Survivor Story: "I still wonder if he even knew."

This story was submitted by an anonymous survivor. Contains description of sexual assault.

We want to validate this individual’s experience. Consent is continuous and cannot be given or continued by someone incapacitated, asleep, or unconscious.


When I was in high school, I got drunk and high at a party. I went to sleep in a bed upstairs around 1:00 a.m. and was woken up when a boy laid next to me. He asked, “Do you want to fuck?” Honestly, I didn’t. But I also didn’t know how to say no- so I just did.

At some point, I fell asleep, and when I woke up the red digital clock by the bed said 4:00 a.m. And he was still on top of me.

I had consensual sex! I could’ve said no when he asked if I wanted to fuck, but I didn’t. I stayed in the bed and had sex. But I’ve never felt right about the situation. I’ve hooked up with people since, and it’s always different.

I still wonder if he even knew I wasn’t there.
I wonder if he didn’t notice, how? How could you miss that?
And if he did notice, why wouldn’t he stop? Or try to wake me up?
I wonder if he cared or felt even a little weird.

Mostly, I wonder why I can’t call it a sexual assault. I know if a friend came to me with the same story I would have more empathy for them than I do for myself. Why do I feel like I’m just another woman who didn’t communicate her feelings and ended up having a shitty encounter?

If this happened in my life and I feel the way I do, how many other people feel the same way? Where do we go from here?

This hasn’t given me any answers. But it’s nice to have these questions not just be in my head.

Action Update: September 2018

Hey Dukes! This is going to be a brief update as everyone has been settling back into school, but we want to welcome all new students, welcome returning students back, and continue pushing for a campus where sexual violence is not tolerated. So, here's what has been going on this summer with SASV:

-Organizers Kearstin, Anna, and Caroline met with OSARP Director Wendy Lushbaugh and Title IX Coordinator Amy Sirocky-Meck to discuss our goals for change. 

-Vice President of Student Affairs, Tim Miller, has met with organizers, other concerned members of the JMU community, and representatives from the Student Government Association. Miller comes to JMU from George Washington University, where he worked closely with a student organization called Students Against Sexual Assault. He hopes to open discussions and work together with students to prevent sexual violence, and has been leading focus groups.

-OSARP released policy changes for the 2018-2019 school year. The changes include removing character evidence from the Sexual Misconduct Accountability Process until after a student is found responsible. We see this as a huge accomplishment for victims seeking a fair process and important step towards ending rape culture.

-We're on Twitter now! @jmusasv

-We are... worried... about federal guidance soon to be released by the Department of Education under Betsy DeVos. When this guidance is officially released, expect us to be very loud about it. It is the current understanding that universities will still have some choice in how they adjudicate sexual misconduct, and we will advocate for JMU to make decisions that allow survivors their full access to education. 

“I should have had no doubt in my mind that they would fight for me.”

This blog post was submitted anonymously by a JMU student who felt uncomfortable reporting her assault to the school because of the way the school handled a different case around the same time. 

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I was assaulted near the end of my freshman year in my dorm room after a night of drinking with friends. My assailant was an acquaintance of mine. He and I had hooked up once in the past, but we never had sex and he was much more interested in me than I was in him. We met when he messaged me on Facebook after I joined the JMU Class of 2018 page the previous May, after I’d committed to JMU. He was attractive and charming so I talked to him occasionally throughout the summer.


When we got to JMU, I met up with him and one point and we hung out. We did get intimate, like I said, but I was a Virgin at the time and I told him I didn’t want to go further. He pressured me a little bit but he was never forceful about it. I didn’t really talk to him again for a few months because I became involved with the guy I DID lose my virginity to.


Flash-forward to April, he and I hadn’t been talking but I guess I wouldn’t say we were on bad terms necessarily. I was partying at a frat house with my friend and he texted me, asking if I wanted to hang out, and I told him I’d like that. I also told him, if we did hang out, that I just wanted to watch a movie or something, I didn’t want to do anything. And he said that was fine.


My friend and I met him at his dorm, he was a sophomore and lived in the Village, and he walked back to East Campus with us. When we got back, she went to bed in her dorm, and he and I came inside my dorm together.


