**Disclaimer: This is about sexual assault and may be triggering for some readers. This is my personal experience; all events are true and expressed to the best of my knowledge and personal opinion. All names have been omitted for the safety and privacy of those involved**
I’ve been putting off writing this post for a while because I didn’t want to say anything before my assault case was closed. But now that it’s officially over, I can talk about it. I’ve been speaking at support groups and other conventions on campus, but I haven’t really said anything to you guys (and you’re my support group, so I owe it to you guys to share my story.) Also, this was really, really hard for me to write because I had to force myself to remember that day that changed my life.
April 8 began like any other Monday morning. I woke up and ate breakfast while watching a few YouTube videos before my class at noon. Usually I went home between classes, but today I figured I would stay on campus, so I packed a lunch. After my first class got out at noon, I had an hour gap before my literature class began at 2 p.m. There was a nice sitting area in the hallway outside my literature class, so I decided to eat lunch there while I waited for 2 p.m. to roll around.
While I ate my sandwich, I scrolled through Twitter and started my homework. The hallways in this building were unusually quiet compared to others on campus, but I didn’t think anything of it. It was the honors college, so I figured it was just less populated than other areas of the school.
At 1:20 p.m. the doors to the lecture hall opened and students filled the hall, but the building emptied just as soon as they appeared. Then I was alone again.
A few minutes later, the doors at the end of the hall opened and out of the corner of my eye I saw someone walking toward me, but I figured it was a professor heading back to his office or a student who forgot his water bottle in the lecture hall. The person stopped a few feet away from me and sat on the table adjacent to the chair I was sitting in.
I looked up and he was staring at me. I figured it was just odd timing, so I smiled and said hello. That’s when things took a turn.
“Are you in my English class?” he asked. “I saw something I liked the other day, could you stand up for a second?”
Immediately I felt uncomfortable. I didn’t know what he saw or what was going through his mind. I completely blanked and I didn’t know what to say so I stopped. I turned back to my cell phone and pretended to text a friend, hoping that he would leave me alone.
I could feel him staring at me, but there was nothing I could do. I was frozen. I knew I should have left, but in that moment I couldn’t think clearly. I kept thinking he would walk away, I kept hoping he would get a hint and leave me alone.
When he got up off the table and started to walk toward the doorway, a weight lifted and I started to breathe again. He stared out the window and then turned around and approached me. I tried to remain calm because I didn’t know what he was doing. I remember trying to convince myself to give him the benefit of the doubt. Maybe he’s just friendly? Maybe he really liked my shoes? My jeans? Maybe he’s from another country and doesn’t understand our culture? I tried so hard but I was proven wrong.
“Get up. Just stand up,” he said as he reached for my arms.
When I refused, he grabbed me and pulled me up and dragged me to a corner of the hall. Once he got me where he wanted me, he proceeded to look around the hall to make sure no one was nearby.
This is where things get a little jumbled and my memory gets a little foggy. All I remember is repeating “no” as many times as I could. But no matter how much I tried, my voice wouldn’t get any louder, so I proceeded to push him away.
The more I forced him away, the stronger he came back.
“Let me do this. What’s the problem with it?” he kept saying the same things as he touched me and immediately I felt dirty. I felt so disgusting. I felt like an entirely different person and I began to blame myself. What possessed him to want to hurt someone this way? I didn’t understand and I didn’t know how to get him to realize this wasn’t okay, that what he was doing was wrong.
I didn’t think it would stop, I didn’t think I would be able to escape.
Then a door opened in the hallway and the sound of an innocent conversation filled the halls.
He stopped. A look of terror washed over his face and then he looked at me and said, “I have to go meet my friends now, see you in class.”
I stayed frozen in that spot for minutes after he left. It was almost like I forgot how to use my legs. I couldn’t breathe, my chest was tight and there was a lump in my throat that no amount of tears could get rid of.
I was so confused. Did that really just happen? It was all a blur.
At first, I didn’t know if I should say anything. I thought to myself, “He wouldn’t try to do that again. Would he?”
I grabbed my cell phone and texted my roommates. “I think I was just sexually assaulted.”
They all told me to go to the police. So I did.
I had never been in the police station before, so I felt extremely out of place. I didn’t even feel like myself.
I approached the woman behind the counter and blurted out: “I’d like to report a sexual assault.”
“Okay, who’s the victim? Is the victim with you?” she asked.
“I am. It just happened to me,” I told her. I said it with zero emotion, as though it hadn’t just happened to me, as though I weren’t still shaking. I wanted to cry.
She told me to take a seat and as I sat there I thought it was a bad idea to report what had just happened to me. I remember thinking of similar assault cases I had read about and there was always some crazy percentage of the cases that were never resolved, forgotten and swept under the rug because it was always easier for the university to preserve its image than ensure the safety and comfort of its students. I had heard of so many of these stories and I was certain my story would end the same way. I was wasting my time. What was I still doing there in the waiting room?
Just as I was about to walk out and forget about what had just happened, a police officer walked into the waiting room. “Jasmine? Come on back. How are you doing?”
I’m not sure what it was, the sound of his voice, his sincere smile, the compassion that seemed to emanate from that simple gesture that made my heart rate slow and I felt a little more comfortable.
