Tucker Reed’s xoJane article has been out for about a month and a half, and it’s been a whole three months since she took to the Internet and posted her rapist’s mug on her blog. Which, by the way, if you haven’t seen him yet, here’s what he looks like:
You think I’m joking with the caption when I could have made some crack about that smug rapist look he has going on there. I’m not joking. (The Be Young & Shut Up style guide encourages jokes, but I can’t promise there will be any in this post.) I think he’s a good looking dude. He’s also a bad guy. And as I said before, it’s important that we don’t distance ourselves from acts of violence and the people who perform them. If I didn’t know Andrew Paul Bean had raped his girlfriend, I would have thought that he and Tucker made a cute couple.
I’ve been sitting on Reed’s article for a month and a half now, trying to think of ways to tell my experience of sexual assault, and the way it was mishandled by my university. I’d previously called it harassment, and it was only about a year ago that I could use the word assault. Then immediately after I uttered the word, I’d feel awkward and afraid that I was being some sort of Debbie Downer. Like “HAHA, we were just talking about sexual assault in the most abstract sense but now that you’ve brought up your own personal experience you kind of killed the vibe, no offense!”
I once had a friend urge me to do “the hardest thing” and forgive my assailant. I told this friend that I couldn’t do it. Is it ever okay not to forgive? I think so. It doesn’t bother me. I’m not hurting him by not forgiving him. If he remembers me at all, I’m positive he doesn’t cry about it at night. I don’t give him much thought outside of times like these, and when I do think of him, it’s often in passing. I spend a second or two to meditate on it, like a prayer before bed.
Dear world, I hope one day I see that fucker on the news because he got arrested for some awful thing he probably did or will do. Amen.
The thought is like a ghost in the hall. One that can only be put to rest….through JUSTICE. But I do not feel like a “victim” of sexual assault. I don’t see myself this way, and I don’t want others to see me that way. The thought of the assault doesn’t keep me up at night, but what does keep me up are major concerns about coming off as “damaged.”
The day after I was assaulted, I spent a good hour and a half writing down exactly what he did after he did it. It was so I would not forget a single detail, and so I wouldn’t cry because I wouldn’t have to talk about it. My RA skimmed the written account, and then sat me down and said, “I want you to tell me everything that happened.”
“It’s all in there,” I said.
“Yes, but I need you to tell me in your own words.”
“Those are my words.”
As you can very well imagine, I was more concerned that my RA was perhaps secretly illiterate. But the letter was passed on to the Resident Director of the building, and then later to campus police, who also asked me to recount the assault and then answer a series of questions. Each question had one right answer and a million wrong answers. Because university administrations often spend more time trying to figure out the he-said-she-said than they do practicing sensitivity and making a person feel safe. I knew I was right, and something in the officer’s face told me she knew too. But the law does not have room to punish someone who pushes the boundaries of consent but knows the rules just enough to get away with it. And these questions had a funny way of putting me on the losing end of the fight.
“Don’t go near him,” the officer said, almost scolding me. “If he tries to talk to you, don’t try to be nice. Don’t go to the same places as him.” All I could think of was how I wouldn’t touch this man with a ten foot pole unless it had a taser at the end of it, and how maybe he shouldn’t be going to the same places as me. And why weren’t they telling these things to him? Last in the spiel was that they told me it was not my fault. I was in tears by this point. Not because I felt responsible, but because of the sheer frustration in realizing that I would have to recount this event over and over and over if I wanted something to be done. But more likely than not, nothing would happen. My letter would go in the garbage. My assailant would go on about his life. And I guess that’s why I can’t forgive. If I didn’t feel alone in condemning his behavior, if others could help me make him see that what he did was not okay, I would feel vindicated. Instead, I began to understand why lots of women don’t bother to report incidents of sexual assault.
It’s safe to say many cases of Internet vigilantism go horribly, horribly wrong. But by taking her injustice to the Internet, Tucker Reed succeeded in revealing just how common her experiences were. Her name became permission for college-aged American women, who either never had the opportunity, or who felt discouraged or unsafe, to talk freely about their own assault. When she felt alone in the fight, she took to her own devices and discovered she wasn’t so alone after all.
I was told by two attorneys—I could post my rapist’s name to the Internet, if I felt it was necessary to my emotional health. And so I did. I posted both his and mine. It was my emphatic rejection of both invisibility and shame. Women from all over responded—thanking me, telling me that I had given them the courage to say the word “rape” and speak the name of their rapists. And for their sisterhood, I am profoundly grateful, because it helped make me feel visible and human again.
She also revealed just how absolutely bad universities are at dealing with assault cases. Despite their boasting of no-nonsense policies against sexual assault, there are countless examples proving otherwise. After an assault on the campus of Occidental College, the assailant was initially expelled, but then invited back as a student. He went on to rape three more women at Occidental. There was outrage that the administration would rather keep quiet about it than warn their students. At Amherst College, a student described its sexual assault and mental health resources as an impersonal bureaucracy that made it difficult and discouraging to press charges. At the University of Virginia, and William and Mary, incidents of rape were all reported but never followed up on. At Georgetown, the rapist was at first expelled, but this was then changed to a one-year suspension. At the University of North Carolina, after a sophomore spoke publicly about her rape and abuse, she faced expulsion while her abuser did not. I could go on.
Title IX is the greatest inroad for university women to enforce policies against assault and rape, and yet many women are unfamiliar with it because they cannot talk openly about sexual assault and what to do about it. The few who know how to use it are often abandoned by the administration. If I’m a victim of anything, it’s of the aftermath. The truth is, sexual assault is an institutional problem, in American universities, in the military, and yeah pretty much everywhere. It persists because it is not universally condemned, and because these institutions send messages that it is okay, whether it’s through a job promotion, or a false threat of expulsion. They teach that an offense against a woman’s body is not nearly as serious as violating the school’s honor code, and they teach that rapists can get away with it. They get a slap on the wrist. They appeal and come back for another year. At every university, it is much easier to graduate as a rapist than it is to press charges and prove you have been raped.
My politics don’t come from a personal vendetta against my assailant. Do I have a vendetta against him? Certainly. I can tell you alllll the words that best describe him, which the BYSU stye guide will allow! I’m writing this, not out of some nascent anger toward a guy whose name and face I remember distinctly, but because in the past I was so concerned about playing down my victimhood that I was doing a disservice to myself and to others who have dealt with the same bullshit. This post is not about the guy who wronged me. This is about an institution that failed me, and it’s an institution that we’re all a part of, and rely on. In fact, this was my problem and Tucker Reed’s problem: We believed that our respective administrations would do right by us, and we were both incredibly mistaken.