When I was a senior in high school, I never considered a university’s response to sexual assault among my college search criteria. The thought of becoming the victim of sexual violence seemed so unlikely to me that it wasn’t even a concern. The notion that my university would disregard said violence if I ever did experience it seemed even less plausible.
That illusion came crashing down when I was assaulted by a fellow student at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Less than a month into my freshman year of college, I found myself grappling with the severity of what I had experienced while feeling like I didn’t have anyone in the entire state I could confide in.
So, I turned to my university for help. I couldn’t possibly have predicted how damaging that decision would be.
What followed was months of meeting with my Title IX investigator, describing to her every detail of the incident: what I was wearing, what time we met, how many times I had been kissed or touched inappropriately, what position I was in at what point, what the layout of the room was like and other painfully specific particulars.
I complied with every request asked of me, offered witnesses who knew where I was that night and provided my investigator a copy of a statement I’d submitted to the UNL Police Department just a week after the assault had taken place so I could assist in the investigation.
My assailant told investigators I had made the whole thing up.
They believed him over me.
When discussing sexual assault, one might assume the most difficult part is the assault itself. It seems like a no-brainer that, after surviving an assault, what comes next must be significantly easier. I believed in that sentiment. That night, I just thought, “If I can last through tonight, I’ll be okay. If I can make it through this, everything will be okay.”
What I didn’t understand was that the pain, confusion and loss that comes with something as traumatic as sexual violence is magnified when the institutions people trust to deliver justice betray them. Having someone take advantage of my trust by locking the door and turning out the lights was the worst thing that ever happened to me. Having multiple university officials take advantage of my trust by telling me I had made it all up was even worse.
My experience isn’t isolated. Too often, institutions minimize victims’ and survivors’ pain, marginalize their voices and use bureaucratic measures to deny them the justice they deserve.
The University of Nebraska-Lincoln denied me justice. It has denied justice to countless others.
The man who assaulted me will graduate this year. He will go on to grad school or to the workforce having gotten away with what he did. I often wonder how many people he has hurt and if they, unlike me, didn’t come forward because they knew their accounts would amount to nothing. I wonder who he will hurt in the future, knowing he will never have to face punishment for it.
Institutions need to be held accountable. My assaulter will never have to answer for what he did to me, and I will never receive closure for how I was treated by him and by my university when I needed its help most. My greatest hope is that others will not have to go through what I went through. We cannot allow this to continue.
Hold your university accountable.