Personal Essay by Alex Aiello ’19

In the wake of the #MeToo movement, the Kavanaugh hearing, and the television documentary Surviving R. Kelly, I believe it is my duty to come forward and tell the truth about what happened to me early last semester.

I was raped.

At orientation and during health courses, we are taught that “no means no,” but for some reason, my no did not mean no on the night of my rape. We are also taught that consent cannot be given by someone who is drunk, and my alcohol intake made me unable to consent. I knew then and I know now that what happened to me was rape and that it was wrong. 

Because of my desire for justice, I decided to file a formal complaint and go through the Davidson sexual misconduct process in hopes that my perpetrator would be removed from campus, or at the minimum receive some sort of consequence that would convey to him the weight of his actions.  After receiving no apology or acknowledgement that he had done something wrong and facing his lack of care for the pain he had caused me, I realized this was someone that neither I nor any other student should be in the company of at Davidson.

I filed my complaint less than two weeks after the incident occurred. It was processed by early in the fall semester, yet I did not receive a decision until five days before returning to Davidson for the spring semester. It was unfair to me to have to worry about my case over the holidays and have less than a week to prepare to come back to Davidson once the decision was released.

As a whole, I found that the process of investigation and gathering of evidence was not conducive to the needs of survivors. My interviews were held in a public space with windows, not giving me the privacy I needed when talking about my trauma. On one occasion, when I had to go to this space for a class, I walked past a room in which I saw my assaulter and the investigators reviewing the materials of the case. This was an extremely triggering experience that could have easily been avoided by either conducting interviews in a room without windows or warning me not to be in this space at that time.

Furthermore, they asked questions that felt disrespectful to survivors and irrelevant to the investigation, like those regarding the validity of my panic attack following the assault and my reasons for not wanting to have sex that night.  These investigators are only required to have one annual training session.  Why is this acceptable?  Perhaps additional training would allow for interviews that better respect and consider the needs of survivors.

Both “the respondent,” the term used for my assaulter and “the complainant,” or the survivor, are allowed to have advisors, people who can attend meetings and offer support and guidance throughout the investigation. Lawyers are permitted to be advisors, but I was told that the respondent hiring a lawyer was not a cause for worry because the school’s process is very different than a criminal investigation that deals with the law. Most lawyers, I was told, are not familiar with our school’s internal procedures and do more harm than good. However, upon further research, I found that several law firms specialize in “Title IX” investigations to protect the rights of those accused of rape. If I had known this information, I would have hired a lawyer to help me tell my story in the best way to get justice.

The excruciating process culminated in a less than two page letter via email that stated that the respondent was found “not responsible.”

There was nothing more I could do.

The Davidson I thought I enrolled in was a place that would never condone the violation of another’s vulnerable body. However, this decision seemed to do just that. It conveyed the message that if a male student continues to pursue sex with a student, who has consistently said “no,” and accomplishes his goal while she was under the influence, it is totally acceptable.

The investigators submit an investigation packet to the Davidson Sexual Misconduct Board, a group of faculty and administration who deliberate and make a decision regarding each case.  In my eyes, the Board saw this case as a matter of “he said, she said” in who they would choose to believe. The Board chose to believe him over me. To be found responsible, the Board members must find a 51% chance that sexual misconduct occurred. How can I possibly prove that I was drunk enough to be incapacitated?  What more did the Board need to hear, other than that I was drunk and that I said no, for me to prove that I was raped?  How much evidence will it take for the Davidson administration to stop protecting rapists?

I am now expected to continue my education at Davidson, while my assaulter is allowed to continue with his education as well. I really do enjoy my classes and my professors, but I cannot reach the full potential I want to reach at Davidson with the constant fear of seeing him in the hallways of Chambers, at the gym, or when simply trying to have dinner at Commons. I can’t enjoy many social activities because I know he will be there. Instead, I confine myself to my room, my only safe space on campus.  The constant scanning, heightened anxiety, and fear is exhausting. I cannot go anywhere on campus without this incident and the fact that Davidson chose him over me looming in my mind.

Just as there are problems with the sexual misconduct process at Davidson, there are additional problems in the follow-up and support services offered to survivors.  With the emotional trauma that comes from not only rape but also being confronted with my abuser almost every day, I need to be in counseling to cope with my PTSD symptoms. After being told by a Davidson therapist that there was no blame in the situation, that “rapist” is a strong word, and that the most important issue was uncovering why I invited my rapist to my room, I realized the inadequacy of the Davidson therapists to deal with sexual assault.  

There is no on-campus therapist that specializes in sexual assault, despite 1 in 4 college women being assaulted each year. While there are great counselors on staff, none specialize in sexual healing or survivorship, which are complex and difficult issues. When I brought up this issue, I was told by a staff member that there is neither the space in the health center nor the resources to accommodate an additional counselor who can specifically address the needs of survivors. However, if there is enough space on campus for rapists to walk free and enough resources to give rapists an education at Davidson, I am sure there is enough space and resources for a counselor for survivors.  There is no legal, spacial or financial reason that a counselor for survivors cannot be added to the staff on campus.  With the prevalence of sexual assault among college females, I am not making a polite request; I am demanding what is a necessity.

In writing this, I want to acknowledge my privilege as a white female who was assaulted in a way that is considered rape under NC law. I acknowledge that many women of color and non-straight cisgender people experience similar assaults but are treated differently by law enforcement, administration and the general population. I advocate for changes in the sexual misconduct policy at Davidson for all people, not just white women.

I struggle to contend with the fact that I will have to repair the damage done to me by another person. I am responsible for my own recovery, but there should be consequences for the one who pushed me down to begin with, the one that gave me the scars that will never fully fade away. Just as I will forever be burdened with this experience, my assaulter should be forever burdened with the weight of his actions and its impact on me.

I write to break the Davidson bubble, to force us, as a community, to understand that these issues are real and happen on campus. I don’t expect sexual assault to be eradicated from Davidson College, because I know it is the result of deep-seated structural problems in our country. However, Davidson College’s administration does have a choice in how it chooses to deal with these incidents. While new legislation under the Trump administration will change the procedures of the sexual misconduct investigation nationally to favor the rights of the accused and will make the process even more triggering for survivors, Davidson should do everything in its power to be mindful of survivors’ needs on this campus.

I don’t discourage anyone from reporting their assaults and filing complaints. Davidson’s administration needs to know about these incidents and justice should be had.  What must change is the system of power implemented by Davidson staff that perpetuates rape culture and creates space for rapists, pushing survivors to the corners of campus to endure the pain alone. 

Students, I challenge you to stand with me and other survivors against this administration, advocating for a campus that welcomes those who deserve to be welcomed and eliminates those who put others in danger.  With friends and peers, we need to promote a community that respects boundaries and supports one another in times of need.  To the administration and staff, I call for a reconsideration of what you deem enough evidence for rape and a greater concern for the needs of survivors.