SOARES: An indignation not our own

The prologue is by now familiar: A star athlete and stellar student, Patrick Witt spent half of last November debating whether he would attend his Rhodes scholarship interview in Atlanta or lead Yale against Harvard in his final college football game. Choosing team over self-interest, Witt captured the nation’s heart. But here the plot twists: According to The New York Times, by the time Witt announced his decision, it was no longer his to make. Allegedly, upon learning that another student had accused Witt of sexual assault, the Rhodes Trust banished the heroic quarterback from its prestigious scholarship competition.

Released last Thursday, the story read as if printed in war paint. Injustice was afoot, it cried. The University had harbored a purported criminal and allowed the national media to extol his moral fiber. Battle beckoned, and I shared the story on Facebook. Though Witt and Yale had escaped official rebuke, in the court of public opinion they would fall.

But in my bloodlust, I missed the point entirely. True, I convicted Witt rashly, but that doesn’t bother me. What bothers me is that in my thirst for blood, I was blind to the story’s most important character: Witt’s alleged victim.

In a statement, Witt denied The Times’ allegations. His decision, he maintains, had nothing to do with the charges brought against him. The truth about the matter may well remain elusive: Already the involved parties have begun to entrench themselves behind “confidentiality” and “anonymity” and euphemistic officialisms such as “sexual misconduct.”

Uncertainty may forever riddle the record, but something about the story offends common sense. For weeks last November, we watched Witt grapple publicly with his dilemma while the national media doted on his character. He never shied away from the spotlight, nor did the University pass up on the publicity. Throughout the ordeal, the fact that a woman had accused Witt of sexual assault went unmentioned. Who knew what and when remains unclear, but the fact that nobody said anything now seems absurd.

True, Yale has an obligation to protect its students’ privacy, but its behavior blurred the line between confidentiality and callous complacency. No better was the response of the Rhodes Trust. Its request for a re-endorsement was little more than a punt, a strategy to avoid accountability by deferring to Yale’s authority. Most unnerving is the fact that this particular drama will never play out on an official stage — there will be no trial, no inquiry, no blood.

But maybe that’s the point. Maybe Witt’s victim never wanted her story plastered on the pages of The New York Times. Maybe, just maybe, she never thirsted for blood.

Sexual assault is a crime of usurped control. The assailant robs the victim whole — her choice disregarded, her will trespassed, her body taken. Whatever its flaws, Yale’s SHARE Center allows victims to regain a modicum of control. Complaints may be criminal or disciplinary, formal or informal, and the victim alone chooses how to tell her story. It is a system whose purpose is neither to mete out punishment nor to redress social wrongs but to enable the victim to assert ownership over her story in whatever way she sees fit.

In this case, the question of ownership seems more complex. Because Witt is a national figure, his actions reverberate on a grander scale. Witt’s conduct offends not only the victim, but us, too. We, too, own the story, if only partially. Yet to take our indignation as leave for appropriation forgets an important fact: Allegedly, Witt’s crime was committed in his victim’s college dorm room, and she alone was assaulted.

In reporting her story informally, Witt’s victim chose a degree of anonymity. Informal complaints happen swiftly — procedures can last as little as one or two days — and involve little or no investigation. No discipline ensues — Witt was supposedly told only to keep away from his victim — and the complaint’s documentation disappears into the University’s confidential records. The process spills no blood, but it allows the victim to gain ownership over her story— to salvage a sliver of usurped control.

My bloodthirstiness trampled upon that process thoroughly. I felt wronged, and blindly I set out to settle the score.

As it turns out, the score isn’t mine to settle.

Teo Soares is a junior in Silliman College. Contact him at teo.soares@yale.edu.

Comments

  • anotherY10

    Great piece. Well said

  • SY

    Doesn’t filing an informal complaint about two months late, just before a Rhodes interview, seem like settling the score or getting even for an unromantic “on-again, off-again” relationship that should not have started or continued as it did for 4-5 months? Don’t those always end in anger and hurt for one, or with this, for both?

    • Standards

      Are you kidding me?

      >Patrick is aware that the informal complaint was filed by a person he had known for many months prior and with whom he had engaged in an on-again, off-again relationship beginning in the Spring of 2011 and ending about two months before the informal complaint was filed.

