April 9 2019
With the #MeToo movement and other trending hashtags such as #whyididntreport, the public is finally beginning to uncover the horrific extend to which sexual assault runs rampant in America. However, this revolution is still just underway: victims are still being diminished and many public figures have walked away from sexual assault accusations unscathed. One brave RevNow writer refuses to lose the fight for justice, and has written a personal piece on her experience reporting an assault - and being met with backlash.
I had just started attending my dream college - 3,000 miles from home. Like every college freshman, I was nervous to be so far away from everything I knew, but I was also excited to begin the “college experience” I’d seen romanticized in movies and television shows for years. I wasn't too concerned for my safety. “Stranger danger,” my mom always said, but I didn’t see it that way in college; I was surrounded by fellow students and potential friends. I thought, “I’m an adult now!” I wanted to go to frat parties, experience my first hangover, and do all the other reckless things a freshman college student does. It didn’t cross my mind that I would be put into actual danger.
I wanted to be a journalist, so when the on-campus radio station gave me a position, I was ecstatic. Everyone seemed nice and welcoming, and right off the bat I felt like I had found a place where I belonged. Before my first shift, I practiced a billion times in my dorm room.
This is me on my first day of college. That’s my dad. He didn’t wanna cry in front of me, but I knew as soon as he left he did.
It was quiet and deserted when I settled into the station, but I kept the studio door open. I figured someone might have wanted to check in on the newbie. I sat down in a chair centered in front of four huge monitors, painting the room in neon. In that moment, I became overwhelmed with excitement. I had the pop genre shift, so I could choose any song I wanted. I picked Chocolate by 1975, one of my dad’s favorites, and put my headphones on. I knew that my whole family was listening back in California. My mom was playing it on her speaker for her whole cubicle. My dad texted me saying he loved the song choice.
I was so focused on queuing up the music that I didn’t notice when someone entered the building. A student director, around the age of 22, strolled into the recording studio and locked the door behind him. The interaction started with a normal conversation, but I quickly became uncomfortable as he inched closer with every word. I tried to grab my phone to text my roommate, but he snatched it from my hands. Then, he lunged at me and kissed me. I was repulsed. I tried to push him away but he held onto me by my red sweater. Then, he threatened to take away my position if I didn't do everything he said. I was in a state of shock. I couldn't move as he kissed my neck and touched places I never wanted him to touch. When he placed my hand on his private parts, I tried to cry out for help, but this monster bit me. Bit me!
As the time grew closer to the end of my shift, I told him that my roommate would be coming to pick me up. That seemed to scare him. He gave me back my phone, not before putting his number in it, and ushered me out. As soon as I heard the station door slam behind me, I began hyperventilating. A mix of tears and the cold New England weather blurred my vision as I stumbled away trying to find someone - anyone who could help me. When I saw my roommate walking up the hill from my residence hall, I collapsed into her arms. She had no idea what was going on, and I didn’t have the heart to tell her. I just completely broke down.
Once I was finally able to tell her, she encouraged me to report it; I did the next day. The radio station advisor called me in on a Sunday morning to meet with a Title IX Coordinator, and as soon as I sat down she began bombarding me with questions. The first one she asked really threw me for a loop. “You are eighteen, correct?” Now, this was the first red flag. I understand that they have to know that to see if I was legal or not, but that shouldn’t matter. Either way, I was assaulted and he should be receiving consequences.
For the next hour, I explained in excruciating detail everything that happened that night. She wrapped up the meeting by offering me stupid pamphlets about healing and such. I responded by asking how he was going to be punished, and she told me point-blank: “oh, well we can’t do anything because he’s a senior and is graduating in a few months. We don’t want to ruin his life.”
As soon as she said that I got up and left. I received an email later that day that I said I was allowed to miss class the next day, because my assaulter will be there. However, after that, I would be expected to see him everyday. So, for the next few months, I dealt with him sitting a few rows behind me. I felt his glare every class period. I couldn’t do anything. If I didn’t go, I would fail. If I complained about it, I would be ignored. I was stuck.
