My experience with sexual assault: Consent is the best policy

I’m the girl whose report got a male student expelled last year, and in light of the recent events at Amherst College, I wanted to write in and talk a little about my experience and about how our school handles sexual assault on campus. How the young woman was treated at Amherst is appalling, and I can’t help but reflect upon what happened to me last year and be thankful for our school’s policies and handling of sexual assault reports.  Last September, I met him at a party.  I can’t even say we met because I was on my own having a good time, and he just came up to me and started dancing with me.  He was obviously drunk, and I was as well, I won’t deny that. Next thing I knew, we were in my dorm room.  I remember a condom wrapper on my desk, the bright single ceiling light shining into my face, and feelings of sadness and anxiety.  I didn’t know why he was there with me, and I did not want him to be.  It wasn’t fun or sexy, it was unpleasant and painful, but I thought, Well, it’s already happening, and I did dance with him… it’ll be over soon and then I can just go to sleep. I waited for him to finish, then watched from my bed as he put his clothes on and left.

Illustration by Kelsey Skordal

Honestly, when I went to Heather Horton a few days later, I didn’t know what to do– I just needed someone to talk to. She listened to my side of the story and laid out my options, explaining what would happen should I decide to file a report.  I took a few days to think it over.  I was so torn; I felt a strong need to say something, but I was embarrassed about what had happened and already tired of talking about it when all I wanted to do was forget it and move on.  I didn’t want his friends to know, or for other people on campus to find out. I was afraid they would hate me, or worse, that nobody would believe me or say what I was feeling “didn’t count” because I was drunk that night.  I decided to go forward with the report because what had happened made me feel very uneasy and uncomfortable, and I decided I was not going to let this guy walk around my campus.  I was going to hold him accountable. My intention was not to get him expelled from CC (although I don’t disagree with that decision), I only wanted to make him aware that his actions were hurting other people, if he didn’t already know.  He needed to take responsibility for that. And if he did know, I thought, well then he shouldn’t be here anyway.

The Catalyst interviewed him last year after he’d been expelled, and he tried to excuse his behavior by saying things like, “I was blackout,” and “this just came back to bite me in the ass.”  I am done hearing “I was blackout” or “I was so wasted” as an excuse for bad behavior and mistreatment of women.  That’s an explanation, and not even a great one at that, not an excuse.

This culture delegitimizes sexual assault and violence in general, and this seems especially true when the victim is drunk.  “But she acted like she wanted it!” “It was so obvious, how she was dancing with him.” “She probably doesn’t even remember what happened.” I’m here to tell you no one has the right to take advantage of your body when you can’t give your explicit consent. I know this point is repeated a lot here at CC because it is the foundation of our sexual assault policy, and for that I’m glad.  That policy can seem a little ridiculous or excessive, I know, but not until my experience did I understand how important consent is. I was a freshman who went out and got too drunk—I think most of us have been there—but that does not mean that I wanted any part of what happened. I’m certain it wasn’t my idea to go back to my room. I did not want to have sex with him, I did not want him touching me, I did not want his body moving on top of mine. He took what he wanted and left me, a girl whose face he wouldn’t even remember the next day.  You feel this sense of shame, of failure. I never thought this would happen to me. But it did, and I’m lucky I recognized pretty quickly that it wasn’t because of anything I did, it wasn’t because I am weak or a “slut” or that I deserved it.  I wasn’t going to let him keep doing it to other girls.  When he was expelled, I was shocked, but I wasn’t sorry.

I wrote this because I want people to know that our campus has good policies in place for sexual assault, and we should be comfortable coming forward if we have been sexually assaulted or raped. Throughout the reporting process, nobody forced me to divulge or report anything I was uncomfortable with; and, more importantly, nobody diminished my experience or encouraged me not to take action. I was nervous and distraught going into the process, but I quickly realized I was safe.  All I did was explain what happened and how it made me feel– they gathered the facts and listened to me, and they also listened to him.  Of course it’s hard to separate myself from the situation and comment on it in an unbiased way, but I do believe the people involved in the disciplinary process gave both sides a fair audience, and made their decision based on that.  I think CC’s policies for sexual assault are as good and fair as any school’s could be, given the culture and time in which we live.

My advice to anyone who has experienced sexual assault or rape on this campus is not to remain silent.  CC is a wonderful place, but bad things still happen here.  There is help, though, and you are not alone. You will be listened to and treated with respect, and you will have made our community a safer and more respectful place.

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