Trigger warning: descriptions of sexual assault
This past week, Dr. Christine Blasey Ford made headlines when she publicly stated she was assaulted by Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh’s. Soon after, Donald Trump questioned why Ford did not report the assault to the authorities.
In response, survivors shared why they did not report, using the hashtag #WhyIDidntReport on social media. Like Ford, I too was assaulted, but I did not report because of major power imbalances between the person who assaulted me and myself.
I was out of the hospital after spending a week in the emergency room and short stay, for a then-unknown disease which turned out to be vasculitis. I was only in the second month of my first semester at university.
To say the least, I was overwhelmed, confused, and scared.
At that time, I would describe myself as being as a hardworking student whose identity was very much attached to her grades. I had a quiz two days after I was released from the hospital in an advanced course. I thought the best thing to do was to go to my professor during office hours to ask if I could take this test at a later date.
He would be understanding, right?
His office hours were right after class, so despite feeling still sick, I decided to stick it out until the end. He tried to force himself on me.
I ran back to my dorm and cried. I could not form coherent thoughts – all I knew was that a professor sexually assaulted me. I didn’t feel like I had a choice about what to do next. I didn’t want to go to the police because I was afraid that they would belittle me. I still wanted to continue to be in the same program.
I wanted to switch classes, but I knew I would have to go to the same professor to get his permission.
No way was I going to be alone with him again.
Nothing too horrific happened over the next few months. By “not horrific,” I mean not anything that I would label as sexual assault. He winked at me every single class, whenever I was close he would put his hand on my back – both of which made me want to disappear. Whenever I asked him about an assignment or grade, he said that I had to go to his office hours because he didn’t understand my question.
A few months went by, and a summer program accepted me that I really wanted to participate in.
The problem was that I needed him to sign off that I was in good standing in his course. I thought doing this in the hallway would be a safe place to ask. Unluckily, he was also in charge of transfer credits for my program. When I asked him if he could sign off on my form, he said that he would think about it. At the same, his hand gripped my breast. I didn’t think he would be so blatant about his sexualized violence towards me, but I was wrong.
The next class he signed my form, winked at me, and ended up raising my grade at the end of the year. In the fall, I had to meet with him, in an open room, to discuss my transfer credits for the summer program that I had completed. He didn’t want to give me the credits despite agreeing to do so the spring before.
Over the next two months, he continued to send emails saying that I had to meet with him to discuss the courses that I took. There was no way I was going near him. I ended up contacting my faculty and complained how long the transfer process was taking. They ended up granting me the credits that he refused to give me.
I left that university at the end of that semester, which was in December 2017.
I had somewhat of a mental breakdown in early April this year, when all of his abuse towards me was triggered by news of this happening to other students. I never blamed myself, but I was somewhat in denial about how bad it was. I didn’t know how to cope with it and knew my university would do nothing even if I reported him.
In a world that makes it hard for survivors to come forward about their experiences, we can’t be blamed for being afraid of reporting assault. Systems need to be put in place to be more friendly towards survivors, and universities need to become less violent places, where rape culture could not be more present. Until we confront rape culture both in academia and in society in general, gendered and sexualized violence will continue to unfairly punish survivors.
#WhyIDidntReport: he was my professor, and I didn’t want to face retaliation.