Regarding Consent: How University Policy Made My Life A Living Hell

A note from the editors:

We have published this article to speak to USF's administration about the safety of their students, and are looking forward to working with them to rectify this issue. We believe together we can actually achieve social change. We have a meeting set up next Wednesday with the Assistant Vice President & Dean of Students, Danielle McDonald. We will be writing a follow up article with their response. 

We here at Her Campus USF are dedicated to giving voice and agency to women across all experiences at USF. We are dedicated to the safety of our students. We recognize the prevalence of sexual assault on university campuses, and would like to provide a forum for any student who feels silenced after an attack. If you have a story to tell, we will publish it completely anonymously. You are not alone.

Regarding Consent: How University Policy Made my Life a Living Hell

I will always miss the feeling of joy, pride, and belonging I experienced walking around my campus, those first three months of my freshman year. I wholeheartedly believed that USF cared about me. They wanted me to be safe and would never be the place I would experience anything as traumatic as I did.

First week of freshman year, I was in my second class. As a Women’s and Gender Studies major I was eager to eat up all the knowledge and information coming at me. I noticed this guy in one of my classes. I’ll refer to him as John. I thought he was pretty cute. He didn’t really speak up much. A few weeks later a tinder match happened and then we met for a “study date”.

All I remember is how much he talked about how passionate he is about consent. How important he thought it was to make sure everyone knew its importance. He felt responsible for teaching others about consent and was so surprised that people did not understand it.

Weeks later I am texting him in the middle of the night. We had both just left parties. I turned to my friend and showed her his texts. “Girl, look, he said he will let me crash in his dorm tonight and see here, he said he totally understands that I just want to cuddle and sleep. I promise I’ll be fine.” Because she was tasked with watching out for me my first night of drinking, she gave me the go ahead to walk to the next building.

I wish I took more time to remember how I felt walking to his dorm. How everything looked. How safety felt. How it felt to be naïve. I don’t understand how John could listen to me say no for hours.

 

Every touch was met with a clear no. Every no was met with an apology from him. And every apology was followed by another touch.

 

After hours of this I finally fell asleep. I was drunk and exhausted. I don’t really know if anything happened while I was sleeping and I don’t want to try and figure it out.

The next day he came back into his bed and at this point, my reaction to his touch was to ask to be taken home which I was. I didn’t even realize that I had been assaulted until hours later. I broke down and cried in my dorm room. I will never forget what happened in class following that night. It set the tone for the next five months.

John, who days earlier was begging me for forgiveness when I confronted him via text; the same man who begged me to go to a mediator to “work this out,” sat in front of our professor and told her he had a great weekend.

All of this, everything I have just written was nothing compared to the next five months. For the remainder of fall I continually met with my amazing advocate at Center for Victim Advocacy and Violence Prevention (CVAVP). She helped me begin to process and heal, as did all of my friends.

When I took my case to Student Rights and Responsibilities (SRR), I understood how it felt for hundreds of other victims trying to get justice through the university system. The first few months I was patient with the University’s procedures.

 

I had to build up a wall, to tolerate being in class with my attacker. Soon I became complacent and numb.

 

Two weeks went by, but they felt like forever and John had still not been investigated. I had to tolerate us sharing a classroom until the conclusion of the investigation. I continued building a barrier around my emotions and powered through. I was determined to not let him see me falter.

The school informed me that they did not want the investigation to be interrupted by the winter break, and I understood why we needed to wait till spring to start investigating.

The first week of classes in spring semester arrived, and so did one of the most anxiety ridden moments I’ve ever experienced in my life. I sat in a class, a class for my major, a class where I felt safe and excited and happy; a class with the same professor who taught the class I met John in, and in he walked.

 

I felt as if someone had taken a sledgehammer to my stomach, knocking all the air from my lungs.

 

My heart sank and I don’t really remember much from that hour and 15 minutes. I immediately called my advocate and told her. I didn’t know what to do.

This is the point where SRR made my life a living hell by giving John so much freedom to do what he wanted, and by failing to watch out for me as I had been led to believe.

As the no-contact order John and I could not speak to each other or sit next to each other. I was appalled that nearly every day he took a seat with only one person between us.

 

Everyday he looked at me; laughing to himself because he could still sit by the girl he assaulted.

 

I had to beg SRR to re-issue a no-contact order that required John sit as far away from me as possible. SRR must remain unbiased during the investigation of these cases. This meant whoever arrived first would decide where they sat. Upon being notified of this, John went from a student who arrived to class five minute early, to someone who arrived 30 minutes early. I changed my routine and came an hour early, so I could still sit up front.

