By Anonymous Sexual assault. Rape. Ugly words, words no one wants to associate with themselves. Yet they happen all the time, even within the “Claremont bubble” that gives off such a friendly, safe vibe.
About two years ago, I was sexually assaulted by another 5C student. And no, he was not a shady creep that pulled me into the bushes on my way back from a party. He was someone I loved and was in a committed, long-term relationship with. At the time, I was so shocked and confused by what had happened that the words “sexual assault” didn’t even cross my mind. All I knew was that it was the first time I was ever afraid of him.
There were so many excuses: He was just too drunk and didn’t realize what he was doing. I shouldn’t have let him come over that night. We were a couple, and couples can explore sex freely. He never forced penetration, so that’s not rape, right?
Because of this confusion, I immediately forgave him and blocked the event from my mind. He did not sexually assault me again. After dating for another six months, we eventually went through a drawn-out, messy breakup that ended in cutting off all contact. Avoiding him for the rest of the school year was difficult and painful, but I managed to get through it.
Summer break was the best thing that could have happened at that point. I immersed myself in my passions, spent time with friends, and explored life away from the 5Cs. Separated from that environment, I finally was able to accept that what had happened to me was sexual assault. I recognized that it was not my fault; it was something my attacker chose to do to me on his own, and I did everything in my power to physically and emotionally survive the experience (including the long period of denial). In this separation from school, I thought I had made peace with this fact.
But as the new school year approached, flutters of anxiety began creeping into my stomach. What would happen when I encountered him? And if he was drunk? What would he say about me? That I was his “crazy” ex-girlfriend and a liar who wanted to ruin his reputation?
My first few weeks back were a nightmare. I had thought that coming to terms with my assault would be empowering, but it instead brought up all the bottled-up anxiety I had ignored. After my first sighting of him that nearly sent me into a panic attack, I lived constantly on edge. What was worse, he began to spend time with another student in my dorm, leaving me hyper alert and anxious even in my own living spaces. A moderate level of anxiety surrounded me from day to day, spiking unexpectedly and leaving me panicked for hours when reminders of him managed to work their way into my consciousness. I couldn’t fall asleep at night, yet slept excessively during the day. My appetite fluctuated wildly and was sometimes accompanied by nausea. I was afraid to walk on his school’s campus without friends.
These feelings might seem like an overreaction, paranoid, and unnecessary. I kept telling myself that I was being silly, yet my body and mind reacted in this way. Whether I wanted them to or not, my feelings of safety on the 5Cs had been shattered.
I began the process of finding a therapist, and in the meantime went to several staff members from my school to discuss my options. This is what we are taught to do, right? If you are sexually assaulted or raped, our progressive systems will protect you…
While I was listened to and comforted, I could see the reasons to not attempt a formal investigation clicking together as these staff members spoke. A formal investigation would include hearing both sides and gathering evidence to determine whether a rape or assault actually happened. I was asked if there was a witness to the assault. When I said no, I could hear the disappointment, as witnesses would “simplify this process.” As if I could choose where, when, and around whom the attack occurred.
Details about the investigation process were also unclear, as each school has its own way of dealing with sexual assault reports, and the investigation takes place on the campus of the accused student. I was promised information when my attacker’s school got back to the staff member.
It took over a month for me to receive this information.
By this time the anxiety had begun to slowly fade and I was regularly seeing a therapist. Not wanting to relive the pain and undo a month of emotional healing for the stressful process of reporting, I declined to meet with the school.
The healing process is long, complex, and non-linear. It took me over a year to accept what had happened to me, as well as experience the full emotional effects of the attack. I am not the only one who is a survivor of sexual assault or rape at the 5Cs. As much as we like to believe it could never happen to us, it is less a matter of protecting yourself, and much more a matter of circumstance and luck. No one chooses for this to happen to them, and no one wants to accept that they were a victim of this degrading crime.
I hope that the 5C community will work towards fully realizing the sensitive and complex factors that play into sexual assault, and how the rules and regulations in place affect the safety and comfort of victims. While these measures and responses are far better than some at other schools (such as the reactions to the woman who recently wrote about reporting her rape to Amherst College), their attempts to balance the support of survivors with preventing false reports led to me personally feeling distrusted, alienated, and with fewer rights than my attacker. He violated me, yet reestablishing safety and comfort at my own school would require a long and emotionally painful process. Even simply being banned from a single dorm (a compromise that still involved the same amount of investigation) would affect him very little, while his continued allowed presence constantly affects me. Even more frightening is that even if I suffered through the report, there is no guarantee that my story would be believed. On top of the humiliation of the assault, there would be an added one of being labeled a liar.
So I ask you all to think about how we can change this. Why do we live in a community where action is immediately taken against bias related incidents without question, yet a sexual predator can move freely within living spaces of their victim simply from lack of proof? My story is one of hundreds within our community, and through telling it I hope to help break the pattern of silence. We need to get away from the idea that we can “slapgrabtwistpull” ourselves out of every sexual assault situation, and start realizing that most of them are instigated by people we wouldn’t fight back against because we know them, have been involved with them previously, or even love them at the time. As much as we can try to pretend rape and sexual assault don’t happen on campus, this view only serves to punish survivors and silence their voices. Instead, we need to accept it as reality and begin offering genuine support to those who have been through these horrific experiences.