We went to the study room to grab my laptop which had been left in there, because we were going to watch Netflix. We got up in my loft bed, and as soon as he put my laptop back down on my desk, I knew something was wrong.


He started kissing me, and I was okay with that, but then he started getting more aggressive, I was drunk, so I started crying. I knew he wanted to have sex, and I was too drunk to get out of the situation. I wish I had blacked out, because I remember everything. But I was still to drunk to be persuasive or aggressive in the situation.


I tried to convince him to do oral sex instead, as I didn’t want to be penetrated. He was really pushing the issue. In an instinctive moment, as he was trying to have sex with me, I told him to put on a condom at least. That wasn’t me wanting it- but I didn’t want to catch an STD or become pregnant.


Luckily he put one on, and he couldn’t even really do much to me because I was obviously not around and he was very large. It hurt so bad. He eventually stopped because I told him it hurt. Then my roommate came in the room and said she wanted to go to bed. He threw his pants on, hopped out of my bed, and left without saying a word.


I wasn’t close with her, and I had brought guys back before, so I don’t think she understood what happened that night. But I didn’t want to talk, I just laid in my bed, still drunk, trying to process what had just happened, trying to understand what guy in his right mind thinks it’s a good idea to try to fuck a girl who’s drunk and crying.


I emailed my therapist from home and told her what happened the next day. She said it sounded like date rape to her and said she was sorry to hear what had happened to me. I eventually talked to a few friends about it, including the one who had walked back with us.


For a long time, I didn’t know if I wanted to do anything about it, but I ultimately decided not to report my case to JMU, because of what happened in the Sarah Butters story before I came here. I felt powerless.


I only ran into my attacker a few times. I saw him in dining halls at a distant, and my heart raced and I felt like I was going to be sick. But he never talked to me, because I made it clear that he was never to contact me again. Luckily he’s graduate now, but I feel guilty. I wish I would have said something. I’m scared I could be the reason if he was able to rape anyone else, because I never tried to turn him in.


I didn’t want to go through JMU’s process only to have to relive my pain for a shitty result. I knew my case would be hard because I was drunk and I didn’t want people outside of my close friends to know what had happened.

I didn’t want people to look at me like a sad little victim, or an idiot.


And while I shouldn’t have trusted him, I know it’s not my fault that he raped me. HE made that decision.


I just thought that my story should be shared in some way, even though I’m scared to attach myself to it.


JMU needs to do better. I should have had no doubt in my mind that they would fight for me when I had to go through that horrible experience. I’ve dealt with it with therapy, and luckily there was no physical damage done, but I will always be angry.

Messages from Survivors: July 2018

In the style of previous posts: Students Against Sexual Violence would like to take the time to acknowledge that mishandled sexual misconduct cases at JMU are not isolated incidents. The following are anonymous messages from survivors sent to organizers. All have given permission.

 

 

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Note: The next message is from a male survivor of sexual assault. This is an issue that affects all of us, and all survivors’ trauma is valid.  

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Student submission: “The irony didn’t dawn on me back then.”

 SASV supports survivors of all forms of sexual violence. The following is a submission from a rising junior at JMU. We aim to create a campus climate where sexual assault is NEVER tolerated, and one of the many reasons this is important is to avoid revictimizing individuals who have previously endured abuse. Please be advised that this blog post contains content about sexual violence within the family and of minors.

 

How strange it is.

When you grew up with your abuser. When you considered them one of your best friends for years. When you shared so many precious memories and holidays with them.

When they are your family.

When you remember what they did, but it doesn’t feel like them.

That was a different him.

That was a different time and we were kids and he probably doesn’t even remember it and he’s so nice now and I’m sure he feels bad for doing that.

I should just pretend it didn’t happen.

But then it hits me one day. I can’t stop thinking about it. 10 years of repression comes to a stomach turning end as the flashbacks start flooding in.

That was the same person touching me as the brother holding me while I cried over some boy at 15. The same person taking advantage of 8 year old me. But I thought he was my friend. I thought he was supposed to take care of me.

