ANONYMOUS: Why I was silent

Editors’ note: It is the policy of the News not to publish anonymous stories. For these two cases, an exception has been made. The names of both writers have been kept confidential to give them the chance to speak freely and to ensure that the people they write about are also kept anonymous. The editors know the identities of the writers and have confirmed their stories to the greatest extent possible.

The recent Patrick Witt case has inspired a number of speculations about his future. Some lament the complainant’s silence: Witt can’t exonerate himself because he can’t fight charges that don’t exist. But demanding a formal procedure in the supposed interest of fairness to Witt unfortunately brushes aside the faceless, nameless person who accused him.

I was raped last year by an undergraduate older and more established at this university than I. I did not press charges, file a complaint or go to SHARE, nor do I plan on doing any of these things. No matter how neatly the SHARE website lays out rape victims’ options, it would be remiss to assume that all victims file some sort of complaint. I cannot speak for other rape victims, so I will just speak from my experience.

I am not silent because I think rape is acceptable. I am not silent because I want the male to get away with it, or so he can rape someone else. I am silent because a complaint not only would be unhelpful, but could even be detrimental.

Comments on the News’ website accuse the complainant against Witt of sensationalism. When I told my closest friends that I had been raped, they suggested that it was “no big deal” and that I had “asked for it.”

No one asks for rape. I recently recognized that I alone can be sure of what happened to me, but others cave to the pressure to feel guilty. Blame is the last thing a rape victim needs, and the intimidating prospect of recounting the experience opens victims up to that possibility.

Further, filing a complaint is not just about punishing the offender. Yesterday’s report of sexual misconduct complaints released by Deputy Provost Stephanie Spangler shows that many victims ultimately decide not to complete a complaint. I am no longer angry with the male who raped me, and I don’t want to press charges and ruin his life. I can come to terms with the fact that we had sex.

What I can’t come to terms with is the feeling of safety that I lost. Rationally, I know not every male is out to stalk me or have sex with me. But two weeks ago, a male friend asked me if I wanted to go to his room, and I immediately blurted out, “God, I don’t want to have sex with you!” I knew he didn’t want to, but I reacted that way anyway.

As naive as this sounds, I just want back the simple idea that everyone is a good human being. Filing a complaint does nothing to allay my insecurity. I will not get my peace of mind back by ruining his life. Pure retribution and revenge are too logical and calculated for an experience as complex and emotional as rape.

I know we all want to believe in heroes: The image of a star athlete with a 3.91 GPA who chose friendships and teamwork over his Rhodes interview is hard to let go. The male who raped me is well-liked, and I didn’t say anything because I feared people would assume it was my fault. After all, good people don’t do bad things. So as much as I love the idea of siding with Witt, we should be cautious about that mindset.

SHARE’s website says that many find filing a complaint “empowering.” But for me, the prospect of prolonging the role this experience plays in my life is terrifying. I tentatively considered consulting SHARE or even pressing charges, but then what? I might have gotten mired in some long legal process with no assurance of emerging with a respectable reputation. It’d be my word against his.

Understandably, some will call my silence selfish. But to me, it’s self-preservation.

I won’t lie: I’m terrified even to publish this op-ed. Talking to SHARE or any institution about my experience is far beyond what I can imagine myself ever doing.

I know nothing about Pat Witt or the female involved: There simply isn’t enough information. While I have no way to verify her claims, I think the decision to file an informal complaint has been belittled. Informal complaints are not just the product of victims seeking the easy route.

But some of the discourse inspired by the Witt story is intolerable and in no way conducive to an environment that encourages people, especially victims, to talk. While it’s tempting to encourage a formal complaint in the name of what’s best for society, this mindset often slights victims. Their choice to talk should be their own. I am not at all commenting on the Witt controversy, but questioning the way we think and talk about it. We can do better.

The writer is a freshman.

Comments

  • J15

    What an incredibly brave, honest piece of writing; thank you for sharing – voices like yours are so valuable, yet sadly kept so silent out of the fear which you have in some way overcome by writing this. I hope, in time, that you find the peace you deserve, in whatever way you find it. I also hope that the Yale community will, through stories like yours, realize how very important it is to respect the choices of each survivor – because, really, while you might consider yourself a victim, in my eyes you are a survivor.

  • infinitynight

    This article is a beacon of bravery. Among so many title IX talks, this makes this real.

    You are beautiful. You are not at fault, and you are a valuable human being.

  • 180tds

    Amen to both those comments. Anonymous is a brave soul.

