From a survivor’s perspective: sexual assault at TU

Sexual assault has been a hot topic at The University of Tulsa and campuses across the US for several years now—as it should be. Last fall’s incredibly scary and public sexual assault case appeared to be yet another a turning point for sexual violence awareness at TU in particular. When the story broke in the local media, the student body was instantly horrified … and then, angry. We realized this story, a personal nightmare for too many victims, corresponded to the same events that Campus Security had reported in a campus email as “an intruder entered [a] residence through an unlocked door early Friday morning. No one was injured, and the unidentified person left when the student awakened” followed by, in bold type, “University administrators strongly encourage students to keep doors and windows in apartments and residence hall rooms locked, even when home.” No one was injured. Lock your doors. At best, this was the result of a gross lack of communication between TPD and Campus Security. At worst, a tremendous understatement and downplaying of what was an incredibly traumatizing experience for too many students. A student group even organized a panel of university administrators and security officials; it quickly turned into an hour of students showering these administrators with tough (and sometimes emotionally-fueled) questions, and demanding change. It became exceptionally clear that TU, like all other universities, had a problem.
The thing is though, we have had a sexual assault problem long before the Molina case. While this case, and others that have garnered a lot of media attention, shine a spotlight on the issue of sexual assault and are incredibly devastating to all involved, they do not necessarily represent the issue as a whole. They do not portray sexual assault in its most common form. In line with the stories that broke over summer, in the overwhelming majority of cases, assaults are not perpetrated by some unknown person who breaks into your home. They happen, each and every weekend, in dorm rooms and apartments and fraternity houses, by people you know—acquaintances, mutual friends, and sometimes good friends. It’s normal for alcohol to be involved, often in the form of binge-drinking. Some perpetrators may not have even realized they crossed a line, which is problematic. This may be a result of alcohol-impaired judgement or due to the culture we’ve created surrounding hook-ups, but there is a tendency for students to classify what may be an assault as a hookup. This is what happened to me, and this is what has happened to too many women and men on this and other college campuses.
My assault occurred a little over a year ago. The night started out like many others at TU—a “pregame,” if you will, before the main party. I’d had a long, busy day, and didn’t have time to eat dinner before I arrived. As someone relatively experienced with alcohol, I knew the high risk of drinking on an empty stomach; it was a typical pre-going-out ritual for me and some friends to grab a meal together. My day got away from me though, and I wasn’t able to make dinner; yet, since I felt comfortable and familiar with everyone around me, I started drinking anyways. About an hour and 4-5 drinks later, I made my way with the rest of the pregame to the party. Although I call it a party here, it was a relatively small gathering—maybe 20 people. There were a few rooms in the house but the majority of people were hanging out in a living room, sitting around talking, laughing, and singing. Everyone had been drinking, but to varying degrees. One of my best friends who was there with me was completely sober, but still having a fun time socializing.
Most of the guys there belonged to the same fraternity—I’d met and socialized with all of them many times before, and I felt comfortable. Eventually, one of these men came over to me and asked if I wanted to go hang out in one of the other rooms where it was a bit less noisy. The alcohol that I’d consumed so quickly was starting to hit me, but I still felt “together” so I agreed. I’d talked to this guy countless times and his request didn’t seem strange in any way. As two people with a lot of mutual friends, we’d had our share of party-conversations, and I considered him to be a decent acquaintance. We found another area that had a couple couches, and sat down—I intentionally left the door open behind me and sat across from him rather than beside him. I didn’t know him that well, after all, and even in my tipsy state I knew people would talk if the door was closed.
For a few minutes—or maybe longer, my memory quickly becomes hazy—we did talk. I remember talking about our mutual friends and him telling stories about some of them while I tried to get my now drunk brain to focus. Anyone who has consumed several drinks too quickly (especially on an empty stomach) knows one minute you can feel perfectly fine and then ten minutes later you can barely form a sentence. Unfortunately, I had reached that point: I was having difficulty keeping my eyes open, and the words I managed to force out were becoming more and more slurred.
The exact sequence of events that followed are still hazy, but there are several things I do remember. I remember the guy standing up, walking to the door, and saying, “We should probably close this.”
“No, it’s fine,” I replied, albeit in a more slurred manner. “Keep it open.”
