The Woman Behind #SurvivorPrivilege Was Kicked Out Of School After Being Raped

The Woman Behind #SurvivorPrivilege Was Kicked Out Of School After Being Raped

Shortly after noon on Monday, Wagatwe Wanjuki sent out a tweet about what it was like to be a rape survivor.

Wanjuki, 27, took to Twitter after reading a June 6 Washington Post column by the conservative writer George Will that suggested there was no campus rape epidemic and that women were lying about being victims of sexual violence. In his column, Will challenged widely accepted statistics on sexual assault and declared that "victimhood," as in being the survivor of such an assault, has become a "coveted status that confers privileges." To that, Wanjuki responded:

Wanjuki's hashtag #SurvivorPrivilege went on to trend widely among people sharing their experiences as survivors of sexual violence. Their voices became part of a widespread backlash against The Washington Post for publishing Will's column.

"It was mind-boggling that someone would think there's anything to gain by coming forward as a survivor," Wanjuki told The Huffington Post. Survivors face ridicule, attacks and threats, she said, and it's "just not a pleasant experience."

Wanjuki first became public as a survivor in 2009, when she was a student at Tufts University in Massachusetts. Wanjuki says she was assaulted multiple times by a fellow Tufts student she was in a relationship with, but when she tried in 2008 to report him for a campus adjudication, the university told her their legal counsel said they didn't have to take action. This was back before the U.S. Department of Education made it crystal clear in a 2011 Dear Colleague letter that universities had an obligation under Title IX to respond to reported sexual violence.

Wanjuki became vocal about how she believed Tufts mishandled her case and denied her the assistance she was entitled to under the law. She worked with the national group Students Active For Ending Rape (SAFER) to hold campus demonstrations calling for reforms.

Around the same time, her grades began slipping, though not enough to land her on academic probation. Wanjuki attributes this to the trauma of sexual abuse and a lack of support from the school administration. In summer 2009, the Dean of Undergraduate Education at Tufts, who Wanjuki said happened to be her assailant's academic adviser, told Wanjuki she would have to withdraw from the university due to academic concerns. At the time, she was less than a year from graduating.

"My confidence was shot," Wanjuki said. "Tufts was saying I was too stupid to stay there. A big part of my identity was that I was always a good student."

In April of this year, the Education Department's Office for Civil Rights concluded an unrelated investigation into Tufts' sexual misconduct policies and found the school to be in violation of Title IX.

The school did not respond to a request for comment about Wanjuki's case.

After leaving Tufts, Wanjuki was unemployed for a time. With the help of financial aid, she was eventually able to enroll in community college and get her associate degree. Last fall, she transferred to Rutgers University with the help of some grants and federal loans.

She has continued her activism, staying involved in groups like Know Your IX and Ed Act Now.

Now, six years after she was originally supposed to graduate, Wanjuki is 11 credits shy of finally getting her bachelor's degree -- except she doesn't have enough financial aid to cover all the costs. On top of her Rutgers tuition, she's still paying off loans for attending Tufts. At the urging of friends, and with some hesitation on her part, Wanjuki launched a GoFundMe campaign to raise the money she needs.

"Even if I reach half my goal, it would be a huge help," Wanjuki said. "My graduation date was supposed to be 2008, so I've been in college on and off for about a decade."

Wanjuki said she feels that as a woman of color and a first-generation American, getting a degree is necessary for her to be part of the middle class. The financial difficulties she's faced, however, are indicative of the struggle women often encounter when they go public as sexual assault survivors, even setting aside the threats and taunts Wanjuki regularly receives online.

"It's not a lucrative act in the least," Wanjuki said of being public about experiencing sexual assault. "It's very hard and difficult, and sometimes it can be a dangerous thing to do."

Wanjuki, like nearly every current and former student accusing their colleges of mishandling rape cases, has refrained from publicly identifying her assailant. Like most of these students, Wanjuki's grievance is with her school, which she notes is hard enough to criticize in public.

"There's very little privilege to gain by coming forward," Wanjuki said. "I feel like we make ourselves even more vulnerable."

UPDATE, June 13: As of Friday afternoon, Wagatwe Wanjuki surpassed her goal of $2,149 on her GoFundMe page. "Since I have a large amount of student loans from Tufts, I am going to use the excess to help with my payments," Wanjuki told HuffPost.

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