During my life, I have been privileged with safety. I was privileged with assuming that I was in control of my own life, that no meant no, and that people were good. A week into my freshman year of college, everything changed. A boy I had met during the summer at a school related function sexually assaulted me a month and a half later. Three times.
People often always ask, why didn’t you run, why didn’t you fight with every fiber of your being? It’s not always that easy. We, as humans, typically assume it’s fight or flight. There is a third option, freezing. Being unable to fight, unable to flight, just freezing and wanting it to be over with. You do not know what to do. You are petrified like a deer in the headlights on a dark country road. In that moment, you are unable to take control, because he is in control.
People say, well what were you wearing? Did you flirt with him? You invited him to hangout. That’s no excuse for poor actions. I didn’t ask for it.
I wasn’t asking for it when I was studying in the school library during the middle of the day.
I wasn’t asking for it when he tried to trap me in a stairwell and an elevator.
I wasn’t asking for it when I had bruises on my arms.
I wasn’t asking for it when my neck and wrists were held with force.
I wasn’t asking for harassing text messages for weeks to follow.
I wasn’t asking for him to stalk me, stare at me, try to contact me, or smile while he said, “you should feel lucky to have done that with someone like me.”
For the longest time, I didn’t process what had happened to me. I said no multiple times, but I didn’t fight him. I blamed myself thinking maybe I had led him on. Maybe I might have flirted. Maybe asking to study meant that I wanted to do other things. Maybe I was dressed too provocatively. Maybe I shouldn’t have been wearing makeup. Maybe I shouldn’t have assumed that people are good.
It took me months to process that I had been sexually assaulted on three different occasions by the same man- wait no – boy. Men don’t rape. Men don’t take no as a yes. Men don’t bully you to get what they want. It is far too often that victims go through the phase of self-blame and guilt. We think that we are responsible for our own attack. I found myself blaming myself for my attack and found every reason not to file it. I started to research what sexual assault was. I was horrified to discover it matched the description of what happened to me. For the past year, I have had PTSD from the multiple occasions. This included panic attacks while driving for no reason, nightmares, self-hatred, self-harm, and even suicidal thoughts. I’ve had it all.
To this day I ask God, why me? Why did this happen to me? How did this happen? But what I do know is I can do something about assault and the stigma. I can stop him. My purpose through this rigorous journey is to make sure he does not hurt another girl and strip her of her innocence and self-love as well. This journey has started this semester.
To the people who have been assaulted on campus and are terrified of going up against their assaulter. It seems like all the odds are against you. He could be an athlete, a person viewed positively in the community, or an academic scholar. You think no one will believe you. They will.
My first step was talking to our campus Title IX coordinator and the school counselor. They both took my report and questioned me. With the counselor, you are completely safe. He or she cannot tell anyone anything – completely bound to confidentiality. The Title IX coordinator’s sole purpose is to help you, but he or she is not bound to confidentiality. After talking with these two individuals, I requested to put a no contact order on my assaulter. This means my assaulter could not get within 50 feet of me on campus. He could not contact me in any way, shape, or form. Next, I had to meet with our school’s conduct coordinator. She took my story, recorded my details, and interviewed any names I gave her. My assaulter received the same treatment because, you know, innocent before proven guilty. She conducted interviews of all parties involved and see what information she could gather to prove our cases to be legitimate.
My process took about two months, one of the longest cases yet. During this process, I felt overwhelmed. Having my no contact order, I felt much safer and my anxiety decreased, but everyone involved treated me differently. Our mutual friends, staff members who knew what was going on, and his teammates looked at me like I was this pathetic, horrible person trying to ruin his life. That is the price you pay for justice.
Finally, my process was over. I anxiously went in for a meeting with the conduct coordinator. The results were not in my favor. Despite doing three interviews and writing a personal statement, while having all details consistent, I lost the case. I had every detail, down to the exact couch pattern in the library and the exact book lying 2 feet from me during an incident. He lied to the conduct coordinator. Due to the lack of witnesses during the three incidents, she was unable to prove the sexual assault, despite wholeheartedly believing me. He lied about not remembering two of the three incidents at hand. He lied to her about obtaining verbal consent. Because he lied, he got away with it.
It seemed as though everyone believed me – despite the verdict of my case. My conduct coordinator was emotionally distraught she was unable to charge him with his crime. I understand why women do not come forward now. My case took two months. I did everything right, but I still lost. On my personal record, I am labeled victim. On his, he is labeled not guilty. Our no contact order remains intact for the rest of our lives as well as the internal, self-loathing thoughts regarding the results of this case. But I did it. And so can you. Despite him being able to continue his life carefree and uninterrupted, filing against him will affect him forever. I hope it makes him think twice about his actions. In a way, I did win. I won the satisfaction of being a strong female role model to others going through this process and finally standing up for myself. My only hope is that he does not make a victim out of another innocent girl.
If you or someone you know is in need of sexual assault support services, visit www.rainn.org or call the 24/7 crisis hotline at (800) 656-HOPE(4673).
Image Credits: In My Sacred Space