Trigger Warning: This article gives a detailed account of a sexual assault and may be triggering for some readers.
There are few things more degrading than being sexually assaulted. Your body is forced to submit to the absolute authority of someone else. You desperately try to have your voice heard, but your protests are meaningless. Your denials of consent are disregarded until you eventually recognize that you are powerless. You close your eyes and wait until it is over. But time becomes your enemy. It slows until every second becomes an hour and every minute becomes a day. It slows until every excruciating sordid detail of the attack is burned into your memory and you are branded for life.
On September 10, 2014, I was violently sexually assaulted in my on-campus residence by an acquaintance.
He pinned me to the bed and started kissing me. He began groping at my breasts, my back, my hips, and my waist. I pushed against his chest and begged him to stop. He became violent. He bit my lower lip, my neck, and my stomach until my body ached from the pain. I whimpered and begged him to stop, but he was relentless and became increasingly infuriated by my resistance. When I would not submit, he continued to abuse my body. He grabbed my neck to kiss me again, and pressed down on my windpipe. I could barely breath.
I reported my assault the next morning to the Office of Public Safety.
I spent the next month answering questions about that night. I was frequently asked if I had “actually said no” or if I had led him on. The witnesses were asked similar questions: if the marks on my body were bite marks or “just hickeys,” if I was trying to make my ex-boyfriend “jealous,” and more infuriatingly, if I had been “flirting with him” before the attack.
The Title IX Office and The Office of the Dean of Students did not offer me support. They informed me that it was incredibly possible that even if a sexual assault had taken place, he may not be found responsible for a violation of the Student Code of Non-Academic Conduct. I was informed me that were he to be found responsible, a likely punishment would be suspension for a semester, meaning he would return to Wesleyan before I graduate. They insisted that no matter what though I was safe, because I have a No Contact Order and should he violate that I should contact Public Safety immediately.
They never said it explicitly, but this is what they meant: You have no evidence that what took place was non-consensual. You will lose your case. Give up now and accept the No Contact Order as good enough. Despite Wesleyan’s “commitment” to due process and protecting victims of sexual assault, I did not feel safe or supported. I felt blamed for what happened to me. It was clear that no one was fighting for my best interest or the best interest of the female student body.
I went into the hearing knowing I could not win my case.
A partition haphazardly draped across the conference room was the only thing separating me from my assailant in the hearing. I sat anxiously in silence unless asked a specific question by the panel. Even then, I spoke meekly, stuttering and shaking as I spoke. My attacker did not wait for questions. He spoke clearly and freely. He assassinated my character and claimed I was “lying to tarnish his good name.” He categorically denied violently pinning me to the bed, biting me, and choking me. He claimed that he “ostensibly felt” that I was enjoying the encounter. When asked how he got consent he responded without pausing “I did not get consent, but…”
The results came back the next day: not responsible by virtue of implied consent.
I had lost my case even though he admitted that he had not gotten consent. Worse yet, I was denied an appeal because the bias in the case file had not “adversely impacted the outcome of the hearing.” It dawned on me that I was going to have to see him on-campus for the next two years and he would never be punished for what he had done to me.
More terrifying than these realizations, was a painful truth about Wesleyan: they were going to protect my assailant instead of me.
Why? Because he pays full tuition and will continue to do so for the next three semesters, while I can barely afford a third of Wesleyan’s sticker price. Because he is an athlete, while I am a researcher in a chemistry lab. Because finding another member of one of the three residential fraternities would result in disastrous media coverage that the university cannot afford, while allowing another victim to be silenced and abused is just a statistic.
I am writing to let you know that I finally give up on my case. You have received your final round of emails from me imploring you for assistance. I will no longer attempt to schedule meetings with members of the Office of the Dean of Students or the Title IX Office to get justice. I will no longer bother asking you for help, because I know I will not receive it.
Although I am done fighting for myself, I will continue advocating for other victims until the systematic failures of the current process are resolved.
Wesleyan, I urge you to change the investigative procedures for Title IX violations as well as the policies in the non-academic code of conduct as they pertain to sexual assault and sexual misconduct.
As it stands now, a Public Safety officer collects statements from the complainant, the respondent, and the witnesses. This officer is then responsible for summarizing each statement and submitting this to the official case file. Once a statement is in the file, even if the witness believes information to have been falsely reported or misinterpreted, the statement cannot be amended or removed from the official file.
I believe that this is incredibly inequitable. The current process leaves significant room for interpretation or implicit biased by the investigating officer. For this reason, not one, but two Public Safety officers should be responsible for each Title IX investigation. Moreover, the investigating officers should record and transcribe witness statements, rather than short and vague summaries of conversations that ultimately provide no information.
The current code specifies sexual assault as: “Having or attempting to have sexual intercourse or sexual contact with another individual without consent. This includes sexual intercourse or sexual contact achieved by the use or threat of force or coercion, where an individual does not consent to the sexual act, or where an individual is incapacitated.” Additionally, consent is regarded as “an outward demonstration indicating that an individual has freely chosen to engage in sexual activity. Consent is demonstrated through mutually understandable words and/or actions that clearly indicate a willingness to engage in sexual activity.”
The problem with this definition is that it includes implied consent, or consent inferred from a person’s actions or circumstances. The distinction between “I ostensibly felt that she was enjoying it” and “she was asking for it” becomes non-existent. So how can implied consent be considered consent at all?
If Wesleyan is nearly as progressive as it claims, then it is time to make the switch to the California Policy of consent. Rather than the archaic “no means no” policy, which places the onus on the victim to prove that consent was denied, it stipulates that the accused must prove that a clear affirmation of consent was given by the accuser before every sexual act that occurred during that encounter.
This policy does not mean that you need to sign a waiver or ask “Do you consent to this sexual act now?” Rather, ask your perspective partner, “What feels good for you?” or “What do you want to do right now?” before engaging in sexual activity. Not only that, but also asking for consent along the way to make sure that your partner is still comfortable. And this can be as simple as “Do you like this?” or “How does this feel?” And if the answer to this question is not a resounding “HELL YES,” but an “I guess” or “not really,” then it means no.
Wesleyan, I wake up every night from post-traumatic stress disorder related nightmares every night. I have developed an eating disorder and anxiety. I have withdrawn from the community I love because I am now too afraid to be a part of it. I often consider transferring to another school so I do not need to see my attacker at Pi or in Freeman.
I implore you to protect survivors of sexual assault in a way I was not protected. Do not allow another victim to suffer what I have been through and continue to suffer through. It is time to change a broken system.
I did not get justice for what happened to me, but I am asking that you get justice for the next survivor who comes to you asking for help.