Originally posted in the Pine County Courier April 27, 2017
It has been over 730 days, or two years since the night that changed my life changed forever. Since that time I have dealt with anxiety, depression, post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and physical symptoms related to my assault of having difficultly sleeping, and stomach issues. I have also been a part of two different court cases, with one currently happening, but I am still not done fighting. My hope is in telling my story that more people will feel comfortable telling their story to others, and that our community and country begin to change the way they look at sexual assault and the charges associated with it.
I was sexually assaulted on April 14, 2015, just over two years ago. I was 20 years old, studying abroad in a foreign country during my junior year of college. I was assaulted by someone I would have considered an acquaintance or even friend as I had known him for over a year and a half. I did not report my assault right away because I did not know the process, and my class was headed on a few day trip to Northern Ireland in about two days. I was in a foreign country, scared, paranoid my attacker was going to come back, and unaware of my options. My friends and I did some research, but were still not quite sure of the process, and how to approach it.
When I finally figured out how to appropriately report to the police in Ireland just over two weeks later, it was too late for an effective rape kit to be done. For my last two days in Ireland I spent most of my time at the police station; giving my statements. My roommates, who were friends, and a college professor, joined me, and each gave statements as well.
On the day before we left Ireland, the Irish guards came to my residence to take photos of my living space, and to collect potential evidence. This was while other students were around. My roommates and I left in the back of the cop car, to head to the police station for more statements. I was mortified. I knew this had to be done, but no one else knew what was going on, and I felt as if I was the star of some circus. This was by no means my fault, but I still felt disgusting as if I had done something wrong.
Once my statements were taken I was promised I would be contacted and updated on the case. Soon after I arrived home, back in the United States I realized I wasn’t getting much of a response. There were some breaks of communication that were over a month or more. I turned to my school for help in contacting the police, and foreign country, as it didn’t seem to be working on my own. Faculty from my school ignored my pleas for a while, and when they finally did look to help, I do not really believe they put effort into communicating or helping me.
After eight months of pursing a case on December 9th, 2015, I received a call on my phone from Ireland. I hesitated answering it, because I had a bad feeling on what it might be. It was the commanding officer in my case telling me that my case was dropped due to lack of evidence. After filing an appeal, two months later I found the case was finished.
Although I was crushed, I instead focused my efforts fully to protecting the upcoming students who would be arriving in the same town my assault occurred at the end of January. This has been a focus of mine since August that I had communicated with my former college, but it became of greater importance and focus when I found my perpetrator would be having no legal consequence against him.
The school offered that I attend a meeting with upcoming students to warn them of the potential troubles. I was extremely nervous about this, as I didn’t know how I would handle myself in front of others telling my story, but I worked on what I would say, and was ready to do whatever possible to protect others from the trauma I went through. A few days before the scheduled meeting I received an e-mail from a faculty member claiming that I was not allowed to attend the meeting, which was being held on the college campus that I attended, and that if I did show up he would cancel the meeting immediately. This was quite a change in opinion, and it really hurt. I tried communicating with other faculty, but the final thought was they didn’t know why the individual made the decision he did, but because he was in a higher position than they were, they could not do anything.
The meeting was held, and I did not attend school that day. I did not receive updates on how the meeting went until much later, and never really got to discuss what went on. My last push was for a restraining type order on the school’s property against my offender. After a few months of discussions a letter was written up, which stated statues that would not apply to my perpetrator and included a photo, not of just my perpetrator, but of also two other guys, who were not involved. In this letter, it did not specify which guy was my perpetrator, or who the students should watch out for. I am not sure if the students even received this information. After all of my time trying to protect the students, it really felt like nothing had been done, and now there were another group of young people living in the same small town as my perpetrator, and I could do nothing.
I really felt that not only did I have to fight for myself, but I had to fight against my school for the rights of other students. The whole process of the court case, and having to fight for other students, extremely delayed my healing. With little support from my school, I decided to pursue a different method to help ensure that all victims at my school would be taken seriously, and treated well. I did not want any student to have to go through what I went through, it was a lot worse than the assault itself.
This past summer I pursued a case against my school with a lawyer and the Department of Education, and filed two federal complaints against my college.
My story made national news in September, initially breaking with a story from the Huffington Post right at the start of the new school year. Having my story “break,” was overwhelming to say the least. I had an outpouring of support from my family, friends, and strangers, who believed my story, and supported me. I also received a lot of messages from news anchors, and organizations who wanted to be the first ones to break my story locally. This was both good, but scary. It wasn’t all positive, some people would leave negative comments online, on how I could have been drinking, or how it wasn’t possibly the school’s fault, although they did not have any details on the case.
Since this fall I have only received one update on my court case. This update from my lawyer stated that due to the change in the presidential administration, my case may be delayed. This was really disheartening, and frustrating. A case like the one I am pursuing can already take 2-4 years or sometimes more, having it possibly be delayed, was not the news I wanted to hear.
So here I sit, still working on healing. My perpetrator walked free, I don’t feel my school supported me, and now I am sitting with an open investigation, but I am slowly doing better. Therapy has helped me heal some, as have friends, time, and sharing my story. That night and the actions after still bother me, and I have been told they will continue to bother me for the rest of my life.
Seeking protection for other students has given me immense strength in my own journey to healing, and I would encourage it as an avenue for others to do the same. There is a certain power you feel in telling your story, whether it is to a close friend who is listening, or the nation. I would encourage any victim no matter when the assault happened to seek help, and healing whatever path that may be. There are options available for free Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner (SANE) exams, therapy, support groups, and more. One in five women will experience sexual assault in their lifetime, with statistics like these, no matter how alone you may feel know that you are not alone, there are plenty of victims who are currently going through the same things as you are. Continue to fight for yourself and others, and know that no matter what you may have been wearing, or what people on the internet may say, it is never your fault.
People who are not going through this process, please support victims, teach consent, and practice healthy relationships. With 20 percent of all people victims, we all know someone, if everyone works together, we can work to change these statistics for the better.
To have the support of so many people out there, and you know who you are, this journey has been better because of your support. Thank you!
Other Links: Huff Post Story