In this class we participated in group work. I asked SRR to contact my teacher and notify them that I could not be in a group with John. SRR called the department desk, couldn’t reach my professor, and then never called back. It wasn’t until I was placed in a group with John that I had to leave the room and explain to my professor that there had been a mistake.

 

Myself, the professor and my advocate were appalled at how little care SRR had taken to ensure my safety. I felt like I didn’t matter.

 

Weeks went by after the investigation happened, and I finally received the notice that John had been charged. I was elated. The icing on the cake was that John would be suspended for the upcoming fall semester. I would have one semester of freedom. One semester of being able to go wherever I wanted on my campus without holding my breath every time I thought I saw him. I had one semester of being able to attend events within my program without fearing he would be present.

That feeling quickly faded when I found out that John’s suspension was something that was up for debate. John had the opportunity to prove he had seen the error of his ways.

I found out that John had lied to the investigators and was only charged because I had screenshots of texts he had sent me admitting his guilt. I felt so invalidated. If I didn’t have those texts would I be called a liar and not John? Why would I lie about this? Why would I spend weeks begging for help over something that never happened? What did I have to gain from manufacturing an experience I have still yet to tell my parents even happened?

When I found out USF had allowed John to return to campus in the fall, I was heartbroken but not surprised. Someone from SRR had the audacity to allow proven liar the opportunity to return to campus where they could potentially harm another student. John knew it was wrong. He preached about consent to me. He took the same orientation courses that I did regarding consent. He knowingly violated my consent, and the university protected his interests over mine.

 

I feared for myself. I feared for my friends.

 

 What if John used his ability to fake being pro-consent to assault someone else? Why did the school that I love decide to only punish John by telling him he had to stay away from me?

 

Did they know that I cried every night for weeks? Did they know about the times my partner watched me cry in a corner because he accidently touched me when I wasn’t ready? Did they know that I blamed myself?

 

I wanted to tell everyone about him. I wanted to hand out flyers with John’s picture to spare just one person from the kind of evil I experienced. I can’t. I can’t tell anyone. I could get in trouble for slander. SRR has to protect John too, in doing so they are allowing him to be safe in a space where he can prey on people like me.

As I see story after story about campus assaults, whether they are on USF property or not, I find that every piece of media is lacking something. They lack how it feels to go through this. They call it an atrocity. They say it is wrong, but no one asks us what it feels like to see your attacker twice a week and feel naked every time.

We are all required to take consent courses during orientation. None of them say how much it hurts to have to tell your boyfriend you have to stop because you’re going to vomit, because you forgot his touch wasn’t meant to harm you. None of them say how badly we are treated. None of them say how heavily we are silenced.

The only silver lining to this story is the amount of love that has come into my life, despite this cloud of pain. My advocate has guided me through a journey of healing I am still walking down. I beg anyone who is a survivor to please go to CVAVP. They care about you. They will not force you to report. They will remind you that someone at USF cares.

I can't even begin to describe the love, support, and joy that my friends have brought me during this time. Please, talk to your friends, they will listen to you and love you and can help you heal. To my friends from my program, I owe so much. I know that if I see John at an event I will have an army of strong, amazing people surrounding me and keeping me safe.

I am writing this because I am tired of people not knowing. Maybe someone who reads this will have an idea of who John is and stay away from him. Maybe someone will read this and realize that they should not feel invalidated because USF has treated their case like a joke. Maybe someone will finally see that stopping their buddy from taking a drunk girl to bed is more than just the right thing to do, it’s crucial to changing the course of that girl's entire life.

Although I am writing this anonymously I still am afraid that upon it’s publishing my safety and status as a student will be jeopardized. This is what USF does to you. They create an environment that makes survivors feel invalidated, worthless, and unsafe in order to preserve some sort of fairness for both the survivor and the person who assaulted them.

USF may continue to gladly make tuition money off of the person who assaulted me, but I will not be silenced anymore. Please, share this story with anyone you know. Share it with anyone you think doesn’t take sexual assault seriously. Share this with all the people you care about because one in four women are assaulted during their time on a university campus.

Maybe one day, my little drop in the bucket that is this article, could remind someone of how bad it used to be. And people will be thankful our universities made a drastic change in the way they punish those who commit assault. Until then, I live in fear, unable to fully heal, static in my place as the loser in the fight that John started a year ago.