After Savannah Badalich was raped in her sophomore year at UCLA, an experience she wrote about for both her campus newspaper and the Huffington Post, she's become the face of sexual assault victims at her school.
She's received rape threats in the comment section of articles she's posted online. An anonymous student on UCLA's Reddit page called her a hypocrite for wearing makeup and skirts on campus, saying they made her “look provocative.” And her dating life? It's difficult; the nice guys are often too shy to flirt with her.
Even some school officials have chastised her. One of the chairmen on the Student Code of Conduct Committee told her, “People may think you're a zealot looking for harsh punishments that ruin the lives of the accused.”
“So I ask: are these things 'survivor privilege'?” Badalich asks.
This week, conservative columnist George Will posited in the Washington Post that victims of sexual assaults are given “a coveted status that confers privileges,” and that because of that, their numbers at colleges and universities are “proliferating.”
Victims and non-victims alike were outraged by the suggestion. On Twitter, hashtag activist Wagatwe Wanjuki began using #SurvivorPrivilege to sarcastically remark just how “privileged” she and fellow survivors of sexual assault are.
Badalich shares that anger. “I was so frustrated when I saw [the Washington Post] article. I started tweeting about it like crazy.”
“No one wants their college experience to be known as the person who was raped,” she adds. Badalich says the reason she has been vocal about it is because she realized how many other victims weren't being helped.
Now heading into her fourth year as an undergraduate, Badalich represents the health concerns of 28,000 UCLA students as the Student Wellness Commissioner. She was recently flown to Washington, D.C., to be part of the White House Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault.
Her work has already helped transform reporting of sexual assaults at UCLA. Within the first four months of 2014, UCLA's police department received as many reports of forcible rape as in all of 2013.
Since first coming out as a survivor in the school's newspaper in September, Badalich says that she has been approached by over 200 students – men and women – with personal stories of sexual assault at UCLA.
“Few of them were open survivors, so I didn't realize how many of us there were.” She said.
Her UCLA campaign, 7,000 in Solidarity, was launched in connection with UCLA's student government. It takes the statistic that 1 in 3 women and 1 in 6 men will be sexually assaulted over the course of their lifetime. That means 7,000 Bruins will be survivors of sexual assault during their lifetime, she says.
“On one hand, it's a beautiful thing being able to support victims,” she says. “But personally I've never dealt with as much pain as from hearing so many survivor stories.”
After Badalich wrote a detailed account of her own rape by a former friend and fellow student government leader in the Huffington Post, more have come to her for help.
Constantly hearing others' stories triggers the memory of her own assault. Badalich was diagnosed with PTSD in April. She sometimes dreams about the assaults of other students from the stories she hears.
Unless they've gone public, Badalich is careful to keep the stories of other survivors to herself, but says the worst thing is now knowing who some of the perpetrators are and seeing them in class. “It makes me sick seeing them and knowing I can't say anything.”
But despite the hardships, she also says that there needs to be a human face to demonstrate that survivors are not statistics.
“I do it because I've seen how much remains to be done to address this problem.”
The fact that UCLA was recently called the 'Most Dangerous School for Women' because it has a high number of reported rapes is misleading, Badalich says.
“It only means we're more transparent. This issue is nationwide, and people need to acknowledge that.”
Correction: A previous version of this story wrongly explained the basis for the claim that 7,000 UCLA students will end up victims of sexual assault. Statistically, 7,000 of them would undergo assault in their lifetime, not in their time on campus. We also wrongly described the student who allegedly raped Badalich. He was a student government leader, not an officer. We regret the error.