Trigger Warning: This blog contains information about sexual assault and/or violence which may be triggering to survivors.
She sits there trembling and confused. She hasn’t yet processed everything: the violence, the betrayal, the insecurity, fear, and the profound helplessness. She has wept, many times, because her assailant has caused her family great grief, has made her a character of another victim narrative, and has weakened her. She no longer recognizes herself under the guise of her own desolation.
Title IX investigations have been mandated in over 90 universities across the nation along with the Campus Sexual Assault Elimination Act to put greater pressure on administrative personnel to address this country-wide phenomena. At the same time, sexual violence is not exclusive to colleges but is misaddressed in many landscapes. For a country that devotes the most defense spending in the world, condoning one rape every two minutes is unacceptable.
She thinks back to all of the warnings that she had so easily taken advantage. She thought to herself, “What are the chances this would happen to me?” Out of every five women who statistically could be sexually assaulted in their college career, she had never expected to be that one. She had always imagined herself in this small cohort of women drawing from a pile of sticks. Who would draw the short one? Reconsidering the randomness of that scenario, she reviewed all things she thought would decrease her likelihood of being assaulted. She rarely went out to fraternity parties or bars with her friends. She was far too busy between schoolwork and her part time job commitments. She carried pepper spray in her purse everywhere she went. That would help, wouldn’t it? Her parents raised her to be confident, hardworking, and commonsensical. “Plan ahead, have a firm handshake, and let your passions guide you forward,” her dad would say. She unconsciously asked herself blaming questions, such as: “Do I dress too promiscuously? When I treat myself to a Saturday night off, do I have a bit too much to drink? Is it possible I gave my assailant the wrong idea? Had I asked for it? Am I naïve about my relationships with people?”
The manner that cases of sexual violence are handled on campuses further compounds the violence experienced by victims of sexual assault; current processes may be worse than the actual violence. The culture of cover up at many institutions virtually ensures that victims are doubly wronged. Victims of sexual violence are too often stigmatized by public assumptions of their complicity. The public indictment of their identity produces feelings of guilt, helplessness, blame and/or indignation, exacerbating the victim’s pain and increasing their isolation. Institutions seem to be more focused on the reputation and cash flow of their college over the well-being of their students. Women especially suffer the consequence of the patriarchal, money-making structures of universities. Cover-ups protect enrollment. If a campus is known for a rape culture, incoming students may reconsider; if athletes are known for bad behavior off the field, alumnae relations and fundraising could be negatively impacted; if Greek life is singled out for binge drinking and hazing, academic reputation is tainted. Universities need to provide victims with the necessary representation, resources and support, instead of calculating the benefit of victimization.
These universities have chosen to be incompetent in protecting the rights of their students, as the public exposure of sexual violence on campus is considered to be too damaging.
She’s sitting across from her perpetrator and she feels lightheaded. Everything is coming back to her. She can barely look up. She feels profoundly different than her last visit to the Dean’s office. Three years ago when she came to this university, she was overwhelmed with blind enthusiasm. Blind because she had yet to experience the ivy-league education, the school spirit during weekend football games, the intramural volleyball teams that practiced in the sand pit in spring, and the fall leaves of autumn on the sidewalks amongst the venerable stone architecture. Now, those affinities to the institution were changing. She had no idea that her university would strip her down raw, crush her aspirations, and penetrate holes into her future. She had never known, all this time, that she was the one in five, who would be victimized by the fragmented system. She sits across from the Dean without satisfaction. Her dad was wrong. She could not plan ahead for this, shake this man’s hand, and continue in her pursuit to follow her passions. This institution had assaulted her very existence as a student on this campus. She thinks, “If my alma mater has no concern for my wellbeing, perhaps I was destined to be raped.”