**Content Warning: This article contains a detailed discussion of sexual assault. Please keep this in mind if you choose to continue reading.**
I finally reported the sexual assault that happened to me this fall. And I feel so much better. But it was terrifying—not the reporting process, but getting myself to do something about it—and until I was faced with this decision myself, I did not genuinely understand what other people were going through when they decided not to report incidents of sexual misconduct.
I only have my story to tell, but I want to tell you because I know that reading something like this would have helped me.
Things to Know
One of the things that held me back from reporting for so long was that once I had gotten to the point of being sure that what had happened was indeed sexual assault, I was terrified. Then, I felt like too much time had gone by for the report to still be worthwhile. I felt embarrassed and even ashamed for waiting so long. But the SMA I went to told me that most people wait a long time to report these things, a fact which I found comforting.
It is also important for me to note that the morning after my sexual assault, I did not know that something bad had occurred. I had hooked up with someone I liked, someone I was excited about, and I didn’t want to text him back the next morning because I was feeling uncomfortable with the events of the night before. But I couldn’t identify why. A little voice in the back of my head, however, was pointing out one thing in particular that had happened that I knew was not okay. I remember telling my friends excitedly about the hookup at breakfast, and pointedly leaving out the part that was very, very wrong. I did this for two reasons: one, because somewhere in my head not telling them that it happened could mean that it didn’t happen, and two, I myself was unsure that it had happened. But by unsure, I mean that I wished it hadn’t happened; I thought it was so crazy that anyone could do such a thing that I tried to convince myself that it hadn’t happened.This way of thinking continued. After a couple of months went by, I started thinking that my story wasn’t credible anymore. I stopped believing what I knew had happened.
How I reported it
I filled out the Title IX survey sent out by the administration earlier this semester, thinking that I had dealt with the experience enough to not be triggered by it. I was wrong. Admitting in such an impersonal and direct way that I had been sexually assaulted—on two separate occasions, once off campus and not discussed here—brought me back to reality and reminded me that I had not built myself a proper toolbox for dealing with this. Feeling the starting signs of a panic attack after completing the survey, I got the number of an SMA I knew, explained the situation, and asked her if she could meet. After telling her what had happened—something she made easy for me because of her casual demeanor—I said that I wanted help making an official report. She asked me if she wanted me to accompany her and if I wanted her to schedule the meeting with Sam Hughes, and I said yes to both. Having her there to hold my hand throughout this process turned something I had deemed impossible into something possible.
The next week, we met up and walked to Sam Hughes’s office together for our meeting. (The Title IX Office is located in the Eaton Center, the large building between Watson and Snowden in North Campus, and it’s beautiful inside!) Both my SMA and Sam were casual, calm, and encouraging. I felt incredibly comfortable and respected. Sam did not push me to tell her the story of what happened—I was the one who chose to dive right in. She clarified many points. She asked me about the nature of my relationship with the assaulter. She asked me many questions about exactly how I wanted to go forward: she asked if I wanted to pursue an investigation, if I wanted to be told if anyone else reported the same person, and if I needed help being around the perpetrator in the future. She also asked if I needed academic accommodations for a semester that had already ended. (I had no idea her office could grant this kind of academic help.)
Most importantly, she asked me what feedback I had for her about the process. This lead to a productive discussion about sexual coercion and the way we talk about sexual assault on college campuses. I expressed that we need more education about specifically what sexual coercion looks and sounds like, because it is something particularly easy to fall into, especially in relationships. I felt listened to, valued, and believed.
Sam Hughes sent me a follow-up email with a write-up of what I had told her. I replied with several clarifications and she wished me well.
Why I Decided to Report
I have been to multiple Title IX training sessions for on-campus jobs, and I truly do think it’s important that our institution knows about the kind of sexual assault that happens here. Knowing when, where, and why these things happen is crucial in understanding how to stop them. Filling out the survey and reporting it allowed me to feel strength in being part of a statistic instead of despair.
I also wanted to submit an official report to give myself closure. Since this particular assault happened early in the school year, I have since gone through many cycles of confusion, anger, anxiety, and then calm. But once I reached a point of calm—I wasn’t feeling so easily triggered and could be sexually intimate with other people again—I found myself relapsing into an upset state of mind often from small unrelated incidents that happened with friend or at a party. One night, I found myself sobbing alone in my room, unable to ask for help and feeling like I had been the cause of multiple conflicts between friends because of my discomfort with my own body and sexual experience (and this was at a point when I thought I was “over” the whole thing). It was at this moment when I realized that I could never work on getting rid of that shadow of the assault that was hanging over me until I did something about it.
I did not report the assault to continue with an investigation. I didn’t want to think about it anymore, and I had reason to believe that the incident with me was unique. If someone else came forward with the same name—especially if the assault was perpetrated in the same specific manner as mine—I would undoubtedly go forward and pursue an investigation. I still feel unsure of this choice of action sometimes, but I know that it is what is right for me.
Things to Remember
If someone tells you about a sexual assault that happened to them, believe, believe, believe. Even if it sounds like they’re exaggerating a situation because they were hurt, the likelihood of this is extremely low. Why invent a sexual assault? Make it clear when they tell you their story that you are on their side, because they are probably having trouble being on their own side. They might not believe themselves.Doing an official report is always relevant. Don’t refrain from doing so just because you feel like you have waited too long—you are not alone! At the same time, don’t feel pressured to do so before you are ready. It is one of the hardest things to do.
Talk to your friends about sex! Pipe up if something sounds inappropriate. Remember that sexual coercion can be hard to catch.
If a friend is thinking about making a report, encourage them in whatever tangible way you can, but know your place and stay in it. Give them easy access to an SMA’s number if you can. Tell them you will walk them to the Title IX Office or sit with them while they draft an email. But never force them into doing something they are not ready to do.
Thank you for listening. I feel stronger just knowing that you’ve read this.