Whitman’s sexual assault investigation process failed me

Earlier this year The Pioneer published a story about survivors of sexual assault on campus who reported their assaults to the administration. The following is a first-hand account from one of the survivors interviewed, Mallory*, about her assault and its ramifications for her life at Whitman. The content of this editorial has not been independently verified by The Pioneer, and does not reflect the views or beliefs of the editorial board.

Elliot* was an acquaintance of mine; we had a class together second semester of my first year. The following semester we had another class together and hung out two times, both times sober. The second time, we kissed. On that night I told him that I did not want to start anything romantic at that time. He said fine. Later that week we made plans to hang out again. That night I had been drinking with another one of my friends, unaware that the rum in the mixed drink was 151 proof. I had 3 in an hour, for an estimated BAC of .20. I was coherent when I was texting Elliot, since we had plans to watch a movie. He eventually came by, but it was one in the morning and at this point I was tired, annoyed and told him I was going home. We got to the crosswalk, and he insisted I come back with him.

I finally agreed, but said clearly, “If I come with you, it is to watch a movie. This needs to be like the other night, when we didn’t do more than kiss.” He promised.

We get to his dorm room, and he had already told his roommate to “sleep in the lounge.” I told him that his roommate could stay. I mean, weren’t we just watching a movie? The alcohol started to hit. I told Elliot I had been drinking, and felt like I had too much. Elliot sat me down on his bed and started touching me.

I blacked out.

When I “blacked in,” it was awful. He had forced me on his bed and was having sex with me. My underwear had been pushed to the side. I couldn’t figure out what the fuck was happening, did I ask for this? Did I say it was okay? My body hurt, and I was choking back tears; I just waited for this horrendous experience to be over.

In the morning, I went to the bathroom and saw blood all over my underwear. I looked in the mirror and lifted up my shirt: bite marks, bruises the size of fingertips … soreness. Then he walked in. I will never forget this sick detail: He reached from his shelf and handed me an unopened toothbrush from a multitude of unopened toothbrushes. I wondered if another girl, in this same bathroom, had stared at her underwear, trying to make sense of the blood.

I knew it was not “consensual.” “Not consensual” was the pathetic understatement I could say at the time. I couldn’t tell anyone, not even my best friend and roommate. I had no words.

Elliot would try to sit next to me in class. I stopped going to class. Elliot would touch me and grab me at parties. I was so angry I could only imagine picking up the chair next to me and crushing him … all I really did was stand there. Elliot would stare at me in the gym, licking his lips. So I established a fool-proof routine, ways to avoid him. Elliot asked me to get dinner a few days after, I told him that “[he] knew what [he] did and, I can’t believe [he] told [his] whole team about it.” The guy wanted to date me after what he did to me.

I had terrible PTSD and couldn’t sleep. A friend had to come and stay with me so that if I woke up screaming, I wasn’t alone. At that time, however, I still had not told anyone.

It took me six months to finally say the word “rape.” I had been raped. It took me over a year to report. What’s funny is the one reason I held back from reporting was that I was afraid the school would see our text messages and friendship as implied consent.

Sometimes it feels horrible to be right.

When I finally reported, I had to gush my entire story (well, what I could actually verbalize) three times before the case actually “began.” I had absolutely no idea how the process worked, how long it could take, what to expect… Luckily a girl who had been through the process before me was able to shed some light. Still, neither of us were prepared for how bad it would get.

I certainly did not expect to feel like I was on trial and that my credibility was being constantly questioned. Witnesses expressed the same sentiment of surprise – why did it seem like the school needed me to prove the validity of my story? Like I would invent such trauma… Or spend a year in therapy by choice?

I was fairly certain that Elliot was a repeat offender. However, when I expressed this in many of my several, intense and long interviews, the school reminded me that a no-contact order had been put in place and that if I propagated knowledge of the “incident,” or tried to find the other girl(s), there would be consequences.