  • penny_lane

    Just so you know, going to SHARE would be nothing akin to filing a complaint. It would be a way to meet with a trained counselor or therapist, at the very least to talk about the experience and that feeling of being unsafe (which you are definitely not alone in feeling). They would completely respect your right to privacy.

    • Jess

      ^^ This is right. SHARE is a resource that does what you want it to do for you, and nothing more than that. They won’t pressure you into filing a complaint if you don’t want to, but they have good, confidential counseling that might be helpful for you.

      But more importantly: thank you for your bravery and for your honesty. I hope your story reaches some people.

    • Branford73

      Good point. I expect and hope that the trained personnel in SHARE will keep confidences better than Witt’s victim/accuser’s so-called friends did.

  • JackJ

    We all seem to keep missing the point. The discussion at hand isn’t whether the Yale process is right or wrong. It isn’t about an accuser’s rights or defendant’s rights in general. It isn’t about whether someone should or should not report sexual harassment of assault. It is about a specific case and whether defamation has occurred. That it has engendered a discussion about the overall process may be a good thing long term but it does nothing to address the specific issue of whether an individual has been defamed because other individuals chose to violate the confidentiality of the Yale resolution process.

    The accuser filed an informal complaint. The situation was adjudicated and confidentiality was expected for both parties. Then someone decided this wasn’t enough. They contacted the Rhodes Trust with the information that Witt had been accused. They approached the YDN with a story and when, honoring the confidentiality of all parties, YDN decided not to publish an individual, motive unknown, went to the New York Times. The resulting piece accused Witt of sexual assault based exclusively on anonymous sources and the extrapolation of the author of the piece.

    Where is the righteous indignation of abuse of process? What about violating an individual’s rights to privacy? Has not Witt been figuratively assaulted by the press and a group of anonymous vigilantes. Is the damage to him no less than the damage to a victim of harassment or assault. What about the violation of the accuser’s right to privacy? If this situation requires legal action to resolve will she not be subjected to even more emotional and intellectual stress? Did the vigilantes think that far downline or were they so taken by blood lust and perhaps personal achievement that they didn’t consider that possibility?

    No one should be able to impose their will forcibly on someone else and we can talk about process and resolution and hope to get right but this case is about whether Witt was the target of a group of vigilantes who took it upon themselves to punish him although the University had declined to do so. Why they took this action and what their overall agenda is should be what we’re talking about.

    • Branford73

      Absolutely correct. To underline your point, it wasn’t just the University who decided not to punish Witt, it was the complainant also who chose the informal complaint process and chose not to go beyond it, a process expressly not designed to punish. Yet her so-called friends or well-wishers, undoubtedly Yale students themselves, decided to violate the confidentiality of the process and of the complainant.

      [This comment has been edited by moderators.]

    • Jess

      The university did not “decline” to punish him–the informal process is not about punishment. If the victim chose to file an informal complaint, she was not looking for the university to punish anyone; she was looking for some kind of resolution that wouldn’t involve a formal investigation.

      Also, consider whether or not you put the onus to stay silent on the victims of any other crime. It’s of course necessary to use due process in determining whether or not someone should be punished, but anyone who is accused of any other crime does not expect ironclad secrecy around the allegation. Privacy should be a bigger concern because of the necessity of protecting the victim, not the alleged perpetrator.

      • morse_14

        No, that’s not entirely fair. With this kind of crime — sexual crime — allegations are extremely poisonous whether or not they’re substantiated. Just look at the way that the Duke lacrosse players were treated. Even after a very public process that resulted in them being completely cleared, they will forever be known as “those lacrosse players who were accused of rape.” From my perspective — and, I suspect, from any rational human’s perspective — that’s not an acceptable outcome.

      • Bouchet

        The accusation of sexual assault is among the most serious that one person can levy on another. Even those that are found “not guilty” in courts can face obstacles for years. Given this, it is simply proper for the media to behave with discretion. Yale’s policies around confidentiality seem correct and well intentioned – the other outside parties involved are the ones that are acting dishonorably

    • jholland

      It’s so abundantly clear that JackJ is a YDN staffer or editor.

    • The Anti-Yale

      Inneundo IS defamation.
      PK

  • AlexH

    The University DID NOT decline to punish him. While I agree with JackJ that the anonymity of those involved should be respected, this case is not about ” whether Witt was the target of a group of vigilantes who took it upon themselves to punish him although the University had declined to do so.” This case is about respecting the complainant’s right to an informal process and about a possible sexual assault that occurred on our campus.

