A bill that attempts to address and prevent sexual assault on all public and private colleges and universities in Connecticut was enacted by the legislature last month and has been signed into law by Governor Dannel Malloy. U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal has also released a report proposing what he calls a College Sexual Assault Survivor Bill of Rights.
Four years ago, we reported on a sexual assault that took place in Middletown, at Wesleyan University's Olin Library. I set out to find the student who was assaulted and hear her reaction, four years later, to the attention now being paid to the issue of campus sexual assault.
The victim, Eve, asked that we not use her last name. She was a senior and had stayed after hours to work with another student in a basement lab.
In 2010, describing the attack, Eve said, "We hear a knock on the door. She looks up, and she says, oh, he’s from a class of mine. I don’t really know him. She lets him in. We are sitting in a locked room at this point, because it's after 5:00. So he comes in, and he really seems a little bit disoriented, and he sees me. I had never seen this individual on campus. He walks straight to me, and makes some derogatory comment about what I’m doing, and then immediately grabs the back of my head, biting my neck, bruise marks, digging into my clothes, going under my...you know, down my pants, you know. I try to stand up; he pushes me down."
At first, the other student in the lab mistook the attack for friendly rough-housing, but soon realized that Eve was being sexually assaulted. Eve said, "So, she pulls him off me, and we throw him out. He tries to fight us. We kick him out of the lab. We lock the door; it's a glass door. And he's there, banging on the door, trying to get back in."
They waited until the attacker left the library. Then, Eve called campus safety, who found the attacker, another senior. He was high on drugs.
Two weeks later, at the school's judiciary process, he took responsibility for the assault, and was placed under a restraining order. He was also told he could not walk at graduation. But not long after that, unbeknownst to Eve, he appealed the decision. The university granted him permission to walk at graduation.
Four Years Later
Eve is now attending graduate school. We spoke recently by phone. I began by asking how she's doing, four years later.
Eve: Well, I think I’ve come a long way in the past four years. I think definitely, the first year afterwards was really challenging. The actual assault I was able to get over in a timely fashion. It was more the fact that I didn’t feel like I could trust the larger institutions for support when I felt that they were more concerned with their reputation to protect.
Diane Orson: Can you talk a little bit further about why you felt that way?
Well, I think part of it has to do with the timing. Because I was assaulted several months before graduation and just the whole process, first off takes awhile. And then in my specific situation there was this appeal that happened, so a lot of the things that happened was actually after I graduated.
I think one of the best things I actually did was going to the faculty board, and explaining my situation to them. They proceeded to call a year-long review, the year after I graduated, kind of addressing sexual assault on campus. I felt very happy that the school was taking that sort of initiative.
Here we are, four years later, and a lot has changed as far as conversation, and attention paid to the issue of campus sexual assault, both here in Connecticut and also nationally. What’s your reaction?
I think it's good. I think having that public discourse is incredibly important because no institution is immune from it. And I’m happy that current lawmakers are choosing to try and put some guideline and laws into writing. I know during my situation, I was not very clear about what avenues that I could pursue.
Right, and it be a little overwhelming, I imagine. You’re already feeling overwhelmed..
Right. I think one of the problems with this type of violence is a lot of people don’t report right way. And it can be like a whole process. So I think its very important if the victim can articulate what they want to see done, but also having an advocate either on campus or available someplace in the system to help them negotiate would be very good.
If you were speaking to lawmakers, what would your recommendations be?
I think this is something that we just always have to keep pushing. And I think this momentary interest or surge in terms of legislation or reports that are being written, I think we have to take that to the next level: trying to change the discourse that’s happening not only on campus, but even earlier. Because I think a lot of the treatment or violence against women and other groups, it really comes before college, and college is kind of the platform where there’s a little bit less structure and possibly more freedom and where situations arise and its more common that you could have issues.