The Battlefield of Sexual Assault on Campus

Alice still describes her attacker as “tall and good-looking.”

She had known him before it happened. They had talked for a while. She said he would always hint that he wanted to mess around with her, even though he knew she wasn’t looking for a hook-up. A lot of people who knew them both would tell Alice that he was known for being a “player.” They eventually drifted apart.

One night, he approached her at a local bar. She doesn’t remember most of the night, so she’s unsure when they got to his house.

She doesn’t know if she blacked out from drinking or if he drugged her when he gave her water at his place.

According to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center (NSVRC), about one in five women and one in 16 men have been sexually assaulted while attending college.

New York is one of three states to have statewide legislation passed in regards to affirmative consent, or “yes means yes.” Affirmative consent is defined on the State University of New York (SUNY) website as “a knowing, voluntary and mutual decision among all participants to engage in sexual activity.”

SUNY New Paltz has a rape prevention class, called R.A.D. (rape aggression defense), where female students learn how to defend themselves against anyone attempting to sexually assault them. Officer Lilah Carlow, who’s in charge of the program, says it isn’t mandatory. Campus police at New Paltz made the decision to offer the program.

Former U.S. Vice President Joe Biden endorsed an organization called “It’s On Us.” The organization is making steps to prevent sexual assault on college campuses and is “aimed at fundamentally shifting the way we think about sexual assault.”

All these programs, organizations and policies are important and groundbreaking. But that doesn’t mean sexual assault isn’t still prevalent on college campuses, especially SUNY New Paltz. Below is a graph showing the amount of reported sexual assaults that have occurred on campus at SUNY New Paltz.

Alice — a pseudonym, as she requested that her real name not be used — didn’t know how she got back into her residence hall until she saw surveillance footage, which showed her with her attacker walking through the front door. She said she looked completely sober and coherent.

“I watched myself get onto the elevator with him,” she said. “I don’t know why I took the elevator. I never take the elevator.”

When they got to her room, they got into her bed. She vaguely remembers tossing condoms at him, not really wanting to have sex.

“I really just wanted to go to bed,” she said.

The only thing that stands out in her memory was when she saw the time on her clock, 3:37 a.m. Her roommate got off of work at 4 a.m. and would be home soon. She put her head back on the pillow and within seconds blacked out.

“I’m pretty sure he f–ked a lifeless body that night,” Alice said. “I don’t think I was responsive. I don’t remember anything.”

She woke up to him on top of her, with one of her legs between both of his. He was getting ready to have sex again, regardless of whether or not she was awake. She saw her roommate was home and asleep in her bed. She was embarrassed to even have someone over without telling her.

The residence hall that Alice lives in has locked, single stall bathrooms. The next thing she remembers is that he assaulted her on the sink of one of the bathrooms. She didn’t know what to do, so she sat there, limply and let him do what he wanted.

Alice considers herself a clean person and seeing the messy state her room and bed were in just made her even angrier. “I remember being furious because his dirty feet brought rocks and dirt into my bed,” she said.

She couldn’t find her phone or her school ID. Her attacker suggested they might have been at his house. They didn’t leave her dorm room until 10 a.m. because every time she tried to get him out of bed, he kept saying he wanted 15 more minutes of sleep.

She found her phone and ID at at his place, along with the jewelry that she had been wearing the night before. Alice loves to wear jewelry — earrings, bracelets, rings — and almost never takes it off, even when she’s having sex. Since that night, she hasn’t worn much jewelry. During the interview, she only wore a necklace with the Virgin Mary on it.

They had sex again when they got back to his house. Alice said it was consensual.

“I was so emotionally unattached,” Alice said. “He was so into the sex and I was kind of laying there like, ‘Just f-ck me and let me leave.’”

When she left his house, she pulled her hat down over her face as she walked back to her dorm. She didn’t want anyone to think she was one of the many girls he’d hooked up with. One of Alice’s coworkers was actually one of those girls he had sexual relations with and supported Alice when she reported the rape. The coworker even said that she probably wasn’t the first girl he’d attacked.

There are signs that the majority of sexual assailants on campus are repeat offenders. According to the NSVRC, 63.3 percent of men at one university who self-reported acts qualifying as rape or attempted rape admitted to committing repeat rapes.

Alice described her emotional state like waves. Sometimes the wave is up and she’s feeling really good and sometimes it’s down and she feels like she’s hit rock bottom. She’s picked up some self-destructive tendencies, like smoking. She used to smoke but quit for a while. She recently bought a pack of cigarettes because she was craving them and finished quickly.

“I never imagined I would get PTSD,” Alice said.

Everyone around her tells her how resilient and strong she is, but she disagrees.

“My stomach is constantly in knots, my heart is constantly racing,” she said. “I can’t calm myself down. I just have to let myself hate myself until, hopefully, it subsides, because right now I don’t even want to help myself.”

Breanne didn’t realize she had been raped until a year later.

When she was in her freshman year, Breanne drank until she blacked out. She didn’t remember anything.

Elaine Pasqua, who lectures at colleges across the country about sexual assault and rape, starts her lecture out with “Alcohol 101.” She explains a man can physically handle more alcohol than a woman. One drink equals about 12 ounces of beer or 1.5 ounces of hard liquor. Depending on a person’s weight, it can take anywhere from three to five drinks for a woman to be considered legally drunk. Red Solo cups hold about 16 to 18 ounces.

According to the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, approximately one-half of all sexual assault victims report that they were drinking alcohol at the time of the assault.

She had assumed that she and her attacker had only kissed that night, in her friend’s dorm room. A year later, she asked him what had happened that night. He told her they had oral sex. She told some of her friends about it. They told her that because she was drunk and unable to consent, it was sexual assault. She said she knew they were going to say it, but it helped validate her thought process.