One day, a girl that was a grade above me pulled me into the game room at the student center and told me she heard about what happened. Then, she said that the same thing had happened to her… by the same guy. Throughout the week, several girls confronted me admitting the same thing. They were scared. They wanted to know if the school did anything, and it broke my heart to watch the hope fall from their faces when I told them that they didn’t.
Unfortunately, my story didn't end there. This college would soon let me down yet again.
A month or so later, my roommate went clubbing with some of our friends, and I stayed behind to finish a paper. She forgot her key, so I left the door unlocked, not too worried since there was security at the only entrance of the building.
I really should have locked the door.
Suddenly, a man I didn’t know entered my dorm. He didn’t even say anything - just smiled as he walked towards me. I asked him if he had the wrong room or if he was looking for my roommate. He answered by putting his hands around my neck and choking me.
As he assaulted me, he mentioned that he was at a party in the residence hall across from mine. He admitted that he didn't even go to the school, but after having a few drinks he wanted to have some fun. After all the girls at the party rejected him, he went with plan B: breaking and entering, and if that wasn’t enough, raping an innocent victim. As far as I know, no one asked this strange man any questions as he strolled around the hallways looking for unlocked doors in the girls wing. And yes, he admitted this to me too. Mocked me about it. Told me I was the lucky winner. These were only a few of the things he said throughout the assault.
Before I knew it he had me on the bed with his hand around my neck as he forced himself inside me. I didn't even cry. I had no tears left to cry. I was emotionless. I felt nothing. He kept saying my name, which I don’t even know how he knew but he did, and he was gripping too tight on my neck and I passed out. I thought he killed me. And, as much as I hate to admit it, I honestly wished he had.
I woke up completely exposed on my bed, with my door wide open so everyone could see. The guy was nowhere to be found. This time I didn’t report it. I was already being harassed by my past friend group, so I didn’t want to make anything worse. After leaving their group, they spread rumors about me and called public safety on me several times as a joke, knowing this would all go on my record. Every time public safety knocked on my door, I was either reading or doing homework, not doing drugs or hurting myself like these people had told them. But, though I hadn’t been discovered with any incriminating evidence, I didn’t want to stir the pot. So I didn’t report it. I didn’t want to make matters worse for myself. Not that it would have changed anything.
A week after another public safety call was made, the Thousand Oaks shooting happened. Being from California and an activist, I wanted to make a little memorial in the lobby of the residence hall. I spent all night making it and set it up early in the morning. Being the only one from the west coast, many of the students knew it was me and thanked me for making it. My old friend group didn’t give me the same support. First, they destroyed it. Then, they reported it, saying it was me making threats about shooting up the school.
I was called into the office, and a counselor began questioning me. I told her that I’ve been an activist for a long time. I told her about the walkout and town halls I’d participated in, and that it’s a huge passion of mine. She pulled up the picture of the memorial I made and looked me in the eyes and said: “You know, this makes you look like a school shooter. Is that what you wanted? You wanna hurt others right?” She began firing these offensive questions at me alone in a small room, with no one there to spectate. I began to have a panic attack as she kept going. “Do you have guns? Does anyone in your family have guns? Do you like guns? Do you like what happened in Parkland and that's why you became an activist?”
I knew none of this was true, but this counselor was not giving me a chance to explain myself. When I left the counseling session, I returned to my dorm room to see several officers outside my door. They handed me a letter, explaining that I was suspended until further notice. I was not allowed on campus. May I remind you that my family was on the other side of the country. Fortunately, my grandmother happened to be a few hours away.
The school officials titled me as a “troubled student” and set up a mandatory counseling examination. At this point, I just poured my heart out to yet another counselor. I told her about my assault and rape, and how these kids have been harassing me and calling public safety on me as a joke. She didn’t believe a word I said. She shrugged it off and simply said "if this happened then why didn’t you report it?” and "you’re using your supposed rape and assault as an excuse to get out of punishment for your actions." What actions? Being harassed by a toxic group of people and having no one to help me as I’m being attacked by every side? Nothing that I said mattered. I knew it the moment she claimed I was using that as an excuse. It was over for me.
