Being the one in four

How I faced my experience of campus sexual assault

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It’s a typical university party, with alcohol, loud music and friends. One privileged white male and one unconscious girl.

The scene I’m referring to sounds a lot like the case of former Stanford student Brock Turner, who was recently convicted of three counts of felony sexual assault. 

Judge Aaron Persky’s decision to sentence Turner to a meager six months in county jail — the maximum sentence being 14 years in federal prison — has attracted widespread controversy and criticism.

But, when Brock Turner’s story came to light, I couldn’t help but compare it to my own experience in first year. I’d seen that scene before.

When I was in first year, I went to a party with a few friends from my floor. In between rounds of beer pong, I was talking to a seemingly nice boy who offered to pour me a beer. 

After that beer, I suddenly started to feel sick and dizzy, so that seemingly nice boy offered to walk me home. By the time we made it back to my room in residence I was barely clinging to consciousness. 

I woke up in my room, naked, disoriented and in incredible pain. To this day a lot of the details remain hazy, but I still remember some sort of heavy weight on top of me, and saying “no” over and over again as I slipped in and out of consciousness. 

You know how these stories go, so I’ll spare you the graphic details. But  I missed class the next day so that I could sleep off whatever was in my drink that night. I was too sore to ride my bike to class anyway. 

Missing one class snowballed into missing most of my classes and, becoming a recluse, I relied on stockpiles of ramen  noodles and sliced bread to minimize the amount of times I’d have to leave my room.

Fortunately, I was blessed with a supportive, tight-knit group of friends who helped me through the rough parts. However, not everyone was so compassionate. Some of my former friends sided with my rapist, and I encountered people who were reluctant to believe me — but I didn’t expect to face these obstacles with university employees. 

When I met with a human rights officer at the University, I told them how afraid I was of him. I told them that after the assault, he followed me around campus, showed up at parties he knew I’d be at and told mutual friends how much I was ‘asking for it’. 

I asked the human rights officer what they could do about it. I remember the look the office lady gave me — she just pursed her lips, and told me they didn’t really have a set protocol for this type of case and then tried to direct me to counseling services.

But I didn’t want a counselor. I wanted justice.

When I pressed her further, she admitted that no Queen’s student has ever been expelled for sexual assault. They offered to push my exams back but I left feeling like I’d been offered a cheap bribe: deferred exams in exchange for my silence. 

Three months later I heard he’d done the same thing to someone else. 

Although over time I eventually moved on and became my regular cheerful self again, campus is no longer a place where I feel safe. I no longer have the luxury of being naïve to the dangers that exist here. 

Since my assault, Queen’s has publicly released a new campus-wide sexual assault policy to deal with cases like mine. But for me, it feels like more of a claim to how progressive they are in ‘taking action,’ while the fear of tarnishing their good name prevents the University from taking any real action to protect their students. 

Universities are allowing their campuses to become hunting grounds, and Brock Turner is just one of many rapists who took advantage of their system. The fact that he was punished at all was a miracle when the majority — close to 97 per cent according to several estimates — of sexual assault offenders never spend a day in jail.

Brock Turner’s case is something the Internet can collectively be angry at. You would be hard pressed to find someone who hasn’t shared a link to some Buzzfeed-like article about what Turner means for feminism or written a long status about how sad the ruling made them feel.

But, the mob justice of the Internet is notoriously fickle and although every one of your Facebook friends is an activist right now, in a month or two, people will find something else to be mad about.

The story of Brock Turner will eventually be forgotten. Many people who are outraged now will soon turn around and tell you how ‘progressive’ campus has become.

What people fail to realize is that Brock Turner is just a symptom of a much larger problem. According to one New York Times article, women on American university campuses have a one in four chance of being sexually assaulted before they graduate. 

But that survey doesn’t even come close to the actual number of victims in our society if you consider how often sexual assaults go unreported. 

Too many of my friends have some sort of ‘close call’ story, as I’m sure many of yours do as well. Some of them get away, but a lot don’t. Sometimes it feels like growing up female is a series of close calls, and not all of us get lucky.

While my experience in first year was negative, to say the least, I don’t hate Queen’s for it. Sexual assault is a touchy topic to handle, and it’s easy to make a mess of it.

Although I love this school very dearly and will be proud to continue studying here, at times they’ve made it hard for me to do so. Universities are failing sexual assault survivors, and another nail is hammered into the coffin whenever a student is told by their school not to bother seeking justice.

However, as students, we are also responsible for the safety of our environment. When we’re complacent in watching our university campuses become rampant with sexual assault, we’re part of the problem.

Many people who’ve expressed outraged over the Brock Turner case are also blind to the injustices in their own community. A lot of the ‘keyboard warriors’ who were quick to condemn 

Brock Turner, might not say anything if they saw a friend of theirs take home a girl who’s too drunk to stand.

One of the people who tried to discredit my claims in first year, telling me that my rapist was just drunk and an overall a good guy, expressed how “disgusting” Brock Turner’s parents were for defending him.

The rape culture on campuses will only change when students start caring and taking responsibility for the environment and culture we create on our own campuses. 

I understand I may face backlash for this article. I know a lot of people will disagree with my decision to publish it with my name, instead of anonymously. 

But I don’t feel ashamed of what happened to me.

The only people who should be ashamed of rape should be rapists. I will not be held guilty for a crime committed against me.

Is it so radical to want to live in a society where I don’t have to watch over every drink I have, assuming someone might have slipped something into it otherwise? Is wanting no other human to experience what I had to experience a fantasy for ‘feminazis’ or ‘social justice warriors’ only? 

When did we accept that rape is just an unavoidable part of the university experience?

So yes, the verdict of the Brock Turner trial was a gross miscarriage of justice, but a sentencing at all is a best-case scenario for a lot of victims. 

Brock Turner’s case is only a small glimpse of a much larger problem: a problem that we all need to take part in solving.

The price of a university education shouldn’t include a one in four chance of being sexually assaulted. 

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