I’ve somehow made the connection. I no longer see my brother as a friend. How have I allowed myself to laugh for years with someone who assaulted me? How could I possibly have found comfort in a person who ruined me so? I almost miss when I could repress these memories, I wish I could just pretend it didn’t happen

And here comes self blame, of course. I should have said no and should have known better. It’s amazing what we expect from children who are victims. I, at 8 years old, should have known better than a teenager. They were just hormonal. They didn’t know it was wrong. I should have stopped it. I should have told someone. How hard it is to have sympathy for myself when I just wish I had known better.

Memories are now tainted.

I listen to my favorite artist and think back on her concert I went to. The one where I started crying as soon as she belted out her first note.

But now I can only focus on the fact he was next to me. The person who took advantage of my body was standing next to me.

I remember visiting him at college when I was a sophomore in high school. We went out to parties. He always made sure I was safe.

The man who made me unsafe, protecting me from men who might want to do the same thing he did.

The irony didn’t dawn on me back then.

How can you forgive someone for ruining your favorite memories? How can you forgive someone for betraying you so intensely?

I’m not sure if he deserves forgiveness. But if anyone has any advice on spending Christmas with the person who took away your childhood innocence, I’d love to hear it.

Action Updates: 6/20/2018

Tomorrow is the first day of summer, and SASV is planning on being less active until we get closer to the fall. However, we do have a few updates:

-Kearstin and Anna met with Dean of Students Josh Bacon to discuss the goals and platform of SASV. The meeting was productive, and we hope to see our ideas for change passed along and implemented. 

-We have yet to hear directly from anyone in the Office of Student Accountability and Restorative Practices regarding whether or not they will implement any changes to the Sexual Misconduct Accountability Process. This is disappointing and we hope that OSARP will make an effort to engage in open dialogue soon. Please email OSARP Director Wendy Lushbaugh at lushbawy@jmu.edu to express your experiences with and/or opinions about the Sexual Misconduct Accountability Process.

-Leaders from student organizations including Bare Naked Ladies, Women of Color, and Campus Assault ResponsE (CARE) have expressed interest in partnering with SASV for events in the upcoming semester. We are looking forward to connecting with other orgs and seeing what impact can be made on a larger scale! Contact Mary Landy at landymc@dukes.jmu.edu if you would like to partner. 

-Stickers are now being sold on RedBubble as a fundraiser for campus events including documentary screenings, educational speakers, etc. Click here to view the Redbubble page.

 -We stand with survivors nationwide who have recently spoken out about their own experiences with Title IX in both K-12 schools and at universities. Please take the time to read and share their stories:

Texas A & M University

Winchester Public Schools  

Petaluma High School

University of Southern California

 

 

 

Intra-organizational sexual violence must be taken seriously

Students Against Sexual Violence has primarily focused our energy on the way the Office of Student Accountability and Restorative Practices adjudicates sexual misconduct cases. In working towards our policy change goals for OSARP, we cannot neglect the fact that reports of sexual misconduct are too often mishandled by other entities including the Health Center, JMU Police, Harrisonburg Police, Sentara RMH, and, as this story will focus on, within the leadership of student organizations. 

We as students cannot speak out against an administration that denies support to victims without also examining our own behavior and treatment of sexual violence. While names have been changed in this story to protect the privacy of the survivor and uninvolved members of her organization, the details of how students in leadership positions responded to her complaint of sexual assault are verified through an email exchange.

On the night of February 2, 2018, Maggie* attended a typical party hosted for the brothers of her co-educational professional fraternity. She had a lot to drink, as most brothers in attendance did, and eventually wandered into a bedroom hoping to rest. One of her brothers, Evan*, was in that bedroom already. Little did Maggie know, another one of her female brothers had been pulled out of the room just minutes before by a friend who was concerned Evan was taking advantage of her intoxication. Evan and Maggie spoke for a few minutes before Maggie passed out on the bed. 

Maggie says she remembers waking up periodically throughout the night to the feeling of Evan assaulting her. Drifting in and out of consciousness, she was disoriented and disempowered (and clearly unable to give consent). Maggie left the house early the next morning feeling confused and dirty. She went back to her on-campus dorm, showered many times, and crawled into her own bed, which she barely left for the next few days. Eventually, Maggie called her friend James and described what had happened. James* validated her experience and spoke the words that have the power to turn someone’s world upside down: “Maggie, you were sexually assaulted.”

