Lately, there's been a lot of talk about college women and sexual assault. Why it happens, how it should be handled, and what schools can do to prevent this problem, which happens disproportionately on college campuses. I'm an example of what shouldn't happen when a college woman reports a sexual assault.
In January of 2013, I went back to college after a semester break. I was excited to get the ball rolling again, and I even made some friends along the way.
My friend Simon* was a senior. He was really funny, but had an uncomfortable habit of making sexual jokes and saying unwanted sexual things at random. I thought I was being uptight when I felt uncomfortable because everyone else was laughing.
In February, Simon asked me to hang out. We went to the common room of my dorm and talked. He was sweet and funny, it was great being around him. We talked a lot about his complicated relationship with Heidi*, a mutual friend. I thought everything was okay until he started caressing my nipple –- we were in a common room with a group of girls behind us –- and I made it clear that his doing that wasn’t okay. He apologized profusely and promised it wouldn’t happen again. He said he wasn’t really thinking. Looking back, I was naïve, but I forgave him and saw him later in the week.
Heidi was a senior, and an education major, so she had a lot of schoolwork. It seemed Simon was the only one who wasn’t busy. The three of us spent time in Heidi’s dorm room until she asked us to leave so she could do homework. She’d just need an hour, so Simon suggested we go up to his room. It was only a floor above and we could come back in an hour.
I really just didn’t want to be alone. People were always with friends in college and after being an outcast in high school, I really wanted that experience in college. In Simon's room, he sexually assaulted me. I told him to stop, repeatedly, before he did it again, and again. He said things like, “I could throw you down and take you right on the floor.”
It made me nervous, he was bigger than me and we were alone. Finally, I just got up, feeling I had to go for it, and ran downstairs to Heidi’s room. I told her what happened, but she didn’t seem very concerned. I felt numb, as if it was a dream. Or rather, a nightmare.
I tried to push the incident off like it never happened. We spent a little time together and I finally went back to my dorm. The next day, after speaking to my mom, I reported it to campus police. I just couldn’t seem to push it in the back of my mind. I was on the fence because I felt like maybe I’d done something wrong, or that it would be impossible to prove. I had liked the head of security, so I felt comfortable going to him. I had been waiting for an hour before I could finally see him.
The head of security was not alone. His second in command, the head of student life, and a woman who worked in the security department were also there. They gave me a positive outlook. They told me the college had more power to prosecute Simon, since it was a private school. They alluded to the fact that the police wouldn’t, or couldn’t, do much about it.
I was convinced that going to the college was the best thing, and that they would handle it. I wrote up a report. I wanted to make sure everything was written down and nothing was left out. Submitting it gave me a great sense of power -– he was not getting away with this. I was so sure he would be held accountable. The school really made me feel as if he was going to be held responsible.
When Simon found out he was being investigated, he told our –- or as I’d find out, his –- friends. Heidi immediately began sending me text messages that would at first baffle me, then annoy me, and then send me into tears. She was harassing me, and even when I told the head of security at my college he simply said he would tell her to stop. He also promised he would make sure Simon and Heidi knew it wasn’t OK to discuss the investigation with anyone else.
I felt safe until I found out they disregarded this and went on to tell a lot of friends, my old friends, and received no repercussions for their actions. They just went about their lives, making mine miserable. I was yelled at by students. Many said, “He’s a senior. He’s about to graduate. Are you trying to ruin his life?”
No, of course not. But I don’t care who you are -– it’s not OK to sexually assault someone.
Heidi said, “You know he didn’t do that. He wouldn’t do that to me.”
The college seemed to be making things worse by interviewing friends of Simon’s –- people who had nothing to do with the case, since the assault happened when we were alone. I was told to bring forward any witnesses, but no character witnesses. But the college spoke to Simon’s friends, and what could they be, besides character witnesses?
They were also talking to people who had interacted with me after the assault happened. People can’t, and shouldn’t try to, judge if a woman’s been assaulted by the way she acts afterward. I was numb afterward, so I’m not really sure how I acted.
I went to the police because I was beginning to worry nothing would happen with the college. I had told the college about the students harassing me; I had shown them the text messages from Heidi, which were well past 100 at one point. They still did nothing but drag their feet.
So, I felt better going to the police. The initial officer seemed to be very understanding. The detective I had to see after, however, told me I basically had no case since it was a he said/she said. I went forward with it anyway and filed a report. I left college soon after this, as I was spiraling downhill. I let the Dean of Students know I was going. I wasn’t able to attend my classes, I was feeling depressed and anxious, and people were really being cruel to me.
I came back to my mother’s home, and I waited. A letter came in the mail that gave me a sense of happiness –- there was to be a court hearing regarding my case against Simon! Someone was actually listening!
Three weeks later, the college said they could not find Simon accountable for the alleged assault.
My heart wrenched, but then I felt numb. Maybe I had been naïve, but I really thought Simon couldn’t get away with this. It turns out he could. Not long after I received a letter from the courts, telling me the summons was a mistake and not to show up. It was disheartening. I spent most of my time at home, and I failed all my classes because I lived far from campus and didn’t go. Besides, it was too hard to think about seeing Simon and my old friends, who now seemed to hate me, on such a small campus.
The college removed my grades from my official transcript, and for some amazingly bizarre reason, they didn’t bill me for the semester. I really did take that to mean maybe they realized they did something wrong. My college was forever worried about being sued, but they didn’t have to worry about that with me.
Today, I'm doing a lot better. Having the courage to pitch this and then publish it -- with my name! -- speaks volumes itself. I haven’t gone back to college, not because I’m afraid or uncomfortable, but because I’m not sure if I do want to get a college degree. But that’s another story.
My anger toward Simon and Heidi hasn’t passed. I’ve realized that people handle sexual assault badly a lot, regardless of whether it’s a college, a police department, or peers, people just need to learn how to act. It’s not OK to try to talk a victim out of reporting an attacker. I shouldn’t have lost friends because I reported my attacker, but I did. I shouldn’t have been harassed because I reported my attacker, but I was. My hope is that people will change the way they think of sexual assault victims, and the way they treat them.
*Names have been changed.