On Monday morning, I saw the dress I am now wearing lying on my floor and became nauseated. I thought back on how, two semesters ago, before my title 9 hearing, I had spent so much time and energy deciding what to wear, and finally settled on this dress because I thought it made me look wholesome and although I was not the one on trial, I knew I was entering a situation where my innocence would not be assumed. At the time, this seemed like nothing more than a practical step, but yesterday, when I thought of myself dressing up to try and prove something to Scott Backer, I felt so violated and disgusted, not only because Wesleyan forced me to trust a sexual predator when I was at my most vulnerable, but also because the reporting and judicial process at this school made me feel like I needed to prove my innocence. I can only imagine how much heavier that burden would have been were I not a white cis woman. This is not an acceptable way to make survivors of sexual assault feel period, no matter who is facilitating the judicial process.

Scott Backer organized my hearing and was on the panel of people who decided its outcome, so when I first learned what he had done, I was so angry. I was angry that this man let my perpetrator sit at the same table as me and read to a panel of supposedly objective people that I had not been wearing underwear when he assaulted me. I was angry that he had been allowed to say that I had been dancing with him and flirting with him and that counted as me consenting. I was angry that he had been allowed to have a witness who had hooked up with him and told the panel that at that time, he had been a complete gentleman, so how could he have assaulted me? I was angry that my perpetrator had been allowed to testify that I had “enjoyed” my assault. But most of all I was angry that this trauma, which I have been trying to move past, was once again all I could think about.

Yet now, I am recognizing the futility of trying to forget these injustices, because unless something changes they will be suffered by survivors again and again. Even if my reporting process had not been facilitated and to some extent decided by a sexual predator, my experience was not right. It is not right that my perpetrator was found guilty of sexual assault and given a one year suspension. That is a slap on the wrist. That is letting a known assailant rejoin the student body. I should never have stopped being angry. Out of a desire to forget, I did not act to change a process that I knew was not running the way it should.

This anger is horrible, but I believe that it can be transformed into productive action. As a community, we are enraged and we are powerful. Let these events be a reminder of the fact that this institution consistently puts its public image before the health and safety of its students, particularly trans students and students of color. Wesleyan has shown us time and again that it cannot help survivors of sexual assault, even though that is its responsibility to us as students. I believe that the only way we can move through trauma is to work for the students of the future. There must be a system in place to help students who are assaulted and it cannot function as it has in the past.

  • DavidL

    “I was angry that he had been allowed to have a witness who had hooked up with him and told the panel that at that time, he had been a complete gentleman, so how could he have assaulted me? I was angry that my perpetrator had been allowed to testify that I had “enjoyed” my assault.”

    In other words you are angry that the person you accused was able to speak at the hearing and try to defend himself.

    As to the supposedly weak punishment, it may well reflect the broadening of the definition of assault and the weakening of protections for the accused. When the “crime” and the evidentiary standards are ambiguous, there is a reluctance to have the punishment be life altering. This reveals a lack of confidence in the outcomes that the system produces.

  • Jane

    A survivor is not obligated to report a sexual assault in several systems at once…or even at all. (There are not simply 2 systems, by the way. In addition to criminal and school-based reports, a survivor can file a complaint with the DOE’s Office of Civil Rights and/or litigate a complaint civilly.) PTSD can be crippling, and every survivor must assess what she or he is willing and able to do. It takes extraordinary courage to report a sexual assault even once, and the woman who wrote this letter deserves our profound gratitude for taking such a difficult step. As momof3kids noted, this is not a criminal justice system case. This is a school grievance proceeding with two similarly situated parties with equal standing, not the state–which makes, enforces and adjudicates based on the law–prosecuting an individual with resources that dwarf those of a defendant who is facing the possibility of imprisonment. Therefore, the crucial duty to provide due process protections and equitable treatment in Title IX complaints must be fulfilled taking different considerations into account. The objective is to balance the scales of justice, not to weigh presumptions heavily against one party or the other when there is no need to compensate for a preexisting power differential. In fact, the DOE strongly discourages schools from forcing sexual violence complainants to testify in the same room as respondents because that does not prevent respondents from presenting evidence, and allowing a complainant to minimize the trauma she or he experiences is in the interest of justice.

