I will always remember 2015 as the year that I was raped. This year has held immense suffering for me and has provided me a window into the suffering so many in our community endure surviving rape. But there have also been victories worth celebrating this year: watching my rapist, Alec Neal, be held accountable (“Minneapolis man gets 12 years in rape of ex-girlfriend,” July 29), proposing a memorial for rape survivors in the Minneapolis parks system and helping a movement grow through organizing Break the Silence events (“Sexual assault survivors break their silence,” Aug. 19). By sharing my story with our community, I have heard many others share theirs. By creating a space where survivors can name themselves and say, “This happened to me,” it has humanized this secret war against women and shed light on the battles that are fought so often in the privacy of home.
When I read “Ex-U student is charged in two rapes” (Dec. 29), I questioned if our community has learned anything about responding to rape this past year. The suspect, Daniel Drill-Mellum, like Alec Neal, is white, privileged, has well-known family members in the Twin Cities and has a list of achievements to refer back to. Like Alec, Dan is someone about whom people will say, “I can’t believe he would do such a thing” and “He’s just not this kind of person,” as if to say their own experience with someone is representative of everyone else’s (which it isn’t). We might start hearing the typical excuses for this horrific behavior: that the rapist was drunk, mentally ill or a good guy who “snapped.” Allies will not use nor accept these excuses. Research continues to show us that rape is so very rarely a miscommunication between sexual partners but rather a deliberate, vicious act of violence (Rosenfeld, Harvard Law Review, 2015). We can no longer afford to excuse even our community’s “nicest boys” for violating women’s human rights. We must honor the victims first and foremost.
When Alec’s crime was first reported in February, I was an anonymous victim. There was nothing more painful than silently watching how our community responded to my assault. Alec’s family created a “Care Hub,” and people grieved the life Alec lost — a man whose life was served to him on a silver platter but who planned and chose to rape one person on one night and would now suffer in prison. It was a horrific thing to learn that people cooked and delivered meals for my rapist’s family, gave money for Alec’s defense, wrote letters on behalf of Alec’s “good character,” and sent letters and books to Alec in jail. I am writing in high hopes that our community has learned that this is a shameful way to respond to rape.
In the wake of the charges against Drill-Mellum, each of us is forced to choose sides; you can support the suspect and those who rally around him, or you can stand with the survivors. There is no neutral ground in a rape culture; your actions to a survivor are either hurtful or healing. All the perpetrator asks is that the community do nothing. The victims require action, engagement and remembering. I invite readers to be allies to survivors of rape, to share this story and say, “I stand with the survivors,” showing support not only to the victims in this case, but to every rape victim who remains in silence, awaiting a community they can trust will meet them with validation, compassion and justice.
Sarah Super, of St. Paul, is the organizer of Break the Silence Day.