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I Took my Sexual Assaulter to Court — & Won

April 8th began like any other Monday morning. I woke up and ate breakfast while watching a few YouTube videos before class. I usually went home between classes, but that day I'd decided to stay on campus, so I packed a lunch. After my first class got out, I had an hour gap before I had to be in my literature class at 2pm. There was a nice place to sit in the hallway outside of that class, so I decided to eat lunch there while I waited.

As I ate my sandwich, I scrolled through Twitter before starting my homework — the things I typically did with my time in between classes. The hallways in this building were unusually quiet compared to others on campus, but I didn’t think anything of it. It was the honors college, so I figured it was just less populated than other areas of the school.

At 1:20pm, students spilled out of the lecture hall as class ended, but the building emptied just as soon as they appeared. Then I was alone again.

A few minutes later, the doors at the end of the hall opened and out of the corner of my eye I saw someone walking toward me. They stopped a few feet away from me and sat on the table adjacent to the chair I was sitting in.

I looked up and he was staring at me. I figured it was just odd timing, so I smiled and said hello. That’s when things took a turn.

“Are you in my English class?” he asked. “I saw something I liked the other day. Could you stand up for a second?”

Immediately I felt uncomfortable. I didn’t know what he saw or what was going through his mind. I completely blanked and I didn’t know what to say so I stayed silent. I turned back to my cell phone and pretended to text a friend, hoping that he would leave me alone.

He didn’t.

I could feel him staring at me, but there was nothing I could do. I was frozen. Looking back, I knew I should have left, but in that moment I couldn’t think clearly. I kept thinking he would walk away. I kept hoping he would get a hint and leave me alone.

When he finally got up from the table and started to walk toward the doorway, a weight lifted and I started to breathe again. But it turned out he wasn’t ready to leave. He had gone to look out the window, and then turned around and approached me again. I tried to remain calm because I didn’t know what he was doing. I remember trying to convince myself to give him the benefit of the doubt. Maybe he’s just friendly? Maybe he really liked my shoes? My jeans? Maybe he’s from another country and doesn’t understand our culture? I was proven wrong.

“Get up. Just stand up,” he said as he reached for my arms.

When I refused, he grabbed me forcefully, pulled me up and dragged me to a corner of the hall. Once he got me where he wanted me, he proceeded to look around the hall to make sure no one was nearby.

All I remember is repeating “no” as many times as I could. But no matter how much I tried, my voice wouldn’t get any louder, so I tried to push him away.

The more I forced him away, the stronger he came back.

“Let me do this. What’s the problem with it?” he kept saying as he touched me. I felt so dirty. I felt so disgusting. I felt like an entirely different person and I began to blame myself. What possessed him to want to violate someone this way? I didn’t understand and I didn’t know how to get him to realize this wasn’t okay; that what he was doing was wrong.

I didn’t think it would stop. I didn’t think I would be able to escape.

Then a door opened in the hallway and the sound of innocent conversation filled the halls.

He stopped. A look of terror washed over his face and then he looked at me and said, “I have to go meet my friends now, see you in class.”

I stayed frozen in that spot for minutes after he left. It was almost like I forgot how to use my legs. I couldn’t breathe, my chest was tight and there was a lump in my throat that no amount of tears could get rid of.

I was so confused. Did that really just happen? It was all a blur.

At first, I didn’t know if I should say anything. I thought to myself, “He wouldn’t try to do that again. Would he?”

I grabbed my cell phone and texted my roommates. “I think I was just sexually assaulted.”

They all told me to go to the police. So I did.

I had never been in the police station before, and once I was there, I felt extremely out of place. I approached the woman behind the counter and blurted out, “I’d like to report a sexual assault.”

“Okay, who’s the victim? Is the victim with you?” she asked.

“I am. It just happened to me,” I told her. I said it without emotion, as though it hadn’t just happened to me, as though I weren’t still shaking. I wanted to cry. I didn’t even feel like myself.

She told me to take a seat and as I sat there, I thought that maybe it was a bad idea to report what had just happened to me. I remember thinking of similar assault cases I had read about, and hearing about a crazy percentage of cases that never got resolved, and were forgotten or swept under the rug because it was easier for universities to preserve their images rather than ensure the safety and comfort of its students. I was certain my story would end the same way. I was wasting my time. What was I still doing there in the waiting room?

Just as I was about to walk out and try to forget about what had just happened, a police officer came into the waiting room. “Jasmine? Come on back. How are you doing?”

I’m not sure what it was; maybe it was the sound of his voice, his sincere smile or the compassion that seemed to emanate from that simple gesture, that made my heart rate slow and made me feel a little more comfortable.

I was taken to a conference room where I talked with this officer about what had just happened. I thought I was dreaming. Nothing seemed real. I’m a college student; I’m not supposed to be reporting a sexual assault case, right?

After my conversation with the officer, the dean of students met me in the hallway and offered to take me to the university counseling center.