As you can imagine, retelling my story was reliving it. The PTSD symptoms not only came back, they were worse. No one prepared me for this, and my investigator never asked me to write down details. I always had to speak. The level of detail needed was insane, and I usually felt like I was choking – you try describing the bruises on your body!

It seemed like my school’s Title IX “experts” did not understand traumatic memory. At all.

So I made a list: every single person I had told about the “incident,” what they knew, and what they didn’t know. As you can imagine, this list was short, but detailed nonetheless. By making this list I was trying to maintain both normalcy and privacy. They promised confidentiality.

Instead, the investigator for my case proceeded to call friends of friends, and then friends of those friends, resulting in not only a case that nearly spanned the allotted 60 days stipulated by Title IX, but one that everyone was talking about. I could not walk into a class or go to any social event without knowing that several people in the room knew. Even some of my professors found out!

However, what calling witnesses not named on my list accomplished was to bring in an overwhelming number of people that did not know I had been raped; as if their not knowing signified doubt of it actually happening, not me demonstrating normal survivor behavior. The school warned them that there would be consequences for talking about the case with me, while I didn’t know why friends weren’t responding to my calls and texts when I needed their support.

Furthermore, since calling so many witnesses muddled my story, I had to compulsively check my email, and come in for several more interviews to respond to various extraneous details.

The investigation suddenly began to focus on one thing: confirming the date of the “incident.”

Naturally, since I didn’t tell my friends for months, and since they did not experience the trauma, none of them could confirm a date – only speculate that it happened sometime that year. Because the investigation took so long, I began to break down. Every facet of my life was under attack. I lost several friends, people were gossiping about me, I was weeks behind in homework because I was spending hours every week trying to “prove my case,” my recently good relationship with my family was obliterated. My school had isolated me, I felt entirely alone, and was giving up.

Because of the investigation, I became that girl in the ugly yellow-tan bathroom, staring at the blood on her underwear, all over again. As if once wasn’t enough. The frustration of being brought back to moment zero was excruciating. I continued with counseling. My counselor put me on suicide watch.

I will say that although no one on the school’s Title IX team encouraged me not to report – on the contrary, they were all for me reporting – several times during my case I was reminded that if this was too “difficult,” I could quit, and just let the school handle it. I’ll let you interpret that on your own.

In the end, it did come down to those text messages implying consent. I was furious. In Title IX, there is no need to prove beyond a reasonable doubt; if there is a “preponderance of evidence,” a phrase commonly repeated to me to mean that there is a 51% (or greater) chance that the defendant is “responsible,” then the case moves into a hearing with a board, and punishment is decided. I thought “blood” and “bruises” would be enough, but apparently not. Most survivors of rape knew their attacker. Yet, text messages implied consent, and several witnesses describing how he would stare at me at the gym did not imply intent.

The Whitman College’s policy on consent reads as such: “a freely and affirmatively communicated willingness to participate in sexual activity, expressed by clear, unambiguous words or actions,” and that such willingness cannot be given when intoxicated. What I learned during my case, as it was so carefully explained to me, was that text messages asking to hang out signify unambiguous willingness, and that you have to be incapacitated, passed out and not just intoxicated, to be unable to give consent.

My case was closed. I had no right to appeal. Whitman College chose to protect a (potentially repeat offending) rapist. I stood up, shook their hands, and looked them in the eyes. They couldn’t do the same. I left the meeting and went to the library to work.

Six months later my investigator came to the restaurant where I work, and sat in my section. I felt like I was choking, about to vomit, and had flashbacks – not just of Elliot, but of the case as well. The process was so exhausting that I now associated my investigator with the rape itself.

Go figure.

Currently I am a senior, focusing on school. I enjoy frequently running into those responsible for how my case was handled. People still gossip, perhaps symptomatic of attending a small school. In May I will graduate and, sadly, will not be proud to have a diploma with Whitman’s name on it. My attacker is not here this year; he is now attending an Ivy League, Whitman diploma in hand.

-Mallory*.