A year ago, a school administrator at the University of Richmond (UR) in Richmond, Virginia called me into their office. Clad in an “It Ends Now” shirt, this administrator told me my sexual assault case would not be moving forward. “I thought it was reasonable for him to penetrate you for a few more minutes if he was going to finish,” he said, even though I didn’t consent to the sexual acts.
A week ago Brock Turner was released from jail after serving three months for raping an unconscious woman. It’s easy to be disgusted with men like Brock when we don’t know them personally, but for some reason it’s harder for people to be as unbiased when they know the accused. People seem to think that knowing someone automatically means that that person is incapable of committing sexual assault. The reality is that such an assumption is incorrect. Just because we don’t know Brock Turner, it doesn’t mean we don’t know someone like him.
I knew coming forward about my rape wouldn’t guarantee that I would feel safe at school again. What I didn’t know, however, was that upon coming forward the University of Richmond would join the ranks of schools known for protecting their athletes. So when I say we don’t know Brock, but we might know someone like him: we do.
Spider Athletics has its own Brock Turner and Richmond’s administration did what it had to do to protect him.
Richmond’s Brock Turner admitted to school officials, three separate times, that he heard me say stop. Those officials later told a hearing board they thought he was confused when he told them that. No one denied, however, that he penetrated me without my consent. But for Richmond, their Brock Turner having an orgasm was of utmost importance. I was told that it was reasonable for him to penetrate me for a few more minutes if he was going to finish. The University of Richmond and Brock Turner’s father seemed to agree- why let a few minutes of “action” jeopardize the rest of the accused’s life?
Whether school administrators were telling me the athletics department was breathing down their neck to wrap up the sexual assault case or whether his coach didn’t take him out of game day scenarios at practice, it seemed clear that Richmond would do whatever it took to keep him on the roster. And whether those same school administrators were finding reasons to excuse his multiple no-contact violations or whether they were choosing to stay silent months later when a video of him saying “it shouldn’t have happened, but it did,” came out, I quickly realized that who I was and the effect that night had on me would never outweigh his athletic ability.
Three separate Title IX investigations (two from myself and one from another individual from that same night), a physical assault investigation, a 10 hour hearing, a 93-page appeal, and nine no contact violation reports (he was found responsible for one, even though five had physical evidence) later and he is still at Richmond. Even though he admitted to raping me, he still gets to put on his uniform and represent us on a national scale. That’s problematic. The bigger problem? I’m not the only girl at Richmond who still goes to school with her rapist.
In Spring 2015, our on-campus newspaper, the Collegian, conducted a survey regarding campus sexual violence. Of 649 female respondents, half had experienced some sort of unwanted sexual behavior while at Richmond (of that number 69% told someone else about the incident). However, out of the 12.6% who reported being sexually assaulted, fewer than 4% reported the experience to someone in an official capacity. At least 64 women (and 6 men) at Richmond have their own Brock Turners. The survey was conducted before two of my friends and I were assaulted. Two of us came forward. In both cases, Richmond justified and excused the assaults.
As I learn more and more about other women who have been sexually assaulted, I realize that at Richmond sexual assault is like our meal plans. Except for the part that we don’t want them (but one in four of us experience them anyway). Except for the part where they don’t cost $3000 (but they do leave us with long-term emotional trauma). Except for the part where you’re not sitting around a table laughing with your friends (because for some of us going to the dining hall is something we’re terrified to do).
We have a problem at Richmond. A problem that is made worse by an administration that justifies reported rapes and judges the survivor’s credibility on a harsher scale than the accused’s. A problem that is made worse when Beth Curry, the (now-former) coordinator of campus education, awareness and prevention efforts around sexual assault leaves UR after the Department of Justice grant that funded her position ran out and the Planning and Priorities Committee decides there’s not enough room in the budget for a full-(or part-) time, university-funded position. Richmond is already under investigation by the Department of Education, but it doesn’t seem like that is any incentive for them to do better and be better.
I came forward over a year ago and I still have days where it seems like an uphill battle with Richmond. In July, our very own Brock was put on “restricted access,” meaning he’s only allowed on campus for athletics related activities and class- a punishment that lets him live his life at Richmond the way he’s always lived it, except now he can’t go to the dining hall, library, or gym. I hope that by speaking out Richmond realizes it MUST be better. It must fully commit to ending sexual violence. Campaigns such as “It Ends Now,” which is going on this week, mean nothing when women are told it ends when the accused reaches orgasm and not when they withdraw consent. (I do want to be clear here, however, that even though this is what I was told and even though I’m still scared to be at school, I do not regret coming forward. I encourage women to report and find their voices. Know that you can survive, even when it feels like the world has slipped out from beneath you- you can survive.)
If you think you don’t know anyone who has been sexually assaulted, it’s more likely that you’ve somehow made it clear that you’re someone a survivor can’t trust. Statistically speaking, you probably know at least one survivor, which means you probably know a Brock Turner too.
But here is what matters most- how you respond when you learn about the Brock in your life. There were so many times fellow students’ judgments made what I was going through harder. I can’t count the number of times I cried in the library or in line getting food because of the stares and whispers from people who knew him. Know that how you respond to someone in your life coming forward about a sexual assault says a lot about your character and what you believe in. Whether you choose to defend him without question or whether you choose to understand that you’ll never really know what happened. Realize that you knowing him and liking him isn’t enough of a reason for him not to have done it. Even if you know him, you lose nothing simply by being cordial and polite to the survivor. Understand that the survivor didn’t come out unscathed, but instead will have to learn how to live with the resulting emotional trauma. If you know both individuals and choose to remain neutral, you are effectively supporting the accused. We can all be better. We need to be better.
For as long as Richmond’s Brock Turner continues to represent Richmond on a national scale, we are not #UnitedinRed. For as long as the administration continues to justify and excuse rape, we are not #OneRichmond.