Op-ed submission: Just another Wash. U. statistic: Reporting my assault
Every morning, I swallow a concoction of pills that has quadrupled in dosage over the last seven long months. This elixir is supposed to help me cope with the world around me, where the student who sexually assaulted and harassed me still roams around campus. I avoid leaving my room many days, unable to face the possibility of seeing them, missing class and handing in assignments late, making up excuses of illness or personal troubles, simply because I’m ashamed of the truth and unable to function outside of the one place I can feel safe.
I found out that I had sex while blacked out, and I needed help. After I came forward looking for support, without a request from either the perpetrator or me, a no-contact order was imposed upon us, making our already awkward relationship more uncomfortable. It made seeking help seem like a mistake, like I had no say in what I was doing next and as if I was being cornered into filing a formal complaint.
I ultimately decided to file with the University Sexual Assault Investigative Board, or USAIB, as it seemed like a relatively reasonable process. The website stated that “absent special circumstances, the University’s investigation and interviews will be concluded, and the panel will issue a written decision…within 60 days of the initial submission of the complaint.” I submitted my complaint and received notice 199 calendar days later that a final decision had been made—over six months had passed, which is far beyond what I was led to believe would be the case, even under remarkable conditions.
The Title IX investigator failed repeatedly to accurately record information given to them. Statements both witnesses and I made were reported incorrectly, including a lot of pertinent information, especially the other nonconsensual encounters the perpetrator and I had. The investigator also failed to contact me when they said they would. When I would tell them very detailed time periods during which I was available, the investigator repeatedly called outside those and left messages confused as to why I was not available. They also stated that witnesses who were contacted did not know what the USAIB process was nor why they were being called—those witness told me that they had yet to be called after giving the investigator their availability for an interview.
I was assured repeatedly that I would be given regular updates as to the progress of the process. Ultimately, I received one or two updates during the first month and a half. Soon, I had to start asking for updates, because otherwise, I would not receive any. Even with these requests, I sometimes would receive no response whatsoever. When I brought forward concerns about harassment by my assailant, these concerns were ignored and brushed aside. I was made to feel completely irrelevant.
During my interview with the board, they presented heavily victim-blaming questions. They asked if I chose to file because I was jealous of the perpetrator’s other sexual relationships. They asked me if I brought the case forward because otherwise it would look as if I was cheating on my partner. They asked me to evaluate my aggressor’s character—if I answered truthfully, I would sound spiteful, but if I didn’t, I would be lying. They asked questions about my promiscuity.
I know deep down that the people running the USAIB process are not bad people. I am not upset about the outcome itself, as I came to accept early on that my lack of recollection put me at a disadvantage. I wanted to go through this process to stand up for the other people who have been wronged by my assailant and people similar to them. I am upset about how the board delivered their decision. In the statement alone, they used insensitive language, going so far as to say that they concluded that I gave “knowing and voluntary consent,” despite my repeatedly telling them that I have no recollection of the night due to my alcohol consumption and statements from witnesses corroborating my intoxication. They chose to make a direct claim of which they simply do not and cannot know the veracity, and, as a result, they took away much of my self-worth.
This system is a product of a broader rape culture that permeates our society and creates a barrier to reporting. That culture is one in which it is perfectly acceptable to blame a victim of assault for how much they drank. It is one in which advocacy for the survivor largely falls on him or herself. Inaction is the baseline response to a complaint, if nothing, I suppose, but to make sure the assailant does not bring a lawsuit against the institution. The USAIB process has improved immensely over its course, but it is still highly flawed.
I am, however, extremely grateful for Kim Webb, Austin Sweeney and the entire RSVP Center for the incredible work they are doing to improve the culture and to educate members of our campus. They have helped me in more ways than I can begin to express.
Sexual assault is the most disempowering thing that has happened to me. Someone else claimed complete and absolute authority over my body without my input on the matter—and they did it more than once. After being repeatedly silenced by my assailant, upon coming forward to seek help, Washington University robbed me of the ability to decide how I wanted to handle my story. Our institution has made me feel powerless and worthless. Wash. U., in many ways, has betrayed me.