As a woman, reading this week’s Torah portion—Vayishlach—can be especially unsettling, since it relates the story of the rape of Dinah, Jacob’s daughter. What is most striking about the story is that throughout, Dinah is silent. We learn only about how the men around her acted and reacted. We never hear from Dinah herself.
This week, at JWI’s Women to Watch gala, attendees heard from Maya Weinstein, a young woman who refused to be silent after she was raped.
by Sue Tomchin
Sexual assault survivor and activist Maya Weinstein delivered the following speech at JWI's Women to Watch gala on December 12, 2016. Transcript below.
Good afternoon. My name is Maya Weinstein. A little over four years ago, I was two months into my freshman year at the George Washington University. I was just starting to get into the swing of things, finding my way in a new place—a varsity athlete, residence hall president, member of a sorority—not quite ready to declare my major. Then everything was thrown off course.
On October 28 2012, on my way home from a team party, I stopped by my friend’s fraternity house to hang out with him. It was the weekend of Hurricane Sandy. The weather was horrendous, and maybe that’s why I stayed when he told me to stay, after he raped me. I didn’t know what to do. I was scared. I was powerless.
Rape is about power. It takes away your sense of security, it damages your sense of self. That is what trauma feels like. But, my trauma didn’t end that night. It took me six months to come to terms with what happened and decide to report. Then, I was re-victimized by the system.
I decided to move forward with an investigation, but nothing about that process or my hearing was fair. It would be one thing if the rules were adequate—they were not—but the university didn’t even follow their own rules. The process had little integrity. The issues reached their peak when the Director of Student Conduct told me, “You need to understand how difficult this has been for him.” For the man who raped me.
The hearing board at my university determined that he was sober and that I was intoxicated. That is literally a textbook and legal definition of rape. But they did not find him in violation of sexual violence. Instead, they said, he couldn’t have known what he was doing was wrong.
My university failed me. I have been extremely vocal about that. But I also need to emphasize that I could have been at any campus—what happened was not unique to me or the university I attended. Society failed me. It failed me by telling the man who raped me it was okay to take advantage of a drunk girl. It failed me when people said it was my fault for having consumed alcohol that night. It failed me when people suggested I had given consent by taking off my rain boots when I came into the house from the storm. It continues to fail us each time a woman is treated as lesser and her body is seen as merely a physical thing.
I blamed myself for my rape, and that blame came naturally, because I was used to seeing it on the news and I was used to being told to protect myself, because that’s what women have to do. It’s unfortunate that we have to teach women not to get raped, because we should be focusing more on teaching men not to rape. That culture of victimization permeates and influences institutions, like universities, who don’t act and don’t believe survivors.
We have to change the message.
JWI’s programs are bringing this conversation onto the ground, engaging men and women, and are influencing culture change.
We have to educate our young people—to know what consent is, to believe survivors, to not internalize blame, to intervene, to change the future.
We have to do this because, while you have me speaking to you today, I could personally name over 100 other survivors who would be able to share a similar narrative.
We all know the statistic—one in five women is sexually assaulted during college. This is a room
filled with women. I know that this hits home for many of you, and that everyone in here knows another story like mine.
So let’s harness the power in this room for good. We have to break this cycle for future generations, and change the culture of society.