Anatomy of a Rape Case at the University of Virginia
Nov. 8, 2012 by Anonymous Wahoo
“This was a very difficult case. Ms. X provides a very compelling and believable account of the events and has clearly been affected by this incident. Mr. Y, your behavior was crass and disrespectful but this panel could not come to a unanimous conclusion that the policy had been violated in this instance. That said, this panel urges you, Mr. Y, to evaluate your actions and your treatment of women in the future. We would strongly suggest that you consider counseling around the issue of consent and respecting the wishes of your sexual partners. The panel wishes Ms. X well as she continues to work through the trauma that this incident has clearly caused.
These are the words that Dean E. read out loud at the conclusion of a grueling ten-hour hearing in which I had to single-handedly defend my case against the person who had drugged and raped me last December.
He offered me a beer during a club meeting on Grounds. The next thing I knew, I woke up on a bed in a sun-lit room, naked, in pain, next to him. I rushed out of the apartment as quickly as I could, even though I had no idea where I was. I spent the day confused, sinking deeper and deeper into depression, mercilessly blaming myself for putting myself in such a vulnerable position. I got home, ripped my clothes off and took an hour long shower, scrubbing my body down to the bone, cleaning any remaining semen I had on me. However, no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t feel clean. I could only look at myself in the mirror in disgust, seeing him on top of me. I tried getting through the remainder of the day as though nothing had happened. It wasn’t so simple. Something in me had changed, and I didn’t know how to deal with it. Suicidal thoughts constantly crossed my mind. In one day, I had morphed from a cheery and carefree girl into an empty shell whose life had become a nightmare. By the end of the day, I was unable to keep the pain to myself and broke down in tears as I recounted the few memories I had of the night to two of my closest friends. I remember crumbling onto the floor as I realized that I had been raped.
One of my professors contacted the Dean of Students office. I went there with my parents and was encouraged not to officially report the rape, but rather to go through mediation with the rapist. I refused. The sole idea of his sight and of his voice sickened me. Dean E. further added that no one had been expelled for rape in over ten years. How could this be possible, when the statistics are that 1 in 4 women are sexually assaulted in college?
I went to the Martha Jefferson Hospital for pregnancy and STD tests. The examination triggered hidden yet vivid memories. It felt like I was going through the whole experience once again, processing the images my brain had suppressed. I began to piece the events of the night together.
A week after the rape, I gathered enough courage to file a complaint with the police. They took me to the UVA Hospital for a forensic examination. My complaint was dropped within a week, before the prosecution even looked at my forensic examination report. It took them two months to tell me that I did not have sufficient evidence. Apparently in Charlottesville, a woman has to be unconscious and carried back to a man’s place for non-consensual sex to be proved.
“It was just bad sex”, the prosecutor said. I was devastated.
Dean E. had been in contact with me as the new semester began, encouraging me to file a complaint with the school and insisting that the standard of proof, based on “preponderance of evidence”, was much lower than before thanks to the new sexual misconduct rules signed by President Sullivan in July 2011. Although I desperately wanted to move on and to forget all about my traumatic experience, I knew I had to file a complaint in the hope of removing a rapist from our beloved community. Weeks of investigation conducted by the Office of the Vice-President of Student affairs along with interviews with witnesses followed. I later found out that the entire investigation was skewed as the rapist’s defense attorney was monitoring it all along, behind my back. Dean C., my advisor, constantly repeated “We cannot punish someone for being a jerk”. The investigators tried to make me feel sorry for him by insisting how “sad” he had looked when they interviewed him, and how he “couldn’t sleep” at night because he was so disturbed by my accusations. This infuriated me. It didn’t matter to them that every day of my life had become a constant struggle. After my rape, it took me two weeks to be able to eat again, and another month to fall asleep at night. I couldn’t go to the bathroom for the entire day following the assault because it hurt so much. Regular panic attacks plagued me for months and still do from time to time. I forgot how to interact with my friends because nothing seemed important to me anymore. I couldn’t concentrate in class, and my grades began to suffer. Even now, nearly a year after the traumatic events, I still have violent nightmares. I have stayed at UVA because of my friends and professors who have shown me kindness and support. They are the UVA that I love, that has kept me in school.
