What do you do when the system you turn to for support fails you? Or worse: what do you do when it actively works against you?
Anna Marie Rose Failla was a senior at Carnegie Mellon University when she was allegedly raped by one of her peers. She reported the incident to the university a few months later and asked them for a No Contact Agreement with her accused rapist, a document that would ensure that the two would not contact each other in any way. The university refused to comply and failed to inform Failla of any campus resources that could have helped her.
However, this all changed when Failla, now 23, returned as an alumna to an event called Carnival. She traveled 5 hours back to her university to see friends and attend theatre performances by a troupe she was once a part of. But prior to the event, Failla was contacted by CMU’s Title IX coordinator. Apparently her alleged aggressor had reached out to the Title IX office because he heard Failla would be attending the event, and now he was requesting a No Contact Agreement from her.
Failla was appalled. Why had the school refused her own No Contact Agreement request but had given his the stamp of approval? Any why now, when she was no longer a student and hadn’t spoken to her purported aggressor in a year?
“The school has an obligation to not re-victimize and punish me for coming forward and finally charging my rapist,” Failla told Thought Catalog. “Their course of actions after the trial showed a biased action of supporting and empowering him, as I’m left defenseless.”
While she held up her side of the agreement, her alleged rapist did not. He confronted her in public at Carnival to berate her and had his friends harass her. And after the event, she received this email from the Title IX office.
Thank you for speaking with me earlier this week. As you are aware and we discussed on Monday, [blank] has requested that you not have any contact with him and has asked for assistance from the university to that end. My office is responsible for evaluating and responding to requests made by students, faculty and staff in support of their ability to fully access their educational and/or employment activities at CMU. Consistent with that obligation, I am writing to confirm that you will not be permitted to attend any campus events or otherwise be present on the Pittsburg campus for any reason for the duration of [blank]’s active status as a CMU student (he is expected to graduate in [blank].)
As I hope that I have made clear in our conversations, because [blank] is a current student, we must give precedence to his status. At such time as [blank] is no longer an active student, we trust that you will both conduct yourselves appropriately at any CMU activities in which you choose to participate. We stand prepared to assist in the resolution of any conflicts that might arise to the extent necessary.
It was the final straw for Failla, who felt disgusted and appalled — not necessarily that the school was concerned with her accused aggressor’s comfort, but that they were more concerned with his than her own when they were supposed to remain unbiased.
“My initial reaction was, ‘Oh, really, were you uncomfortable when you were raping me?'” Failla said. “I was thinking about how this was a huge injustice.”
Failla wrote about the experience for Student Voice in a piece entitled “Carnegie Mellon University: Empowering my Rapist and Revictimizing Me.” Deciding to speak out about it wasn’t easy, but her reasoning? She didn’t want to write about it — and that’s exactly how she knew she needed to.
“It’s emotionally taxing and scary to make such a statement,” she said. “I already make so much art about sexual education and sexual assault education and that was a hurtle of its own. But if it happened to me at CMU, it could keep happening, and no one should have to deal with what I just did. So as much as I didn’t want to, me not wanting to inspired me to do it for all the others who have had issues like this and didn’t say anything.”
Failla has since become an advocate for sexual assault awareness. She writes about her experiences, gathers others’ stories and travels the country to participate in art shows for sexual assault and mental health awareness. She uses these mediums to encourage people to talk about their own experiences and schools to find ways to deal with sexual assault, such as mandatory education about consent and supporting the victim even when the accused are found not guilty.
She found that using creative avenues to confront her experiences headfirst was not only therapeutic but that it could get people talking about consent and sexual assault.
“My work is so beyond myself,” Failla said. “It is for the next person who is raped at CMU that has a case like mine and it is for the last person who had a case like mine that I didn’t know about until I got an email from them this morning thanking me for sharing my story and giving them a voice. It’s incredible and empowering and rewarding as a survivor that I can help empower others through my actions.”