Not knowing how to handle the situation and fearing a formal report wouldn’t be taken seriously, Maggie wanted to heal. But sharing a fraternity with her assaulter made moving on impossible. She began to speak about what had happened. First, she confided in close friends and warned other women at parties. Then she told the president of the fraternity, Christopher*,  about what happened. 

Christopher shamed Maggie for speaking about the assault, claiming she could harm both Evan’s reputation and the reputation of the fraternity. He went on to schedule a General Body Meeting to alert brothers of the “facts” of the situation- but suggested to keep Maggie’s voice out of the meeting, saying that if she was absent, her attendance would not be affected. He also spoke with Evan and ensured Evan would stay inactive for the remainder of the semester (a total of four months at most). 

Maggie says the one line  from Christopher’s email that will stay with her forever is “As we are sure you know, there is a line between finding comfort in your friends, and spreading a one-sided story.” 

Here are a few excerpts of the emails that Maggie received from Christopher: 

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With the support of James and other friends and family, Maggie decided to transfer to another Virginia university in the fall. Although she had hoped to graduate from one of the more prestigious colleges at JMU, the toll that the assault and subsequent reaction by individuals she thought that she could trust had on her mental health was impossible to ignore. 

This should not be happening. When individuals experience sexual violence and are forced to reroute their education because of it, equal opportunity does not exist. Student leaders, we have to do better. 

If a member of your organization turns to you with a report of intra-organizational violence, recognize that the severity of the situation is beyond your scope of leadership. It is your responsibility not to worsen the situation by discrediting the alleged victim and/or defending the alleged offender. It is your responsibility to inform the reporter of resources available to them. It is your responsibility to alert Title IX.

It is most definitely not your responsibility to host a discussion about the event at a general body meeting without the input and consent of the only person who actually experienced the event. It is most definitely not your story to tell. 

Here at James Madison, we are indoctrinated with the concept of living ethically as an engaged citizen from our very first week. We should know that the dignity and worth of a person’s life comes before the reputation of your organization and its members. 

JMU administrators, we need to start providing student leaders with training as to how they can handle reports within their own organizations. They need to know who they can refer members to for support. They need to face consequences when they act as Christopher did. 

“Maggie,” I hope you find peace and belonging at your new school next year. I hope you are able to pursue the degree you are passionate about without the interruption of sexual violence. You deserved better than this.

Action updates: 5/14/2018

We are wishing everyone a healthy, happy, healing summertime! Here's what has been going on with Students Against Sexual Violence since the silent protest:

  • The SASV petition has received over 1,000 signatures! We are still working to add all names to the petition webpage.
  • A friend of SASV has published an article about his experience as a first-time protestor and ally to survivors at the Silent Protest Against Sexual Violence. 
  • Another friend, Sakira Coleman, is urging students to write letters to administrators expressing concern for how JMU handles sexual misconduct cases.
  • We have drafted and sent a letter detailing our policy proposals to OSARP and the Accountability Control Board. Recipients have yet to respond. 
  • Organizer Caroline Whitlow spoke on the phone with Dean of Students, Josh Bacon, about her experience and the goals of SASV. Organizers Kearstin Kimm and Anna Kaplan plan to meet with Bacon in person this summer.
  • The movement is now receiving national attention due to an email sent to JMU administrators involved in Caroline's case that went viral on Twitter. 

Peace, love, & action.

-The SASV family 

"One man, answered as follows:"

Contributor: Meghan Mckenzie via Facebook

Today, I was an audience member of a panel of various James Madison University administrators, where we got to ask them questions about the future, leadership, life advice, the JMU experience, and things of that nature.

One of my peers asked them what JMU was doing in order to better handle sexual assault cases and stay out of national news due to poor handling. 

One man, answered as follows:

"First off, what is in the news isn't always correct. Students never have the full story. JMU is obliged to tell the truth, but students can make up stories and it might not be the real story. You shouldn't believe what you see in the news from students." WRONG. He was essentially accusing rape victims of embellishing their stories. 