Finally, four months after the worst day of my life, I was granted a hearing. However, before the hearing, a pre-hearing was to take place. No one had prepared me for it. The day before, my advisor, Dean C., told me that both the rapist and I had to present our evidence and that Dean E. would ultimately decide which evidence would be presented to the panel at the hearing. Dean E., the rapist and I sat together in a small conference room in Peabody Hall. It was the first time I had seen him since the rape. Suddenly, I forgot how to breathe and how to speak and I could barely restrain myself from running out of the room. What had happened before happened once again: he was the dominant figure and I could barely defend myself. Before I knew it, most of my evidence, like he had been accused of drugging others, was deemed “prejudicial” against him and was ruled out as evidence for the hearing. I tried maintaining my composure until I left Peabody Hall, but inside, I felt defeated, helpless and defenseless.
The hearing was held in the same room as the pre-hearing, where I sat diagonally across the rapist, just a few feet away from him. I could feel his glare on me every time I spoke, and I could see him smirk the few times I dared glance his way. I was sworn in on my honor at the beginning of the hearing while the rapist wasn’t. I spent ten hours answering the most invasive and humiliating questions from a panel who questioned every one of my statements. Had I ever had “visions” before? Was I on medication? Was I romantically interested in him? Did I say “no” forcefully enough for him to understand? Did it hurt because it was my first sexual experience? On the other hand, the rapist’s testimony was barely questioned. No one was interested in the fact that he contradicted himself and lied multiple times during the hearing. He was shamelessly callous, arrogant, disrespectful and remorseless, as if he already knew the outcome. None of my witnesses’ statements seemed to bear any weight against his word. Moreover, I had no form of support in the hearing despite the fact I had been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), of which Dean E. was very well aware.
When Dean E. read out the verdict, I ran out of the room, sobbing uncontrollably like never before, and hid under a desk, wishing I could just die there. My own school, that I loved so much, failed to protect me. I had never felt so betrayed and let down in my life. The deans said that the hearing was supposed to be “therapeutic” as I faced the rapist. They said that they believed me. They said that UVA was my home and that it loved me. Yet, how could they believe me and let him go completely unpunished? How could they uphold an Honor Code and expel students for cheating, lying and stealing while letting rapists stay in the University? How could UVA ever be my home after what it had done to me? I didn’t want anything to do with it anymore. The only reason I pulled myself together and pushed through the semester was out of the little dignity and pride I had left within me and of the incredible support I got from my family, friends and the academic faculty.
My parents appealed the outcome of the hearing but, despite documentary evidence that the forensic nurse had changed her findings from her initial report that I had physical damage to nothing had happened to me in her lay report to the Panel, the decision was upheld. I later found out that this same nurse is the Chair of the Sexual Misconduct Advisory Committee and she is also the wife of the Deputy Commonwealth Attorney. Furthermore a second medical examination confirmed the damage was more than the nurse’s initial report. How can I have faith in an institution that engages in such deceitful conduct?
Today, as I write this, the rapist is still a student here and has ironically been rewarded with a teaching assistant’s position while I have struggled to stay in school and hold my life together.
The only reason I am sharing this is because I read Angie Epifano’s account of the way Amherst College treated her rape. She, like me, was raped and Amherst did nothing, even going so far as to try and suppress her from complaining. Angie’s courage has inspired me to share my story. A few days ago, all UVA students received an email from the Office of Civil Rights in D.C., asking us to share our experience with sexual assault and harassment at UVA by November 9, 2012, at this email address: OCRDCTitleIX@ed.gov. I contacted the OCR. Even though it might seem scary to share such painful memories, we need to speak up and defend ourselves. Unless we do so, rapists will walk freely and repeat their disgusting actions on other innocent girls, because universities do not have sexual assault victims’ best interest at heart, as I learned the hard way.