Not Guilty

In early March, I sat on the Q train with my backpack on my lap. Chargers and loose papers peeked out of the green bag’s opening. I scrolled through Facebook and clicked on a New York Times article titled Student Found Not Guilty In Rape Trial. After reading the article, I felt sick, nervous, and scared. There is a rage that is born within all victims when yet another aggressor is set free. To study, eat, and gather on a campus that’s also home to your rapist is intolerable. I often wonder why the ongoing and evolving trauma that victims face isn’t taken into consideration by campus hierarchy.

Saifullah Khan stands outside of a New Haven courthouse dressed well and looking pleased knowing he was just found not guilty of raping his peer back in 2015 on Halloween. Most college rape cases will never be acknowledged in a courtroom because they never make it that far. Only 4%-20% of college women report their assaults. Think about all of the women who feel unable to come forward and receive justice for nonconsensual violation. Cases like this one are an example of why women are hesitant on coming forward. Cases like this are why I was hesitant on coming forward. The victim had to stand in front of a judge, a jury, and her rapist to relieve what was, more than likely, one of the worst nights of her life. For this, her aggressor was able to walk free and continue his education at Yale University. In 2015, Yale was found to have the highest number of reported sexual assault accusations out of all Ivy League institutions. Ivy League schools prove to have some of the highest rates of sexual assaults against undergraduate women in the United States. I think this speaks for lack of care in universities that thrive off of wealth. I had recently applied to Columbia University, and after reading this case and the story of a young girl who carried her mattress around to raise attention to her own assault in 2017, I have decided that if I am admitted, I will not be attending. I cannot morally support a collection of institutions who don’t take care of their women. I refuse to support what refuses to support me.

During this trial, the victim was ultimately humiliated, and her claims were a form of “mass hysteria” that has developed among younger women who have spoken up. Khan’s lawyer claimed that texts sent before the assault were too flirty and too friendly. There is a growing misconception that if a woman was forward or amorous, she could not be assaulted by said person. Most women are raped by someone she knows and trusts. It’s not always the man you don’t know. It’s often the man you have spent time with and formed some relationship with.

The victim was highly intoxicated during the unlawful interaction with Khan. Khan’s lawyer pulled up security footage from the night of the assault. She was unable to consent. The victim’s feet were dragging on the ground as most of her weight was distributed onto Khan’s shoulders because she was unable to stand on her own. His lawyer said this to the victim: “Don’t you look like two lovers?” The image of an almost unconscious woman being pulled forward while her shoes drag behind her is heart-wrenching and utterly shameful on behalf of the man who had sex with her simply because he believed he was entitled to. The young woman was harassed and belittled by those who didn’t believe her story. After the trial, she said, “I have nothing to gain by this." and “It’s been difficult reliving it the last three days.”

I write briefly about this case and what it has failed to do. It has failed to validate a woman’s suffering. My aggressor is attending college to become a democratic politician. Not a single day goes by where I do not think about what has happened to me. I had never pressed charges or contacted authorities because I couldn’t relieve what I never wanted to live through in the first place. If someone has the courage to tell you about their experience, please listen and remember the effects that come with the word “liar.” The fragile and the hurtful nature of denying a victim the right to share her own story is a wicked one. I hope there will be a day when abusers will be held accountable for disrupting the lives of those who have done nothing to deserve said disruption. There will never be a space in which we are safe from everything. But, that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be trying to make things safer. If you can make things better than why wouldn’t you?