Trigger warning: this article contains sensitive content involving rape and sexual assault.
Rape on university campuses is a problem. And universities know this. There is a push for sexual assault victims to make reports so that the problem can be addressed and students can feel safe, but at my school, it seems that the administration would prefer to protect the university’s reputation, not its students.
When I woke up on a March morning in 2017, I found myself in the bed of one of my best friends. As I went to leave his room, I saw something that broke me: a used condom on the floor. I flashed back to the night before and remembered telling him no repeatedly when he asked if we could have sex. After a certain point in my recollection of that night, however, everything goes black. If I had never seen that used condom, I might never have known I had been raped. I’ll never forget his response when I asked, “Did we have sex last night?” and he replied, “Oh, you don’t remember?”
As I walked from across the colonnade from his fraternity house, I was in shock. How could someone I trusted so much take advantage of me like this? I didn’t realize in that moment how drastically this would impact my life, but I can tell you now that my world was shattered. I debated briefly about whether or not to report. He was one of my closest friends, but I couldn’t let him get away with the crime he had committed against my body, my mind, my trust, and my sense of safety.
Being raped is traumatic. The assault could be violent, the people involved could be in a relationship, alcohol could be involved––it doesn’t matter, rape is rape. However, the months following my rape, which included the investigation and the hearing, ended up inflicting more trauma than the rape itself.
When I went to our health center to ask for help, the nurse couldn’t remember who she was supposed to call. The bruises which covered my neck and chest were ignored. I was sent away within five minutes feeling even more helpless than I already did. After waiting two more days, I was able to make an official report to the university. After the investigation period, I was granted a hearing with our school’s sexual misconduct board. Despite my begging of the university to schedule a hearing before spring break, a timeframe which adhered to the policy’s guidelines, they made a policy exception and granted my rapist’s request to postpone the hearing until after break.
It took 44 days from me reaching out to make a report for the hearing to occur. In this time I missed 10 classes from emotional distress, I had recurring nightmares where my rapist told me he’d raped me many times before without me knowing, and I was forced to read over and over again my rapist’s claims about the night in question.
On the first Tuesday of Spring Term, I sat in my hearing for six excruciating hours trying to hold back tears. Four hours in, the sexual misconduct panel declared a finding of responsibility for non-consensual sexual penetration, the highest offense possible according to my university’s sexual discrimination and misconduct policy. When I requested that expulsion be my rapist’s punishment, I was really asking for the freedom to move about campus without fear. In making this request, I was asking my university, which prides itself on honor and integrity, to provide me with an environment that I could not only feel safe in, but also thrive in academically and emotionally.
I will never forget hearing the words “The respondent is to be suspended for the Fall 2017-2018 semester.” I broke down sobbing with fear and feelings of betrayal. I felt stabbed in the back by the people who claimed to be protecting me. Not only would my rapist be eligible for readmission in Winter 2018, but he would also be remaining on campus throughout spring term. Yes, my school punished a charged rapist by suspending him for one semester.
I spent the four weeks following the hearing seeing my rapist around campus, with each encounter sending me into panic mode. I haven’t been able to sleep well since the rape, and I continue to have nightmares two or three times a week. I am terrified that he will be reinstated and I will spend the next two years running into him on campus. How am I supposed to achieve success in an environment I am terrified to exist in?
I do not share this story to discourage students from reporting sexual assaults; a sexual assault support center and my school’s counselling center helped me tremendously throughout this process and I would encourage anyone facing a similar situation to reach out for help.
By telling my story, I wish to demonstrate the ways in which my university has failed to support its student body in hopes that things will someday change. Sexual assault rates are incredibly high at our university, yet the administration allows known rapists to remain on campus. Can my school really continue to pride itself on being a university of honor when it cares more about protecting its reputation and maintaining its donors than the safety of its own students?