It takes two years before Mary* recognizes anything was wrong. Her physical appearance, her mood, her motivation were all gone, but she never realized what had happened to her. A sexual assault. A boy who thought it was okay to physically beat her while penetrating her was walking around campus like nothing had happened, while her life changed.
“I met him through a friend and he approached me at the pub, sat down with me and had a conversation,” she says as the memory rushes beyond her eyes, like she was watching the moment all over again. “We weren’t at a party, we weren’t drunk. It was a very different experience, and it made him appealing to me.”
As Mary continues to speak of him, her expression falls, her body shrivels up within herself, and her tone becomes quiet. With students swarming around us, she checks her surroundings before she speaks again. “The first time we had sex, it was consensual. I was excited about it, but then he got aggressive,” she explains in an uneasy voice. “He was behind me and I lost my gripping and slammed my head into a metal bar. After I hit my head, I asked him to stop, but he just got more aggressive. He pulled my hair so hard I thought he ripped it out. I had bruises and scratches all over my body. I left feeling very weak, but he was drunk, so I figured he just got a bit out of control.”
He was drunk. It is apparent that she feels guilty when she says this, like it is her fault. It was her fault that she was abused. It was her fault that she didn’t recognize what was happening. Self guilt and self blame is so common within sexual assault cases. We live in a society where girls are told not to dress too revealing or not to walk home alone in the dark, but men are not told not to rape or beat a woman.
Karen* was a sophomore when she was raped. She was at her sorority’s formal and was taken into an alleyway, stripped, and sexually assaulted in the street. She gathered herself, ran back into the Tick Tock, grabbed a few of her sisters, and went straight home. “My entire body was sore; I was covered in bruises. It hurt to sit, it hurt to lie down, and I felt like I had been hit by a Mack truck,” Karen explains. “I didn’t know what to do or who to call.” She woke up and made an appointment at the health center to get STD screened and was given Plan B.
Karen held guilt similar to Mary’s. It was apparent that she still felt some sort of shame. Her face fell and her eyes filled with tears. Both women were sexually assaulted here on campus, but how does St. Lawrence handle these cases? It is publicly known that St. Lawrence offers resources like the Advocates and Renewal House for women who have been assaulted, but what is the overall process if a victim wants to report the assault?
Mary did not file a formal report because she did not understand what was happening to her. She did not recognize that she was being assaulted because her assailant was always drunk, so she figured his judgment was always clouded by alcohol. “ I always figured, ‘Oh, he was just drunk, it is no big deal.’ I also was relatively inexperienced, so I just assumed that being aggressive during sex was normal. I had no idea there was an issue,” Mary admits hesitantly.
Mary only began questioning what happened to her when she found out a different woman on campus was filing a sexual assault charge against this same man. “That really got me thinking about what type of guy this was, and the experience I had with him, and it made me realize that he did in fact rape me,” she explains. Her voice shaking and eyes glossed over, she admits feeling guilty because she did not recognize the assault sooner and was ashamed that another woman had to be raped in order for him to get caught.
Mary was under the impression that her assailant was kicked off campus after the charges were brought forward, but soon learned that he was able to withdraw his enrollment from the University. “I figured he was banned from campus, but then I saw him on campus last semester and panicked. I found out that he withdrew his enrollment at SLU, which apparently is an option,” she says, sitting forward in her chair, hands crossed on the table, looking just over my head to avoid any type of eye contact.
Karen, on the other hand, reported the assault as soon as she could. “At first I was reluctant to report what had happened to me. I was drunk. I had been dancing with him: I had kissed him. I went outside by myself. Who would believe me?” Her eyes lowered, as if she, too, is ashamed. “On top of all that, I didn’t know the person who attacked me. I didn’t know if he was from SLU or SUNY Canton, or just some random person. With some convincing, I decided it might help me to move forward if I reported what happened to the school,” she says. After the Associate Dean of Student Life Rance Davis and three Student Life board members reviewed her case, they found the boy guilty and immediately expelled him and banned him from stepping on campus again.
But why were these situations handled differently? In most cases, the administration tries to give the victim as much say in the outcome of the report as the board can. The university does anything to make sure every student feels safe. In the case of Mary, her assailant was able to withdraw his enrollment by choice. St. Lawrence does not advocate that as a way out of the situation. Yet, this student did his research and knew he had the right to withdraw his enrollment before going through a formal case. “He has the right to do that. Any student has the right to do that in a disciplinary hearing. Remember we’re not the law,” Davis explains. “We are a university with rules, regulations and policies that set the parameters in which we work, but when that student leaves and tries to go somewhere else his transcript will say that he left with a disciplinary hearing on his file.”
Karen used a resource provided by St. Lawrence called the Advocates. She reached out to them after her attack and was advised by a member of the group to report it. The Advocates are a group of students on campus who are trained to be a confidential resource for victims. In many of the cases, the Advocates strongly encourage students who have been assaulted to file a formal report, but if the victim chooses not to report the assault, the Advocates are there to support, assist and guide him/her in any way he or she needs. “The Advocates are a tremendous resource. In many of my cases a student comes in here with an Advocate and says, hey this is what happened, and this is what we should do about it,” Davis explains. Davis began working as the Associate Dean of Student Life in 2002 and has dealt with a variety of student issues, starting from students who abuse drugs to cases similar to Mary’s and Karen’s. “Because usually sexual assault cases happen between people who know each other, and through that a victim might think, ‘Under the influence of alcohol or other circumstances this person now only sees me as a sexual object and willing to push away my friendship and who I am as a person just to be with me sexually,’” Davis explains with his hands folded in front of him on his large wooden desk. “And obviously that causes a woman great pain.”