This week, The Tide will publish a series of three reflections from Wheaton students on their experience with sexual assault. The series seeks to give voice to the stories of survivors in the midst of a larger campus conversation on this issue. It is our hope that these reflections will draw attention to how deeply personal and real sexual assault is to survivors on campus. If you would like to add your story to this collection click here.
I was sexually assaulted my freshman year by a fellow Wheaton student I was dating. I’ve spent a huge portion of my time since then thinking about it and my experience at Wheaton has been inexplicably different because of it. I’ll never know what it would have been like to go through college without this huge weight on my shoulders. This article will be the first time I’ve ever openly talked about it with anyone but the administration and my friends. About a year ago, fall semester of my junior year, I finally felt like I was ready to talk and do something about it. So I decided to report it to the college. It wasn’t so much that I wanted some kind of justification or punishment for the person who assaulted me, it was that I felt like I had a responsibility to myself and to other students on this campus that could be going through the same thing. I didn’t want to continue a cycle of fear of speaking up about sexual assault. A passion for women and survivors of sexual violence had been cultivating in me for a long time. If I cared so deeply about these issues, how could I just stay silent about my own story anymore? I was ready to own my voice and have autonomy over my own story.
I can’t explain how awful the process of the investigation was. Not because of any fault of the administration, but it was just so emotionally taxing. I had to recount every minute detail of the most awful experience of my life and say it out loud to strangers. Even though I know all the questioning was a search for the truth, it honestly just felt like no one believed me and I was just trying to prove myself over and over. I felt like everyone was trying to find some hole in what is truth. There were people I didn’t even know picking apart the darkest event of my life, dissecting the most awful occurrence I’ve ever been through. At times I would just cry because I felt like I was going insane. To finally feel strong enough to speak out, but then be bombarded with a constant anxiety that no one will believe you was almost too much to handle. But, during this time I felt an incredible amount of support from my friends and I finally told my parents. It really showed me who my true friends are but also destroyed much of the community at Wheaton I had built freshman and sophomore year. It caused a division between myself and those that chose to stay friends with the person who sexually assaulted me. When a Wheaton student does something so awful, it’s unfathomable to some and it’s easier to just refuse the truth. I had to realize that not everyone was going to believe me, and that stung. I forgive them for choosing to believe the easy lie over the hard truth and I can see why it’s appealing, but they will never understand the deep feeling of abandonment and betrayal that gave me.
The investigation ended (in my favor) after about three months of meetings and waiting, then a subsequent appeal filed by him that was also denied. I felt a strange mixture of peace and unsettlement after. I felt like I did the right thing but old anxieties were replaced with new fears. At my final meeting of the investigation, I was suggested to not talk about my experience very openly. I understand the college is very caring and concerned with my safety and the safety of other students, but I also know that Wheaton is not in a place to talk about this right now.
I’m thankful for the steps they’ve taken to educate the student body about how rampant sexual violence is on college campuses. The “What is Yes?” talk last year was a great start. But a talk from professors and some online quizzes on sexual assault doesn’t feel as real as it really is on our campus. It’s easy to spout off statistics about sexual assault on our campus, but what are the stories that go along with the numbers? There has been no platform for the actual students affected to speak if they feel called to. I understand the complexities of safety and some students not being ready to speak out, but I know there are those of us who are ready to tell our stories and ready to help the people who are still afraid. I’m afraid that these ugly, uncomfortable, painful stories are unwelcome among the generally glossy and polished Wheaton façade. I think that, like the friends I lost, it’s easier for our peers to accept the easy lie over the hard truth. It’s hard to think that this happens on our campus, in our dorms, by other Wheaton students. But it’s the truth. Since there are no students telling their real stories I’m afraid that this progresses a culture of fear that keeps other students from reporting their perpetrators and telling anyone their story. It’s an incredibly daunting task to face when you feel like no one around you is going through the same things. These fears lead to shame; shame that it was your fault, shame over feeling like you could have done more to stop it, and a shame that the awful sin that was committed against you can’t be spoken about here. And out of this shame you come to believe that the Wheaton community can’t help you heal. The pain of sexual assault is so much to bear and I fear that Wheaton can be unintentionally alienating to those who have experienced it. I think that we can do so much more by letting students speak about their pain openly. We are afraid to hear these hard stories and we are afraid to tell them. But in the midst of these anxieties is where the beauty of healing and grace has room to grow.
If something similar has happened to and you’re thinking of reporting it, I don’t want this to scare you off. This is just my honest reflection of how hard of a process it was for me but I’m glad I did it. The administration was supportive throughout the process and always asked if I needed anything. If you’re thinking about reporting something that has happened to you but are feeling anxious or afraid of the process, just know that there will be people on your side and you’ll feel more love and support from your friends and family than you thought possible. If you’re afraid to talk to your friends but still want to talk you can even contact me. If you’re feeling confused, scared, or even angry and not ready to talk to your friends, I can be angry with you and I can mourn with you. Just know that you won’t be alone.