acceptance of a tradition that is Screw dances and expose Williams to the reality that is our rape culture.
Editor’s note: The name given to the author’s date has been changed because it was identical to current members of the crew team. This was a coincidence and an oversight for which the Alternative apologizes.