Editor’s note: This author has chosen to remain anonymous because of the personal and sensitive nature of the op-ed. The following deals with an account of sexual violence and may be triggering to some people.
It is easy to call me a whore or a statistic. To call me a liar, or a person seeking attention. Or call me stupid. “You should have known better.” Or a victim. “Who trusts so easily? Who drinks so much?” It’s easy to forget we exist. Universities keep us hidden. The individuals who call me all of the above keep us hidden. Our own men of color keep us hidden, and worst of all, rapists keep us hidden.
It is so contradicting — when laws incarcerate people of color at high rates, when it comes to police brutality, and deportations of our families, we say “fuck the law!” and “fuck the police!” But when the law is written against womxn of color and for violence, we are complacent. We claim that the law is rule. We accept the law as equal. When so many rapists are never reported nor see a day in prison, the law is just. It is procedure. But when campus investigations attempted to tighten procedures, Betsy DeVos claimed there is a lack of fairness for the accused and that therefore they are a victim of the institution: The law is too strict.
POC men, you remain silent. We all see race but fail to acknowledge the patriarchy. Where are you when your friends are attacking us womxn? No one wants to deal with a rape victim. Yet, neither the shaming, slander, weak policies nor DeVos changes what happened to us, to our brown and black bodies and beings, or our rights to a fair, earned education.
One in five womxn are sexually assaulted on college campuses, and I was one of them. I didn’t really know I was raped, at first. Sex was something he wanted, and when I was drunk, he finally took it. Intentional, like the boy who wakes up at night to eat the leftover cake while everyone is asleep. I woke up with someone on top of me, inside me.
Drunk and confused, my body froze. I took it, and everything turned to blackness. Like the way POC get pulled over by the police and remain silently, seated, trying not to move too much, not to say anything wrong, only license and registration, with a forced “yes” or “no,” and you don’t look at them for too long. You just wait.
It happened. My body knew. My body and mind knew someone had invaded me and that someone had taken from me. Like family members easily ripped away from your arms by federal officials, stripping their rights away as human beings. I was numb, mute. I was empty and deeply depressed my first year as a transfer at UC Berkeley. I knew him, like the 80 percent of sexual assault survivors. He was my friend, but now he was the respondent and I the complainant.
I reported my case to the police a year after I was assaulted, once I felt far enough in my healing process to come forward with my story. UC Berkeley’s PATH to Care Center guided me and warned me about the difficulty of the police and campus bureaucracy, but I needed this justice for myself, for our brown and black bodies and for the intergenerational trauma I carry from those before me.
I came forward, even though womxn of color rarely have their case taken by the criminal justice system. But after about five months of working with PATH to Care and UCPD, the DA’s office did not take my case. After an entire semester of retraumatization, my rapist telling me he knew I was asleep, and 19 units at Cal, the district attorney said my incapacitation deemed me unreliable.
A few weeks after, I picked myself up again and proceeded to a Title IX complaint with the campus. I had hoped that the campus would give my rapist the consequences he deserved for what he did to me. This was not the case. The levels of bureaucracy and lack of accountability and responsiveness from the campus were even more traumatizing than the police.
The process was catered to him, even though I gave so much of myself physically and emotionally. He was found guilty, but he was given a one-year suspension and 40 hours of community service — a year less than the two years I lost at UC Berkeley. After raping me, all he had to do was a few hours of work to exonerate himself.
The system set in place by 2011 Dear Colleague letter, California Senate Bill 967, Title IX, still profoundly fails survivors of sexual violence, but the poor quality of accountability through the university is the little we as survivors have for justice. DeVos’ interim guidelines set further back accountability for universities. DeVos proposes that “clear and convincing” standards are necessary to find a respondent guilty. Given its nature, sexual violence is difficult to prove by those standards, but that does not mean it did not happen. That does not mean someone didn’t invade me. It means that the system’s standards to prove sexual violence are too high and that it fails too many of us.
As Trump and his administration try to shake our campus communities, faculty, staff and students need to hold institutions accountable. Regardless of new regulations the U.S. Department of Education and DeVos assemble, we must urge campuses to not only uphold Title IX, SB 967 and the guidelines of 2011 Dear Colleague letter, but further than that, to also establish greater accountability for universities by clarifying policies to better handle investigations. Each university interprets and implements policies differently, and often lacks clear procedures, creating a lengthy and retraumatizing process.
All colleges should also hold appropriate minimum sanctions for students found guilty of sexual assault. Of students found guilty of sexual assault, only about 30 percent are expelled. Appropriate minimum sanctions provide a platform for survivors to file a report and feel safer on college campuses.
But the campus continues to hold rapists’ rights as far more important than mine. But where is the campus as a whole when my rights are taken away? Where do I get the equal opportunity to any of these processes with my trauma? To an equal education? To this investigation? To my brown body? To my life? To safety on this militarized campus that only succeeds to trigger me each time the police fails me?
Healing looks different for everyone and claiming justice for myself from the university, and my rapist is part of the process I chose. The campus reporting process is difficult as is, and DeVos only aims to further release rapists and campuses from accountability. There is no balance. There is no equalizer between my perpetrator and myself. He lost that once he emptied me, the day he raped me. #MeToo.