It's Not Just What Happened that Night

It was always having a heart-to-heart with one or maybe two other people at a time, sitting on a bathroom sink or on a stoop. This was how I had shared my story up until 2013, when I took a deep breath and, for the first time, recounted my sexual assault--and everything that followed--publicly at a Joyful Heart event.

My name is Sukey Novogratz, and I write today not only as a proud board member and supporter of the Joyful Heart Foundation, but as a survivor with a call to action.

When I was 17, the summer after my senior year in high school, I was doing a summer theater program at a prestigious, picturesque Ivy league school. It was unfamiliar terrain for me.

On the night of my rape, I had gone out with some new friends from my res hall. We were playing drinking games, and I chugged a glass of OJ and vodka. It wasn't long before everything started melting away from me. I learned later that's what Rohypnol, the date rape drug, does to you.

Over the next eternity of hours, I flew in and out of consciousness as three young men raped me over and over that night, leaving me naked, drugged, bruised and left for dead in the boathouse by the river.

"It's not just what happened that night that sticks with me. It's everything that happened afterwards."

It's not just what happened that night that sticks with me. It's everything that happened afterwards: the campus police who had neither the power nor the intention of bringing charges. The judiciary committee, who said things like, you're Puerto Rican, correct? We hear you're a sexy dancer. What makes you think you were raped? The three boys who assaulted me who walked into my hearing while I gave my testimony, prompting me to pass out cold.

Many things have changed for the better since my assault. But all too often, I hear about survivors whose stories are frighteningly close to my own. Rapists who, time and time again, just get away with it. And those victimized, like me, are told to change residence halls, change schools or simply let it go.

It is for these reasons I am part of the team behind The Hunting Ground, a new documentary that takes a deep and much-needed look at rape on college campuses. I signed on as an Executive Producer of the film because I believe in its power to bring change. And yes, there is great potential—and a great need—for change.

That's where you come in. There are four things I'm asking you to do. Do one, do them all.

"Those victimized, like me, are told to change residence halls, change schools or simply let it go."

  1. See the film. The Hunting Ground is playing in theaters across the country. Find one near you.
  2. Host a screening. By bringing the film to your campus, community or organization, you can ignite a vital conversation about this issue. You can organize one or attend one of many that are already happening. Get started.
  3. Take the pledge. As students, alumni, parents and teachers, we must all commit to holding our institutions accountable. Add your support.
  4. Donate to Joyful Heart. I know I am not alone when I say that Joyful Heart helped me find something in myself I didn't know was still there: a certain joy, a fearlessness. I am honored to support Joyful Heart's transformative work today, and I urge you to join me. Get started with a $25 donation.

To me, change looks like an end to our society's victim-blaming attitudes--the ones that expose themselves in the likes of those questions that I heard. It looks like holding perpetrators accountable for their crimes. It looks like supporting one another and all survivors with compassion, care and a resolve to do better.

Thank you for being a part of it.

Sukey Novogratz

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