“What would you like to see happen as a result of this process?” I was asked this question by friends and family in late October of 2012. Then in November by two officers from the LAPD. Later, by a detective. And three more times by the university staff members assigned to adjudicate my report of sexual assault –– most recently, on April 2.
This question has haunted me, as I infer it haunts other rape survivors. I have never been able to answer it. Until now.
Invited to write about my experience as a rape victim who is attempting to “seek justice,” it occurred to me finally: I just want to stop the rape. That’s what I want.
My rape and the ensuing process was fairly typical. I trusted a man I was getting to know not to rape me. Then, once raped, I struggled to re-interpret myself as not-raped, because the pain and horror of accepting I had been raped was too much for me to bear. Typical.
Where my story isn’t as typical begins about one month ago. After my university failed to take immediate action against the student who raped me (despite having been provided with several audio recordings in which my rapist confessed to raping me) and after I became so socially ostracized that I contemplated suicide, it was suggested to me that I did not have to wait for the world to decide whether it would advocate for me or not.
I could self-advocate. I could post my name and photograph and his name and photograph to the Internet.
And so I did.
Two months ago, I wrote a Tumblr post in which I revealed my name and the name of my rapist and included several photographs, including one of us together. I wrote, “I’m not going to hide behind anonymity. I am a part of this society.”
This atypical decision has recently garnered me both mainstream media attention and a defamation suit filed by my rapist.
The story of my rape is full of those “How-could-you-be-so-stupid?” moments that enable outsiders –– often police, district attorneys and academic staff –– to dismiss a victim’s claims. As if a woman’s “stupidity” can magically transmute rape into not-rape. As if naïveté is a rapeable offense.
On December 3, 2010, my boyfriend and I attended a holiday party hosted by fellow students at the University of Southern California. We had just begun dating two weeks prior. I –– at 21 years old –– was a virgin because I believed that the intimacy of intercourse was an emotional and spiritual act that should not be casually shared.
At a friend’s pre-party party, our host generously doled out hard liquor; my date consumed about 10 shots in the span of an hour. He drank even more at the theatre party that was the main event. When he groped me embarrassingly on the dance floor, I told him I wanted to leave.
We walked together back to the complex where we both rented apartments. He was so drunk, I was worried about him and I now believe he played upon those worries. I offered to feed him a little so he could take some aspirin for what was surely going to be one hell of a hangover.
My roommates were out. He and I ended up making out on my couch. When he started taking off my clothes, I moved the make-out session to my bedroom in case my roommates came home.
Eventually naked, in my bed, my date told me he wanted to have sex. I told him repeatedly that I did not want to. That I wanted it to be special. That I wasn’t ready. That having sex so soon would ruin our relationship. But it happened anyway.
I told him he was hurting me and I tried to pull away. He pulled me closer. In the end, after he was done, I interpreted it as a “misunderstanding” –– surely he’d just been too drunk to listen. Surely “nice guys” –– average, nerdy guys from Ohio –– don’t rape women they know.
It took me a year to talk openly about my experience. I told my best friend.
“He raped you,” my friend said, putting the word on it. “You said no, he didn’t listen. That’s rape.”
I started crying and couldn’t stop. It was only then I finally allowed myself to realize I had indeed been raped.
The nightmare was I had continued to see my rapist. He’d told me he was in love with me and wanted to marry me. And the part of me that wanted sex to be a meaningful experience had “repurposed” my rape into an act of love. It’s amazing what a person can rationalize.
I went to a counselor at my university’s health center, thinking someone could tell me what to do. I was told I could see a graduate student studying to be a therapist for free, but it would be filmed for educational purposes. I never called back.
Instead, I decided to confront my boyfriend. He claimed he couldn’t remember anything about the night, but then said to me:
What did you expect? A bed covered in rose petals? Nobody gets that. I didn’t get that. I wanted to fuck, I needed to fuck, so I fucked. And, whatever, I guess I’m just the asshole who raped you.
My grades began to slip. My health declined –– I gained and lost weight, I stopped having periods, my hair started falling out, I developed a sleeping disorder. I pulled away from family and friends. I went on medication for depression and anxiety.