“I know a really good therapist who specializes in these types of cases. She will be able to help you. You’ll be in good hands,” she told me with the warmest smile.

I never thought I would ever meet the dean of students. I always thought that students who caused trouble or students who were failing were the only ones who ever had to meet with the dean. I had also never been to the counseling center on campus.

As the dean took me there, all that was going through my mind was, “What am I getting myself into?”

I was scared and I felt guilty. I felt like I was going to get into trouble, that he would get mad at me and if I continued to seek help and talk to people on campus, that I would somehow end up even worse off.

I met with a therapist and she scheduled me for 10 sessions, so she could follow up with me to ensure that I was going to be okay. It seemed like a lot to me at the time — still reeling from the initial shock of the experience, I wondered if this was even necessary.

After that appointment, the police officer met me outside and drove me home. He gave me the phone numbers of all the police on duty, a hotline to call if I felt unsafe and he even gave me his personal cell phone number just in case I needed a ride anywhere. For the first time that day, I felt like I mattered and I felt like I had done the right thing. Getting the support of the university was the biggest step I had to make, I thought.

A restraining order was issued against him and he was kicked out of my literature class. I thought it was over. I figured he would never bother me again and now I could move on.

Later that night, I sat on my bed and contemplated calling my parents. I was so scared that they would think I was too immature to be living on my own, that I wasn’t “adult enough” to be in college. I didn’t want them to worry about me, and telling them that their daughter had been sexually assaulted was definitely one way to get them to worry.

When I finally decided to call and tell my parents what happened, all I could do was cry. As soon as my mom answered the phone, my voice cracked and I tried to fight through tears as I told her what happened to me that day.

“You have to press charges. Go back to the police and tell them you want to take this to court,” my mom told me. I hadn’t even thought about pressing charges until now.

From 3,000 miles away, my mom tried her best to console me. I couldn’t control my crying, yet she remained so strong, and I’m still not sure how she’s able to keep her composure all the time, but I admire it – she’s always there when I need her, and I definitely needed her that day.

After I got off the phone with her, I called the officer who had just driven me home.

“I want to press charges,” I told him.

During the next few months, I continued therapy. I met with the dean regularly to check and see how my case was being processed and my schoolwork started to slip. I had terrible night terrors where I could feel his hands on me, I saw his eyes in the darkness of my bedroom and I could hear his voice as if he were standing right in front of me. I thought I was losing my mind. I had the support of my family, friends and therapist, but nothing helped once I was alone. Ultimately, what helped me, simply, was time. It took time to get through the night terrors and the flashbacks that continued after April 8th.

My case didn’t go to court until the end of September, when the attorney decided she wanted to charge him with two counts of sexual assault in the third degree and one count of harassment. When she called and told me, it went in one ear and out the other. I had no idea what any of that meant, but all I knew was that the case was moving forward, so it was good news to me.

In the beginning of this year, I received a subpoena in the mail stating that I was ordered to testify in front of the grand jury before my case could be settled. I held that letter in my hand and I started to cry. I was shaking. I didn’t know what this meant. I felt so confused and lost. I thought this was all behind me. I had never before stepped foot into a courthouse and now I had to do this all alone. The only thing I wanted was to be with my family, and here I was stuck in Oregon in the midst of a legal case.

All that went through my mind was, “I’m 21 years old, I’m here for college, this shouldn’t be happening to me. Why me?”

On February 11th, I sat in the car outside the courthouse and I couldn’t move. I didn’t want to go relive my assault again as I told a room full of strangers what had happened to me. But I knew this was the only way he would get what he deserved. So I shook off my fears and walked into the courthouse.

I remember sitting in front of the grand jury, the judge and the attorney. I felt so incredibly small. I felt like I was being judged, and I wondered if they thought I asked to be assaulted. Why couldn’t I stop sweating? A million things went through my head; I don’t even remember what questions they asked me and I don’t remember how I answered those questions. All I know is that I went and did what I was supposed to do.

A month later, I got a call from the attorney telling me that the student had been charged to the fullest extent of the law. Two counts of third-degree sexual assault and one degree of harassment.

“It’s over, Jasmine. You did it,” she told me.

I did it — even though I had doubted myself throughout the entire process. For so long, I never thought it would have been worth it to go through that year full of anxiety, stress and unbearable pain. I was faced with obstacles I never thought I would ever be faced with, especially in college. Being sexually assaulted is not something people think of when they think of college, yet one in four college women will be sexually assaulted on or near their campus. I was one of them. And although I wish it hadn't happened to me, I’ve taken this experience and used it as a learning tool. It's helped me grow as a person, it’s made me stronger and I’ve also been able to help others who are going through similar situations.

I often wonder how the tail end of my college career would have turned out differently had I not been in that building on April 8th, but I wouldn’t be the same person I am today: strong, independent and willing to put up a fight for the things that matter to me. And come to think of it, I’ve really come to love the person I’ve become over the past year. This experience, though frightening, has forced me to stand up for myself — and for all the women around the globe who have also been victims of assault.

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