"Second, no one ever looks at both sides of the story. If my son made a poor decision, I would want to keep it under wraps and keep it as a family issue." WRONG. When you decide to sexually assault someone, you give up your right to privacy. You give up your right to not be embarrassed/ridiculed for your actions. When someone is sexually assaulted, their rights are the only thing that matters here. You give up yours when you forcefully take away the AUTONOMY and DIGNITY of another human.

"Third, you should look at the consistency of the administration. Only the few negative outcomes make the news, because all of the positive ones aren't sensational enough." WRONG. I was bewildered that this man just implied that rape was "sensational". 

I felt completely disrespected as a woman, and as a student today. Most importantly, I realized this issue is far from over, because the problem is so deeply institutionalized. This really showed me that if the issue of sexual assault is ever going to get better at JMU, there are people with outdated and negligent mindsets that need to be re-educated, or replaced.

Messages From Survivors

The following are exact quotes from messages I received from other campus survivors after posting a Facebook status expressing disappointment over the outcome of my own Title IX case. These women are brave, they are strong, and they are powerful. My heart breaks for each one of them. We have to do better.

 

 Messages like these should not come flooding in. Be the change.  

Messages like these should not come flooding in. Be the change.  

"Hi Caroline. I was so sorry to hear your post. JMU failed me too when I tried to find out who my attacker was... they closed the case without telling me how they investigated or if they checked the security cameras."

"Because this is disgusting. I was assaulted by a [sport] player in my sleep. Woke up to him touching me. This was right after JMU for the championship like same week. I reported it to Title IX but was too scared to bring attention to it."

"I was assaulted my freshman year in an elevator while coming back from a charity event. It was caught on camera and I was told the evidence was insufficient, even though he was positively identified by the police. The [OSARP] here at JMU also told me that he was going through a really hard time in his family life and they didn't think I should pursue charges."

"After the campus police arrived at the scene, took my picture, and wrote down my statement, they pretty much just up and left without providing any resources or information. I was expected to resume my life as a happy, eager college freshman despite the fact that I had undergone a horrific experience right there on campus. I wasn't told about the free counseling services or Title IX."

"I personally won my [OSARP] case, but the way they handled it made me feel as though it wasn't that successful. I somehow came out of it feeling as bad as before. They extended every single deadline they had in place, plus they even tried to charge me for breaking the no contact order when all I did was ask him to get help on his own so I could not go through the process."

"Hi Caroline, I know we don't know each other, but I'm struggling with the same thing with OSARP. Although my abuser was found guilty, JMU decided that two year suspension was good enough. This happened freshman year, I'm a junior and he will be returning fall semester. [OSARP employee] told me the same things, she lied to me, she told me not to go to court, not to talk to anyone. I believe OSARP is behind a huge cover up, of sexual assault on campus. He will be allowed to be an active member of his fraternity and attend parties, date functions, so forth and abuse other women."

"

Full text of the Buzzfeed article that got taken down

THE WAY JAMES MADISON UNIVERSITY HANDLED THIS WOMAN'S SEXUAL ASSAULT CASE IS EVERY WOMAN'S WORST NIGHTMARE

Holly Christian, Buzzfeed Community

In June of 2017, James Madison University student Caroline Freeman* was sexually assaulted by a fellow JMU student while incapacitated during a study abroad trip through the Harrisonburg, VA school. Upon returning to campus in the fall of 2017—after the assault took place but prior to filing against her attacker—Caroline visited JMU’s University Health Center for STD testing. On the clinic’s entry form, Caroline says she checked a box that opted her to speak with someone about sexual assault, but no one from the clinic brought up the fact that she had checked this box or discussed resources with her.  In Dec. 2017, five months after the assault, Caroline reported the incident to the university’s Title IX Office.

The Title IX Office put a No Contact Order into place between Caroline and her assaulter, then collected statements from both parties and a select few incident witnesses. The file was then sent to the Office of Student Accountability and Restorative Practices (OSARP) to adjudicate the case.

Caroline says the process took more than three months, meanwhile Caroline still saw her assailant on campus almost every day. When she learned that he held a position in an office she was interviewing for, she asked Title IX to notify the office of the No Contact Order to ensure that her attacker would not be interviewing her. Title IX told her they could not reveal the name of the responding party (her assaulter) to the office that employed him.