Breanne doesn’t enjoy drinking or going out as much as she used to. She has a lot of supportive people in her life, but a lot of them don’t really understand what she went through.

She met some people in a student-run support group for survivors. She says she wouldn’t be the same person if she hadn’t met them, as they helped her grow as a survivor. But her assault changed her and she can never go back to the way she used to be.

“Just to have that happen to me,” Breanne said. “It stripped everything from me.”

Both Alice and Breanne filed reports with the school and pressed charges against their attackers.

Students have several options for reporting a sexual assault, says Emma Morcone, the deputy Title IX coordinator at SUNY New Paltz.

They can report without having to go to the campus police. They can choose whether to go through the campus judicial process. Even if they don’t press charges, they can get a no contact order. The order forbids the two students involved from contacting each other in any way, including face to face, texting, calling, over social media or even having someone else rely a message to the other person. Students can also fill out paperwork to move if their attacker lives in the same residence hall. They can request to switch out of a class they share.

Morcone says that a student can report cases of sexual violence at any time. They can report cases that didn’t happen on campus, that didn’t involve another student, or that happened 10 years ago. As long as they are a student at SUNY New Paltz, they can report any instances of sexual violence they have experienced in their lifetime.

The survivor can press charges with town or state police with the assault didn’t occur on campus.

Alice went to report the attack about five days after it happened. She knew she wanted to take him to court and have him expelled from SUNY New Paltz so he could never do this to another girl.

She filed a no contact order, so she wouldn’t have to see or hear from her attacker. Because of this, Alice was unable to provide the name of her attacker, as it would put her case in jeopardy.

Breanne also chose to move forward with the campus judicial process. She describes it as “probably one of the most draining processes a person can go through.”

Neither woman took the step of providing medical evidence Medical evidence is collected with a Sexual Assault Evidence Kit (SAEK), or rape kits. They are typically carried out by Sexual Assault Nurse Examiners (SANEs).

Alice said that no one mentioned the words “rape kit” to her, but she did go to the school’s health center to get tested for STIs. She felt that because her attacker wore a condom, there wouldn’t have been a reason to get examined.

If a survivor chooses to go through the exam, they should avoid showering, using the restroom, changing clothes or brushing their hair and teeth to help preserve the evidence. Cynthia Craft, the Crime Victim Counselor for Ulster County, says the ideal situation for preserving the evidence is to walk into the hospital in the exact state that the survivor was in during the assault. “It almost never happens,” she said.

Even if the survivor does happen to clean themselves and their clothing, the exam can still be done, but there is less evidence to collect.

The window in which the exam can be performed is flexible, but it is usually done within 96 hours after the assault occurred.

The survivor can chose to have the exam done and not have to hand the evidence over to the police. They have 30 days to decide whether they want to press charges while the SANE unit holds the evidence.

“We always encourage people to at least do the SANE piece because you can’t get the evidence back once it’s gone,” Craft said.

If a survivor chooses to go through with pressing charges after the exam, the evidence will begin to be processed through the New York State lab.

A flier in the office of SUNY New Paltz’s student radio station.

According to a 2014 report from the U.S. Department of Justice, only 20 percent of female college students from the ages of 18 to 24 reported their sexual assault to the police.

Alice mentioned that Craft had told her she was one of the only survivors that both reported and pressed charges this semester.

Breanne pressed charges in hopes that her alleged attacker would be expelled from SUNY New Paltz. She said she couldn’t go into too much detail about the hearing. There was a panel of three people, two men and one woman. They kept her in a separate room from her attacker, and she Skyped in. Breanne was confused about this separation, as she had not requested it.

In the end, Breanne lost the case. Her alleged attacker still attends school at New Paltz.

“I’ve gotten from friends, ‘you’ll get over it’ and ‘you’ll move on from it’ but you don’t know that and you don’t understand,” Breanne said. “I will not, ever, get over this.”

Alice knew that once she went to the police, her attacker was going to lie about what happened. He told the police everything was consensual. He even said she was the initiating sex in certain parts of her assault.

Despite not remembering much of the night, Alice gave the university police department a statement that went on for about 11 pages. She received a copy of the attacker’s statement. It was only about one page long and he provided few details. At one point, he described a “vibe” he was getting from her.

She disputed his version of the details. His statement said that when they went to his house to get Alice’s things, they watched a movie together. Alice called this a lie. She clearly remembered that they listened to music and talked about a specific Kanye West lyric.

As Alice’s hearing date approached, she felt stressed and anxious because she didn’t know what to expect from the outcome.

Alice was given several choices for her hearing: She could Skype in from a separate room. She could be in the room with her attacker, with the option of having a screen between them so they wouldn’t have to look at each other. She chose to be in the room, with the screen.

Ever since her hearing, Alice has been feeling like she’s on top of the world.

Before, whenever she went out, she would do a lap around the bar, making sure he wasn’t there or if he was, keeping an eye on where he was and making sure he didn’t break the no contact order. Now, Alice believes he’ll be in her shoes, trying to avoid her at all costs. She said she’s forever impacted his life by bringing him to a hearing.

Alice suspects the elation she felt after the hearing will fade. “There’s going to be good days and there’s going be bad days. I’m not completely free of it yet,” she said.

In the end, the board decided there wasn’t enough evidence to prove he was acting in a predatory manner. He will continue to attend school at SUNY New Paltz. But Alice isn’t letting that bring her down. “The hearing was my was my opportunity to tell him no and that’s what I wanted all along,” she said.

“Today I saw him in the library and you know what? He was just another person.” Alice said. “I felt absolutely nothing. That’s how I know I won.”

Edited and packaged by Rob Piersall and Megan Mirabito.

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