  • momof3kids

    You do understand that the US system of justice is that someone is innocent until proven guilty and that the burden of proof is not on the accused? You do understand the Title IX requires that both parties be treated equally and each side should be able to present their evidence and story in an equitable manner? It sounds like in your case you DID prove your claim since you say the accused is suspended from college for a year which a a far more serious punishment than a slap on the wrist. As far as a threat to the campus community if you really feel that way you should avail yourself of the criminal justice system which is the best path to “protect” the rest of the campus and the larger community if you feel that the accused is an on-going threat to other women.The Title IX code of conduct adjudication is not the same as a criminal trial. You say there must be a system in place, but actually there are TWO systems in place currently for college women who feel they have been assaulted. You could have lodged your complaint with both systems. It has been a year so you say and you still seem traumatized so please take advantage of the support services on campus as they can still help you. Best wishes moving forward from a mom of college kids.

    • Chris Gortmaker

      A one year suspension from school for sexual assault–does that really make sense to you? Do you really think the US Judicial system has EVER been a safe, objective place for women to pursue sexual assault charges? And Wesleyan’s survivor resources—abysmal, as recent events have only further brought to light. There are other misled statements in your comment that I think only this brave survivor could answer, but I hope you learn more about the realities faced by survivors of sexual assault before you trivialize their outrage.

      • momof3kids

        I wasn’t at the adjudication so I can’t speak whether a one-year suspension was appropriate or not, but I can say it wouldn’t qualify as a slap on the wrist, that would be akin to a no-contact order in my mind, nor can I speak to whether the essay writer was criminally, sexually assaulted. If not, then the protections afforded under Title IX seem appropriate. Personally, I’d prefer that clear and convincing were the standard for suspensions and expulsions but the OCR has said differently. If the poster was criminally sexually assaulted then the justice system would be a viable avenue to pursue in addition to the college conduct adjudication. I’m sorry you feel that Wesleyan’s counseling services are inadequate. That would be worth taking up with the college through appropriate channels.

        If Wesleyan is not complying with Title IX recommendations on procedures or did not follow their OWN written procedures that can be taken up with the DOE’s OCR. And yes, Jane is correct, there are recommendations about how the adjudication process should be, but it is left to individual colleges and universities how they implement.

        My reference to “two” systems was with regard to the ability of someone who has been criminally sexually assault the right to report to the police for potential prosecution. They don’t have to, they can chose to have the college/university adjudicate as a conduct violation. The accuser can do one or both or neither. Title IX deals with conduct on campuses. The justice system deals with criminal conduct. in society They can be the same. They can be not the same. You can violate a Wesleyan’s code of conduct but not have engaged in criminal behavior or you can violate Wesleyan’s code of conduct AND have engaged in criminal behavior. It is an important distinction.

    • 2 in college

      From a Wes mom to a Wes mom-
      You really have no idea what you are talking about but you think you do. Let me guess: you are a lawyer with a son.
      I have so many things to say to you.
      My daughter was raped at Wes by a guy whose parents, I bet, thought he was a fine young man. Don’t all parents? Who thinks, gee, my son’s a total rapey dick, but I’m sending him off to an elite college, so… yeh.
      The college adjudication system is tough enough; the idea that raped young woman, knowing how the world works, would be willing to go thru a criminal trial, is crazy. Read Missoula, read something, educate yourself.
      It was over a year before my daughter could get over the shame, guilt and fear of retaliation to bring her case to us and to the campus support center. They cannot and won’t do much as their paychecks come from Wes and their first priorities are protecting Wes and keeping things quiet.
      And the trauma is real and last one hell of a lot longer than one year. Her punishment for being raped lasts a lifetime; his punishment is 9 months off and a clean transcript after graduation.
      Lastly, it is insulting AF that you say things like, “who feel they have been assaulted…. so you say… the accused…if you really feel that way.” Think women want to go thru this for the fun of it?
      You have no idea, and I’m glad for that, because having an idea, facing our reality, sucks.

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