Guest Column | Break the silence: a call to action

Students of ASAP and One in Four call for a change in policy and procedure for cases of sexual assault

· April 22, 2013, 11:41 pm

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Trigger Warning: This article contains imagery that could be triggering to victims of sexual assault.

Abuse and Sexual Assault Prevention and One in Four are student organizations devoted to combating sexual violence on campus. As members of the Penn community, we call on the University to develop a better response to cases of sexual assault. This should include training individuals involved in the trial process on how to properly handle such cases, harsher sanctions for those found guilty and an approach that is more supportive of victims. We do not have to be yet another elite institution marred by insensitivity. We can do better. We deserve better.

The following is a first-hand account of one of our peers.

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It’s hard to imagine being raped.

In popular culture, a barrage of content serves as the closest that most will ever come to the idea of rape — news articles and court cases shouting the names of victims who will soon be forgotten. Most of us can take solace in the fact that when the details become too gruesome and the images too disturbing, we can simply silence the stories of victims.

Most of us.

But the reality is all too different for those who have to deal with the effects of being raped in almost every facet of their lives. I cannot speak for all, but here’s what being raped at this university felt like for me:

Imagine in one instant losing complete control of your body. Imagine your body being used against you. Imagine fighting until your strength gives out and feeling guilty and ashamed when you lose the will to fight anymore. Imagine feeling completely numb and trying to find an escape in your mind while your body is used for hours and hours. Imagine knowing your attacker and feeling completely betrayed. Trying to understand how someone you trusted could hurt you in the worst way imaginable.

Imagine it finally being over and the feeling of confusion over what to do next. How to think of yourself. How to trust others again. Imagine talking to CAPS at 2 a.m. and telling your story for the first time, telling your story countless times to innumerable faces and administrators who all say they’re sorry. Imagine being examined for “evidence” by a doctor and telling your single-parent father that his only son was raped. Imagine hearing that this happened to you because you’re gay. Imagine hearing the statistics that there is only a 9 percent chance your rapist will be convicted and a 3 percent chance they will ever spend a day in jail. Imagine hearing that you may find some justice in your school’s Office of Student Conduct.

But imagine telling your story to OSC investigators who have no training in sexual assault and being victimized all over again, being blamed and treated like the suspect to a crime that you reported. Imagine then, after weeks of anxiety and fear, the Office of Student Conduct finds your attacker guilty and you finally feel validated.

But then imagine your attacker being given little to no punishment, except that “he is not allowed to talk to you,” and still having to see your attacker every single day. Having to make new routes around campus to avoid him, tailoring your schedule around him, looking over your shoulder everywhere you go. Imagine your grades dipping because of the anxiety and stress. Imagine being told by OSC investigators that “you’ll get over it,” that “we need to protect him” and that “he was not viewed as a threat.” Imagine being told that he doesn’t deserve a tougher punishment because they think “he gets it” and understands what he’s done.

But I don’t get it.

I don’t understand how at a progressive place like Penn, an act of proven rape on campus can warrant a lighter punishment than paraphrasing a paragraph in a research paper. How, according to the Charter of the University of Pennsylvania, academic dishonesty is the only violation of University policy that has a consequence of recommended suspension. I don’t understand how a university can promise to protect their students against sexual assault but not mandate training for the very people entrusted with this responsibility.

Now, after combing through administrative organizations and exhausting all of the resources that were pushed in my direction, I am tired of being silenced.

I write to call attention to these glaring problems in the hopes that they will be addressed so that those who may go through the unfortunate experience of sexual assault will find solace and trust in a system sworn to protect them and help them recover. I write for those victims who have suffered the same disappointments I have at this University. I write for change.

To contact or share your story with ASAP or One in Four, email dhew@sas.upenn.edu or pallavip@sas.upenn.edu.

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