    The informal process means that Yale CANNOT just punish someone if they see fit and so a lack of punishment DOES NOT mean that Yale thinks he is innocent or has made a judgment about the severity of the matter.

    We need to be clear about the difference between a formal and informal process. Yale has made NO finding of fact in this case and to say that the University finds him to not warrant punishment is factually incorrect.

    • Bouchet

      Yale has made no finding of fact, but Google (which is the ultimate permanent record) has, and Witt has almost no way to exonerate himself outside of naming the accuser and going on public record (which would be a terrible move).

      This case is both about the complainant’s rights and the right of the accused. All parties (the university, the media, law enforcement, etc) need to strike the correct balance.

      • ihaveahammer

        You’re missing the point. People are implying that the lack of punishment indicates Witt has been ruled not responsible. In fact there was no ruling made, which has nothing to do with the merits of the case and is solely the result of the process that the complainant chose.

        • Bouchet

          I’m not implying that, and I don’t think most people are implying that. People are saying that as a result of the NYT story, Witt’s name has been associated with a sexual assault charge, which is damaging in and of itself. He has no recourse to defend himself through Yale’s process (i.e. he cannot seek a hearing, trial, etc). The fact that Witt cannot seek recourse should be abbeted by the confidentiality of the process. However, the confidentiality was violated – not necessarily by the accuser or Yale itself but by un-named and ultimately unknowable individuals. The question then becomes can these informal processes ever truly be confidential…

    • JackJ

      The discussion we’re having is predicated solely on an article published in the NYT accusing (and convicting) Witt of sexual assault and prevarication. It isn’t about the process other than such process is supposed to provide confidentiality. Please stay on point. Informal or formal–there was resolution accepted by both sides. Then a group of vigilantes decided to assault Witt in the press. It’s that simple. Whether they should have done so and whether having done so they are culpable for their actions is the topic of the discussion.

      • penny_lane

        Here’s the thing: Witt had been fouling up his own reputation with two arrests for separate instances of assault. The Rhodes Trust could just have easily revoked his finalist status for those, as they certainly do not represent good judgment or upstanding character.

        By the way, no one has assaulted Witt, though he certainly has assaulted others.

        • HighStreet2010

          Oh, so Witt has made similar mistakes in the past, therefore he was basically asking for this. Got it.

        • River_Tam

          It’s clearly bad form to use the “he had it coming” argument when rape is the topic of discussion.

          • penny_lane

            There would have been fodder for bad press even without the sexual assault allegations, is more the point.

          • JE14

            Who are you? Did you actually look at what it was? He tried to sneak into toads and he was a bit belligerent (note that he didn’t actually hurt the RA) when he was drunk in his freshman year. I’m sorry that is absolutely not the same. maybe you could lose Rhodes, but you defo don’t lose a job over something like that. The impact of talking about that story is absolutely different from talking about sexual assault.

  • The Anti-Yale

    It is savage symmetry that the very anonymity which crucifies Mr. Witt in the NYT “reporting” is used here by YDN to crucify other alleged perpetrators?

    Are there anonymous males who crucify females in anonymous articles and posts?

    Paul Keane

    M. Div. ’80

    [This comment has been edited my moderators]

    • penny_lane

      >Are there anonymous males who crucify females in anonymous articles and posts?

      Yes.

    • yalengineer

      >[This comment has been edited my moderators]

      Really?

  • River_Tam

    It is shameful that the YDN has published these rape stories in a attempt to link anonymous allegations of rape by other men to what’s happened to Pat Witt.

    • es1212

      I don’t think the YDN is attempting to link these stories to Pat’s. His case has raised questions about the culture of reporting rape and assault at Yale, and that’s where narratives like these come in. They’re illuminating and necessary.

      • River_Tam

        Both pieces mention Witt in the first paragraph. The aim is to associate him with these other stories of rape. It’s shameful.

        • Omar_Mumallah

          – Or eminently justified. Depends on whether or not he’s guilty really.

          In either case these rape stories have been a long time in coming. It’s time other Yalies finally realized that rape happens at Yale, and what it looks like.

          Thank you Anonymous for sharing.

  • The Anti-Yale

    This is the first time one of my comments has been “moderated” by YDN in three years of posting. I don’t know whether to be offended or honored.

    Guess what? I forgot what I said. I can’t even be annoyed.

    Oh well.

    PK

    PS

    I’m pretty sure there was no question mark at the end of the following statement when I typed it. Perhaps that’s the “moderation” you speak of?

    “It is savage symmetry that the very anonymity which crucifies Mr. Witt in the NYT “reporting” is used here by YDN to crucify other alleged perpetrators. [ ? Where did the preceding question mark come from?]