He closed it anyway, and sat back down, this time beside me rather than on the opposite couch. He put his arm around me and I squirmed away to create more distance. He continued coming on to me as I did everything in my capacity to move away. Unfortunately, at this point, I was virtually incapacitated. I tried to form sentences, tried telling him to stop, that I wasn’t interested, but only the first few words would successfully leave my mouth. Eventually, I blacked out completely. It may have been the alcohol, or my mind trying to protect me from the details of what was happening, or a combination of the two. Regardless, the next thing I remember I was laying down and he was pulling himself out of my mouth, getting up from his position on top of me, and pulling up his pants. I realized my shorts had also been pulled down, though my underwear remained in place.
As he fixed himself, he grinned in a way that he probably thought was charming, and said, “We should probably go. People will start to notice we’re gone.”
My mind raced as my panicked, intoxicated brain slowly began to comprehend, to put the pieces together of what had just occurred. The full reality of what had transpired didn’t completely hit me until a couple days later: I had been sexually assaulted, and my perpetrator didn’t think twice. For him, it was a hookup like any other.
Even though I had long been passionate about sexual assault as an issue, I never thought it could happen to me. Yet, there I was. And despite being the person who always spoke up and defended other victims when someone implied that they were, in any way, “asking for it,” I found that my first instinct was to blame myself. You shouldn’t have had that much to drink. You shouldn’t have gone into that room alone. It took me reading extensively about consent, intoxication, and incapacitation to really believe that it was not my fault. Any passerby could have seen my incapacitation, yet my perpetrator proceeded despite my slurred protests. Yes, I was intoxicated when it occurred, but just because I had accidentally mistreated my body did not give anyone else the right to do so.
For a long time, I didn’t tell anyone about what happened. The first time I did, to a close friend, the initial response I got was, “Hmm…really?” After that, it was months before I tried sharing my experience again. It’s my belief that the most helpful thing you can do for someone who tells you they were assaulted is to believe them (immediately) and to ask them if you can help them in any way. This may seem like common sense, but I see that it can be difficult—especially when you are friends with the perpetrator. Like I said in the beginning, the vast majority of campus assaults aren’t perpetrated by complete strangers—they’re friends, acquaintances, classmates. Because this was the case for me, it was even harder to talk about my experience. Why? Because I didn’t expect anyone to believe me. People don’t want to believe that that guy (or girl) who is always so nice to them, who is a friend-of-a-friend, sexually assaulted anyone. But it happens, time and time again. And that’s just the people who find out. What if the perpetrator is a male and a member of a fraternity, as mine was? What if their house finds out? Girls who report sexual assaults are often banned from the perpetrator’s house because she’s “a liability.” It’s wrong on so many levels. I’m sure if you ask them about this, they’ll deny it—but I’ve seen and heard about this happening multiple times, right here at TU.
Because of all of these things, I remained quiet for a long time. At times, it probably wasn’t the healthiest method of coping, but in the end it worked for me. I avoided parties and gatherings where I knew my perpetrator would be, knowing I could not (and still cannot) look him in the eye without a feeling of panic overcoming me. I’ve found support in a few student organizations and members of the administration who advocate for sexual assault survivors and the issue as a whole, and I know about all the resources that are available to me on campus should I want them.
I never thought I would report what happened, as I had a deep distrust of the process after seeing the Molina case unfold. The day I decided to report, it was unplanned. It was a completely normal day for me until I heard about someone being assaulted the night before by someone who loosely fit the description of the man who assaulted me. Was it him? Had he hurt someone else the way he hurt me? Emotionally, it was like I was back on that couch again, panicky and powerless. Within an hour, I officially reported what happened to me. I chose to remain anonymous, and I did not want any sort of investigation or hearing, fearing the social backlash of doing so. Even without an investigation, though, I have found comfort in the fact that what happened to me has been recorded—it happened, the university is aware, and my report can be used as evidence if the same perpetrator is reported in the future. Reporting my assault was my way of silently supporting all the other survivors on this campus.
It’s wrong, this campus culture we’ve created, and it needs to change. This is easy enough to say, but incredibly hard to do. In my opinion, a culture change has to start with awareness that there is a problem—and I don’t just mean the standard outrage we all feel when a sexual assault story breaks in the local news. The student body needs to be actively aware of and engaged in sexual assault prevention and response efforts. Let’s talk about sexual assault, about what it looks like on our campus, and about what we can do to intervene. Let’s talk about binge drinking, which is so often related to sexual assault. Let’s talk about our treatment of survivors, especially those who report, and why they don’t feel supported by their classmates, friends, and organizations. Let’s demand more, both from our administration and from ourselves. These are the reasons I wanted to share my story. TU, let’s talk.

Post Author: Anonymous

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