I was taken to a conference room where I talked with this officer about what had just happened. I thought I was dreaming. Nothing seemed real. I’m a college student; I’m not supposed to be reporting a sexual assault case, right?
After my conversation with the officer, the dean of students met me in the hallway and offered to take me to the university counseling center. “I know a really good therapist who specializes in these types of cases. She will be able to help you. You’ll be in good hands,” she told me with the warmest smile.
I never thought I would ever meet the dean of students. I always thought that students who caused trouble or students who were failing were the only ones who ever had to meet with the dean. I had also never been to the counseling center on campus.
As the dean took me over to the counseling center, all that was going through my mind was “what am I getting myself into?” I was scared and I felt guilty. I felt like I was going to get into trouble, that he would get mad at me and if I continued to seek help and talk to people on campus, that I would be worse off.
I met with a therapist and that’s where she scheduled me for 10 sessions of therapy to ensure that I was going to be okay. I figured they all thought I was crazy or something because I certainly didn’t think all of this was necessary.
After that appointment, the police officer met me outside and drove me home. He gave me the phone numbers of all the police on duty, a hotline to call if I felt unsafe and he even gave me his personal cell phone number just in case I needed a ride anywhere. For the first time that day, I felt like I mattered and I felt like I had done the right thing. Getting the support of the university was the biggest step I had to make, I thought.
A restraining order was issued against him and he was kicked out of my literature class. I thought it was over. I figured he would never bother me again and now I could move on.
Later that night, I sat on my bed and contemplated calling my parents. I was so scared that they would think I was too immature to be living on my own, that I wasn’t “adult enough” to be in college. I didn’t want them to worry about me, and telling them that their daughter had been sexually assaulted was definitely the way to do that.
When I finally decided to call my parents and tell them what happened, all I could do was cry. As soon as my mom answered the phone, my voice cracked and I tried to fight through tears as I told her what happened to me that day.
“You have to press charges. Go back to the police and tell them you want to take this to court,” my mom told me. I didn’t even think about pressing charges. I figured that was only something people did against murderers or rapists.
From 3,000 miles away, my mom tried her best to console me. I couldn’t control my crying yet she remained so strong, and I’m still not sure how she’s able to keep her composure all the time, but I admire it. I admire it because she’s always there when I need her. And I definitely needed her that day.
After I got off the phone with her, I called the officer who had just driven me home. “I want to press charges,” I said.
During the next few months I continued therapy, I met with the dean regularly to check and see how my case was being processed and my schoolwork started to slip. I had terrible night terrors where I could feel his hands on me, I saw his eyes in the darkness of my bedroom and I could hear his voice. I thought I was losing my mind. I had the support of my family, friends and therapist, but nothing helped once I was alone with my thoughts. Therapy helped a little, but I think what helped me the most was time. It took time to get through the night terrors and the flashbacks that continued after April 8.
My case didn’t go to court until the end of September when the attorney decided she wanted to charge him with two counts of sexual assault in the third degree and one count of harassment. When she called me and told me, it went in one ear and out the other. I had no idea what any of that meant, but all I knew was that the case was moving forward, so I was happy.
In the beginning of this year, I received a subpoena in the mail stating that I was ordered to testify in front of the grand jury before my case could be settled. I held that letter in my hand and I started to cry. I was shaking. I didn’t know what this meant. I felt so confused and lost. I thought this was all behind me. I had never before stepped foot into a courthouse and now I had to do this all alone. The only thing I wanted was to be with my family, and here I was stuck in Oregon in the midst of a legal case.
All that went through my mind was “I’m 21-years-old, I’m here for college, this shouldn’t be happening to me, why me?”
On Feb 11, I sat in the car outside the courthouse and I couldn’t move. I didn’t want to go relive my assault again as I told a room full of strangers what had happened to me. I didn’t want to go prove myself. But this was the only way he would get what he deserved. So I shook off my fears and walked into the courthouse.
I remember sitting in front of the grand jury, the judge and the attorney. I felt so incredibly small. I felt like I was being judged, they probably thought I asked to be assaulted, why couldn’t I stop sweating? A million things went through my head, and I don’t even remember what questions they asked me and I don’t remember if I even answered their questions. All I know is that I went and did what I was supposed to do.
A month later, I got a call from the attorney telling me that he was charged to the fullest extent of the law. Two counts of third-degree sexual assault and one degree of harassment.
“It’s over, Jasmine. You did it,” she told me.
I did. I doubted myself through the entire process. I didn’t want to go through with it, I didn’t think I could go through with it, I never thought it was worth it. It was a year full of anxiety, stress and unbearable pain. I was faced with obstacles I never thought I would ever be faced with, especially in college. Being sexually assaulted is not something people think of when they think of college, yet one in four women who attend college will be sexually assaulted on or near their campus. I was one of them. And although I wish it had not happened to me, I’ve taken this experience and used it as a learning tool, it helped me grow as a person, made me stronger and I’ve also been able to help others who are going through a similar situation.
I often wonder how the tail end of my college career would have turned out differently had I not been in that building on April 8, but I wouldn’t be the same person I am today. And come to think of it, I’ve really come to love the person I’ve become over the past year.