Last weekend, my mom and I went up to the University of Maine to visit my sister for the campus’ family weekend. I am happy to report that she is doing well, enjoying college and getting along with her roommate. She has also joined a sorority – Delta Delta Delta – which she is excited about, and which makes me a little nervous, because on our way into campus, we passed the blocks of frat houses. And when I saw those Greek letters, I didn’t think of fun times and “Animal House”; I saw caves where predators might lurk.

Now, let me be clear: The absolute, vast majority of college students and fraternity brothers are not sexual predators. But it only takes one. And, it is a truth universally acknowledged that crowds of young men and alcohol are not a good combination. (In my brother’s dorm, the water fountains were surrounded with iron bars to stop them from being ripped out during parties. Apparently, that was an actual problem.)

Mom and I immediately began lecturing my sister about how to protect herself and her friends – always watch your drink, go places in pairs, don’t leave without your buddy, etc. She kind of rolled her eyes. “Guys, it’s fine. I know. I know.” No 18-year-old college freshman likes being lectured by their mom and their big sister. Besides, my sister doesn’t drink – for one thing, she’s a Muslim, and it’s against her religion, and for another, she grew up seeing her big sister get sloppy drunk and pass out on the living room couch all the time. Booze kind of loses its sexy, forbidden appeal after that.

We were just about soothed into a lull of complacency and dining hall food when my sister mentioned – casually – a dormitory rumor she’d heard about a girl who got “roofied” – or had a drug, maybe a sedative, maybe something else – slipped into her drink.

If I’d had anything in my mouth, I would have spat it out. My mother and I started squawking like chickens in a hurricane. “What? Who? How? Is she-”

“She’s OK, guys,” she assured us. “She was fine.”

But it’s not fine. If she had friends who got her out of there and she didn’t get raped, the best you could say is that she was lucky.

And it’s all about luck, I think. Sexual assault is like a cancer – and I don’t make cancer metaphors lightly. There are things we try to do to prevent it striking us (don’t smoke, don’t drink, eat your vegetables, don’t walk home alone at night, don’t leave your drink unattended) but it all comes down to luck. A quirk in genetics. A walk home with the wrong man. And unfortunately, there’s no CAT scan for sexual predators. You don’t know what a person is capable of until it’s too late.

I have never been sexually assaulted. (Other than having my butt grabbed when I’ve been out at bars or on public transportation, but, unfortunately, that appears to be par for the course of being a woman.) I am lucky. I was socially isolated from men from the ages of 13 to 23 (I went to an all-girls high school and a women’s college, and was only interested in dating women), and last week has made me realize how lucky I am for that.

Many of my readers have not been so lucky. If you have been sexually assaulted, I am so sorry that happened to you. It was not your fault. Thank you for surviving. The Sexual Assault Response Services of Southern Maine’s phone number is 1-800-871-7741; they are at sarsonline.org (not the best acronym, but they are an amazing organization). The national sexual assault hotline is 1-800-656-4673.

Things are improving in our culture, slowly but surely. When my mom was in college, the concept of “date rape” didn’t exist. Not just the phrase – the entire concept. We’re making strides.

But things aren’t changing fast enough. Men and women alike are being sexually assaulted every day across the country. It’s up to us, as individuals and as a society, to change that. Believe survivors. Help your friends. Teach your sons not to rape; teach your daughters not to blame themselves. The thing about cancer, you see, is that while the treatment may be long and harsh, and can permanently change you, it is survivable. You can heal. We can heal.

I’m still getting my sister a Taser for Christmas, though.

Victoria Hugo-Vidal is a Maine millennial. She can be contacted at:

[email protected]

Twitter: @mainemillennial

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