      Where in that statement does it suggest that the incident happened two months before the complaint? That’s simply when their relationship ended.

      This is exactly why it’s extremely slimy for Witt to even mention these details, because (i) it implies that he couldn’t have sexually assaulted the girl because they were previously involved, (because everyone knows it’s impossible to date rape a girl who already gave consent to you once before, right?) (ii) it puts forward exactly the disgusting narrative you put forward, where it’s simply a woman scorned exacting revenge before a big interview, without hearing her side in the least bit, and (iii) it violates her privacy which, assuming an incident actually did occur, was probably her deciding reason to file an informal, rather than formal complaint.

      Anyone close to Witt or this girl know now who the girl is. Now they have this “cry rape” narrative implied, which you ate up and spewed unthinkingly.

      The NYT article wasn’t about Witt having an informal charge put against him. It was about whether or not he actually had a “heroic choice” to make. No one is indicting him of rape, and it’s disgusting for you to indict the girl for crying rape based on a situation you know nothing about.

      • anotherY10

        Exactly. Excellent comment.
        The worst thing about Witt’s spokesman claiming a prior relationship with the accuser, is that it makes it easy for anyone who knows either of them to identify her. Even worse than the slimy slut-shaming implication.

      • morse_14

        Well, you’re technically correct. However, as far as the public is concerned, this man has committed rape. He’s been convicted in the court of public opinion. If the victim’s allegations are true, then he should suffer that and worse. However, it’s somewhat unfair to leave the matter standing like this without a formal investigation. If rape actually occurred, there should be justice served; if it did not, it’s unfair to publicly crucify him in the way that the Times did.

  • joematcha

    “Sexual assault is a crime of usurped control. The assailant robs the victim whole — her choice disregarded, her will trespassed, her body taken. Whatever its flaws, Yale’s SHARE Center allows victims to regain a modicum of control. Complaints may be criminal or disciplinary, formal or informal, and the victim alone chooses how to tell her story. It is a system whose purpose is neither to mete out punishment nor to redress social wrongs but to enable the victim to assert ownership over her story in whatever way she sees fit.”

    This isn’t a huge problem, but since you aren’t talking about this specific victim here there is no need to include the gendered language. Interesting point overall, though. Hopefully she actually does feel as if she is regaining control, should the allegation be true.

  • JackJ

    Was it sexual assault or harassment? There’s a big difference. If it was sexual assault is not the University bound by state and local law to report it to appropriate authorities? A one meeting resolution wherein there is no punishment meted out does not sound as if we’re dealing with anything rising to the level of what those NYT anonymous sources are alleging.

    If the University honored its pledge of confidentiality who contacted the Rhodes Trust? Another crepuscular vigilante? If they are a student or member of the University did they not violate the established protocols and should they not be sanctioned?

    The YDN declined to go with the story recognizing that to do so would be a violation of the protocols the University established to handle such cases as well as the privacy of those involved. This decision apparently wasn’t acceptable to a former YDN member who took it upon herself to take the story to the New York Times making assertions she cannot prove with a story that relied solely on anonymous sources.

    Were Mr. Witt to file a civil action against the NYT and its “anonymous” sources there is good reason to doubt their anonymity would survive a hearing given that the Connecticut shield law allows for the discovery of source names in civil actions involving libel and slander. Then the YDN could print the names of those individuals who revel in schadenfreude. Then rather than excoriating Mr Witt we could direct our own righteous indignation towards those Iago’s and Uriah Heep’s skulking about in the shadows. We could also mete out appropriate opprobrium for those who allow anonymous voices to sway their thoughts and acts.

    • BrightSide2013

      The University can encourage someone to report to the police (They may start to do this after Title IX) but they do NOT report sexual assault to the police unless the victim explicitly asks for it.

  • The Anti-Yale

    “However, as far as the public is concerned, this man has committed rape. He’s been convicted in the court of public opinion.”

    I disagree. People are being VERY CAREFUL to avoid this, on all sidesof the issue.

    PK

    • morse_14

      I guess I’d disagree with you there based on the facts. Everyone I know back at home is convinced he’s guilty, and they’ve (well, the vast majority of them) only read the article in the Times.

  • The Anti-Yale

    The article in the Times does not accuse Mr. Witt of “rape.”