Trigger Warning: This post contains information about sexual assault and/or violence which may be triggering to some survivors.
Take a minute to think back when you were younger and you were about to get in trouble for lying, even though you knew were telling the truth. Your parent, guardian, teacher, or some other authoritative figure just will not believe you. Feeling sucks, right? Fast forward that 18 years and imagine sitting across from the Title IX coordinator and them calling you a liar. I can assure you, the feeling still sucks.
Back in 2012, I went through a rigorous sexual assault case after I reported that I was assaulted by my Graduate Assistant the previous year. I waited about 8 months before I felt like I could even broach the topic with someone of authority. After I disclosed this information, it was immediately reported to the Dean of Students office. Little did I know for the next two months I would have to retell the story nearly every day, a story that I had shoved to the very back of my memory.
When I met with university officials about the assault, specifically the Title IX coordinator, I had a really hard time opening up about what had happened. How do you tell someone that you have been raped? Nearly 8 months had already passed and the “finer details” of the assault had escaped me. I got called back into the office after our first meeting, after the Title IX coordinator had met with the perpetrator – our stories did not match up. After telling me there was discrepancies between our two stories, she looked me dead in the eyes and said, “So why did you lie to me?”
I know that they were trying to figure out the legal ramifications of a graduate student raping an undergraduate student, but let’s be clear – if for any reason, you are approached by a student who tells you they have been sexually assaulted, please don’t call them a liar. This seems simple, right?
I identify as a gay male and my perpetrator was also a gay male. The only reason I bring our identities into this conversation is you would be surprised (or maybe not) how uncomfortable Student Affairs professionals are with talking about sexual assault. Now make the situation involve two gay men and things only get more awkward. Dealing with sexual assault is a tricky conversation – do I use the word survivor or victim? Do I prod to get more information out from them? How can I best support this person when the perpetrator is well known across campus and works for the Dean of Students office? The last one should not have mattered, but it did for me.
I stopped going to class. I stopped caring about my employment. I stopped putting time and effort into my student organizations. Everything I cared about previously was put on hold. Every time I walked into our student center, I dreaded interactions I would have with administrators walking down the hallway – “How are you doing?” turns into a really loaded question. Are you asking me how my day is, or are you asking me how I am doing knowing that I have to face my rapist in a hearing in two weeks?
I struggled whether or not I wanted this blog to be anonymous or not. Part of me wanted to put my name out there as a part of my healing process. I am no longer going to be ashamed that I was raped. But then I remembered what it was like interacting with people after I had disclosed to them that I was raped. I felt like I had a floating sign above my head.
I think sometimes as Student Affairs professionals we get caught up in using words like survivor or victim. These are powerful words, but what it takes away the fact that these are people. These survivors and victims are people, and they deserve to be treated as such. Remember when a student, colleague, or peer comes to you and discloses that they have been assaulted, they have put a great deal of trust in you. Provide the space and the continued trust in order for them to process. Treat these people with the respect and dignity that they deserve.
This anonymous post is part of #SAsurvives, a series of pieces written by some of our colleagues who are survivors of campus sexual violence. Our contributors to this series are extremely diverse – we will hear from people of color, from men, from women, and from folks who identify as part of the LGBTQ community. Each is telling their story, in their way, and I am sincerely thankful for their courage and willingness to share with us. I hope you follow along with us this month by using the hashtag #sasurvives. For more information, check out the intro post written by Martha Compton.
If you are a survivor of sexual violence, know there are many resources available to help. For current #sagrads, your campus counseling center is a great resource. For #sapros, you may have access to an Employee Assistance Program as part of your benefits package – check with your Human Resources department if you’re not sure. Additionally, the National Sexual Assault Hotline is available to 24/7 at 1-800-656-4673. Lastly, anyone can search online for their nearest crisis center at http://centers.rainn.org/. Please take care of yourself and know you’re not alone.
If you would like to contribute to this series, we do have slots available, and we will post contributions anonymously. Please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.