It took me another 10 months to report my experience to the proper authorities. In October 2012, my friend made a passing comment that I should have recorded the conversation I’d had with my rapist where he’d confessed to the rape. In California, secret recorded confessions are legal, admissible evidence when they are used to prove that someone committed a violent felony. Rape –– it should be said –– is a violent felony.
So I arranged to make a recording. And my ex-boyfriend obligingly confessed multiple times to forcing me to have sex with him. I provided these recordings to the police in November 2012. I provided them to my university in December 2012.
For months, my university has had audio recordings in which my rapist states that he (1) does not remember anything about the night in question, and (2) is so very sorry that he forced me to have sex with him.
In testimony provided by my ex-boyfriend in his defense, however, he now (conveniently, remarkably) remembers all sorts of details about the night in question and specifically remembers numerous particulars that he asserts are evidence of consent. He further maintains that I tricked him into providing false confessions, insisting that he confessed to a crime he did not commit only because he knew I would not leave him alone until he had done so. I coerced him, you see –– not he me.
In February of this year, I was hospitalized because I was having strong suicidal ideations. I couldn’t live with the burden of being invisible and set apart for even one more day. It was suggested to me that I didn’t have to wait for others to agree with me that what had happened to me was wrong — that I could do something about it myself, if I really wanted.
I was told by two attorneys — I could post my rapist’s name to the Internet, if I felt it was necessary to my emotional health. And so I did.
I posted both his and mine. It was my emphatic rejection of both invisibility and shame. Women from all over responded –– thanking me, telling me that I had given them the courage to say the word “rape” and speak the name of their rapists. And for their sisterhood, I am profoundly grateful, because it helped make me feel visible and human again.
Recently, I was also counter-sued by my rapist for libel. And I will meet him in court with his confessions. Yes, I was “stupid” to trust him not to rape, to be confused that he had raped me, and to try to transform that violence into something human. But my stupidity does not transmute his crime. The rape was still a rape. And I will do all I can to make him reckon for it.
When asked for the third time by USC staff members what I wanted to see as a result of their adjudication process, I said I wanted the university to fulfill the promise made in its written policy of expelling a student who commits rape while attending the university.
The staff member said to me: “That is not what we exist to do. This is not a punitive process. This is a rehabilitative process. This is an educative process.”
I beg to disagree. If an academic institution fails to remove a rapist from its student body, the school is not only contributing to the victimization of the victim by further proving to the victim that she (or he) is indeed invisible –– but it is additionally displaying wanton disregard for the safety of any and all its other students.
Carly Mee is one of 37 students at Occidental College in Los Angeles, California who have made headlines because of their class action lawsuit filed against their university for violating Title IX. Mee’s rapist was expelled by Occidental, but allowed to return after he appealed the decision. He then went on to rape at least three more women.
The Occidental suit is one of a host of class actions that have been filed across the country in the past few years; students at Amherst, Yale and the University of North Carolina have also sued their schools for failing to abide by Title IX and failing to adequately protect student victims of sexual misconduct.
According to documentary filmmaker Suzanne Richiardone –– who is currently working with Academy Award-winning Maha Productions to expose the harsh realities faced by sexual assault victims –– women at institutions across the country have begun “an underground movement” to demand that their schools do more to protect female students.
The anti-rape coalition I co-founded this semester with a fellow victim at the University of Southern California is now taking steps to file a class action similar to Occidental’s for the many women in our group who were failed by USC’s administration.
My rapist will be receiving his diploma in two weeks. Despite the Obama Administration’s pleas for swift adjudications of sexual misconduct on college campuses receiving federal aid, as outlined in its April 2011 “Dear Colleague” letter, and despite the rights extended to female college students by Title IX, my rapist will soon be a proud alum of the University of Southern California.
The defamation suit my rapist has filed against me claims “assumption of risk” as part of his defense. I can state unequivocally that I never assumed that, by attending the University of Southern California, I was risking becoming a rape victim.
By letting my boyfriend drink a glass of water and take some aspirin after a party, I never assumed I had let a rapist into my apartment. How could I have been expected to assume this? Because I am a woman? Is that what it boils down to? Because I possess a vagina, I must understand that my mere existence evinces a daily risk of victimization and theft of personhood?
Fuck that noise. It’s time to stand up, step forward, and stop the rape.