They concluded that I was not “emotionally fit” to keep attending that college, and in turn took everything from me. I returned home to my family and couldn’t even look them in the eye. I didn’t want to live anymore. I couldn’t handle it. I always wondered why women never came forward… now I know. I found out the hard way.
The system is a mess. They tell all the students at orientation that they will do everything in their power to make sure we’re safe and that we will get justice. None of that happened for me, and many girls know it won’t happen for them either. There are a handful of girls still at that college that refuse to come forward after seeing me literally ripped from my dorm room by public safety officers.
Instead of protection, I got my trauma used against me as an excuse that I’m not “emotionally stable” enough to keep attending school. And yet, they let the director go by with a warning because it would “ruin his life.” What about my life? I had plans. I was ready to prove myself at that school, but that was all taken away from me, along with my confidence and womanhood.
I did what I was “supposed” to do. I told officials about the incident. And the result? I was sent back to a home that was 3,000 miles away from what I thought was my dream school. I was a failure, not only to myself but to everyone who assumed that my explosion had been my doing. What was I supposed to say when relatives asked why I left? “Being sexually assaulted apparently causes you to “act out” and have you removed from college.” But more painful than the disapproving looks from others was the not being able to look my family in the eyes. When I told my family what was happening, my dad didn’t even talk to me. I thought it was because he was mad at me, but my mom said he was trying not to get on a plane and come out here and find my assaulter and deal with the college. I was his little girl. Now how does he see me? And what was I supposed to say to them? That I was fine? Everyone walked around on eggshells, which only made me feel more like a burden and a waste of space.
My entire demeanor changed when I came back home. I didn’t talk to anyone. I went from the happy, ambitious girl I once was to someone I didn't even recognize. I became reckless. I dyed my hair bright red and cut most of it off myself. When I looked in the mirror, I saw a whore. If a guy made a move on me, I just let it happen. I saw myself as someone who was only meant to be used. I didn’t think I had a purpose. I saw my dreams and aspirations as a waste of time. I became depressed, thin, and suicidal. I took pills one night not expecting to wake up, but I did. I tried a few times. I hardly left my room and I did some things that the old me wouldn’t even think of doing.
After being expelled, I went through what could be called a "spiral”. This picture was taken at a frat party I went to on thanksgiving weekend. The normal me would have chosen to be with my family, but I wasn't me during this time period.
Slowly, the days got easier. I started to go out with my friends every once in awhile. I began to rediscover the things I enjoyed, like reading. I became more confident and sure of myself. I see myself as worthy now. I know I still matter. Even after everything that's happened to me, I am still here. I am still breathing and I am still fighting for abuser accountability. I am me. I am in control of my emotions, my life and my body. No one can change that. Now, when I look in the mirror I don’t see a whore. I see a survivor. Or to assaulters everywhere: their worst nightmare.
Now, I am in therapy, my hair is back to normal, and (most importantly) I love myself.
I still haven’t even been able to cry about what happened to me. I can’t. For so long after the experience, I was in a state of shock, but I shouldn’t have been: I saw the news. I saw the sexual assault statistics. And I hate knowing that so many young girls are going to meet the same fate. But that shouldn’t stop us. Sure, it may put a depressing pause on your life, but I didn’t let that destroy me. Neither should you.
I thought I lost myself when my world came crashing down around me, but I’m here now. I became determined to build a better and stronger world and not stop demanding justice. I implore you all to do the same. I don’t care if it's through protests, telling your story, or even helping others get their stories heard.
Everyone has a story. Share it. Show it. Own it.
As the saying goes: “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger,” or in my case: “what doesn’t kill me better run.”
National Sexual Assault Hotline: 1-800-656-4673
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