Caroline attended the hearing scheduled for her by OSARP on March 28, 2018, which lasted more than eight hours. During the hearing, her attacker admitted that Caroline had verbally protested to the act, twice. Her attacker claimed that after rejecting his advances on two separate occasions within the same evening, he made a third sexual advance that she consented to. Caroline is unable to recall consenting to the alleged third advance.

“We had been kissing, and I told him I didn’t want to have sex before he even asked,” Caroline says of the evening the assault took place. “He went on to ask me for sex twice anyway, and I said ‘no’ both times.” Following the two rejections to her attacker’s advances, Caroline says she “blacked out,” and that the next thing she is able to remember is her assaulter on top of her saying, “I think you want to have sex with me.”  

Her attacker was ultimately found “not responsible” by a board of three JMU staff members. According to Caroline, the board gave her a one sentence explanation to justify their decision, which was that “the evidence was conflicting or inconclusive as to whether or not the reporting party was capable of giving consent due to incapacitation.” This explanation was given despite agreed upon evidence that Caroline and her attacker had consumed alcohol  together before the assault, that a significant portion of Caroline’s memories of the night were gone and in contradiction of  JMU’s own Student Handbook section on sexual misconduct, which states that, “Consent cannot be obtained by ignoring or acting in spite of the objections of another, by previous consent or by taking advantage of another person’s incapacitation or physical helplessness where one knows or reasonably should have known of such incapacitation or helplessness,” (policy J34-100).

Following the result of the hearing, Freeman posted her frustrations with the university in a Facebook status:

"I am extremely disappointed to be a student at James Madison University tonight. After a months-long investigation into a sexual assault perpetrated by another student and a hearing that lasted seven hours and did not focus primarily on the facts of the assault itself, a Board of three people determined my attacker "not responsible." They told me this news by handing me a piece of paper with two boxes checked and a one sentence explanation. I trusted JMU to have students' best interest and safety in mind, but this Board has shown me that my trust was clearly misplaced."

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After posting, Freeman says messages from other female students at James Madison University came flooding in reporting that they, too had their sexual assault cases mishandled by the university:  

“I was assaulted my freshman year in an elevator when I was coming back from a charity event. It was caught on surveillance video and I was told the evidence was insufficient, even though he was positively identified by the police. [OSARP] here at JMU told me that he was going through a really hard time in his family life, so they didn’t think I should pursue charges. I did pursue charges and won.” -Hali Smith,*JMU Student

“After the campus police arrived to the scene, took my picture and wrote down my statement, they pretty much just up and left without providing any resources or information. I was expected to resume my normal life as a happy, eager college freshman, despite the fact that I had undergone a horrific experience right there on campus. I wasn't told about the free counseling services on campus or Title IX. It wasn't until six months later that I learned these resources were available, and every day I just think about how, if my case had been handled properly and taken seriously, then maybe my attacker would have been identified. I'm left forever not knowing, and that's the worst part of it. Or at least, I thought it was, until two years passed and I realized that despite all the emails, meetings, and desperate phone calls I've had with the administration, they haven't done a damn thing to make any positive change. As an institution, it just doesn't feel like JMU cares for students who have been victims of sexual violence.” -Jenna Green,* JMU Student

JMU’s mishandling of sexual assault cases like Caroline’s, Hali’s and Jenna’s isn’t new, either. In 2014, The Daily Show highlighted JMU’s treatment of these sensitive cases in a clip after the university punished three male students who reportedly sexually assaulted a female student—and filmed themselves doing so—with expulsion upon graduation, meaning the students were allowed to graduate but were no longer permitted on school grounds after graduating. JMU’s student newspaper, “The Breeze,” also reported that a judge recommended JMU pay $850,000 to a former student over mishandling a sexual misconduct case in Dec. 2014.

Caroline has since filed (and been granted) an appeal to her hearing based on the grounds that the board violated her Due Process rights by failing to use the definition of “consent” outlined in the Student Handbook, policy J34-100. Freeman tells us that  three new board members will now review her case file and tapes from the hearing. The new board will then decide to either uphold or change the original decision, and the Dean of Students holds ultimate power to solidify the board’s decision. An update will be made to this post when a final outcome has been reached.

 

*victims’ last names have been changed to protect their privacy.