    • Yale12

      You should be embarrassed.

      • The Anti-Yale

        I think you have that backwards.

        • Yale12

          You shame a rape victim for choosing to remain anonymous and compare her experiences as a survivor of rape to your own and you think the YDN should be embarrassed?

          • The Anti-Yale

            As my comment below declares: I shame any publication (including the august NYT and the privileged YDN) for printing any anonymous pieces. It has little to do with the author/authoress.
            PK

  • gummyatyale

    As someone who hasn’t been raped, but has had in a way been victimized by a classmate and has had to go through the Yale process of filing a complaint against that classmate, I am happy that this informal complaint process was made available to these victims, and saddened that this process was not made available to me. I don’t have the facts to comment on the rape or victimization, but it seems at the very least unwise for friends of involved parties in the Witt case to leak information about the case to the press. Especially after a traumatic experience where the victim is struggling with his or her powerlessness, it is often unhelpful for 3rd parties, regardless of intention, to go behind the back of the victim. After the events in a case like this, the victim interested in self-preservation may feel just as Anonymous did and rightly so, yet the result is that the attacker may well end up hurting more victims.

    And then this comment takes a turn away from the real world and dives off the deep end in favor of a nerdy wonktastic solution: The problem here is incentive incompatibility with honest reporting (or participation at all) in the complaint system. The system (ideally) should be designed so that victims are not hurt by reporting transgressions, and so that nonvictims have no incentive to make false complaints. Such systems have been well studied in both computer science and economics for online marketplaces (think Ebay), and these studies are well documented in the literature. In practice, however, such a system would have trouble creating an incentive structure powerful enough to prevent outside sources from successfully bribing a subset of persons to misuse the complaint system.

    Well as Yogi Berra once said “In theory there is no difference between theory and practice. In practice there is.”

  • The Anti-Yale

    Anonymity which occurs in private (such as AA, NA, OA, SA) is fine.

    Anonymity which is paraded in public discussions and in print is cowardice. It is against even the LOWEST journalistic standards.

    This is not debatable, even in the new world of social-networking and journalistic posting-boards which your generation has created. It is a self-made hell. When it engenders the public, it is cruel and unprofessional.

    Bend any standards you wish in order to meet the needs of your modern media revolution, but this is one standard which will not bend, thank God.

    Even the august New York Times and now the privileged YDN, cannot twist this reality without
    debasing themselves. It is axiomatic.

    Paul Keane

    • Omar_Mumallah

      “Anonymity which is paraded in public discussions and in print is cowardice. It is against even the LOWEST journalistic standards.”

      Are you being even remotely serious? Anonymity is the sole protection of someone who feels threatened, but who needs society to know something. I suppose all those anonymous authors in totalitarian states should just shut their mouths. Silence Ms. Arab Spring protester! We will not have any of your immoral anonymity here! While you’re at it, might as well put your address up too so that the secret police can save some time in rounding you up.

      OK so that’s an extreme, but I maintain the principle applies in this case as well, if you would only put yourself in this young lady’s shoes.

      Should all victims really be browbeaten into silence by such nonsense parading as ethics? I certainly hope not, and I certainly hope that any survivors of sexual violence speak in whatever way they can about what actually happened to them.

      No one second guesses a story like that of a female rape victim. I wonder why. Can’t be misogyny or rape culture — no certainly not that! “It is axiomatic!”

    • Yale12

      I don’t know if you simply don’t know anything about journalistic standards or if you’re just willfully ignoring them, but anonymous sources – if they are used ethically – are an accepted and necessary part of respected journalism, and they have been for decades, even centuries. Anonymity in print – especially this kind of anonymity, in which the victim has nothing personal to gain (since she doesn’t name her attacker) and has a real reason for requesting to remain unnamed – is in fact a part of every journalistic standard out there. You are the one bending standards to fit your own warped view of the world.

      If it weren’t for anonymous sources, Richard Nixon would have served the length of his presidency without detection. People would never speak out against tyrannical governments. Rape victims’ stories would never be told.

  • SY

    “When I told my closest friends that I had been raped, they suggested that it was “no big deal”. . . .”

    This kept coming to mind today. It explains a sexual culture in which more drunk or bedroom rape is
    more common and accepted. When sex is not much a big deal, rape is not much a big deal. Since sex, for more people, has become “no big deal,” women are making long explanations why force, pressure, and powerlessness are the deal.

    Since the consequences of rape charges or conviction still are extremely harsh, the cultural direction is not to find sufficient evidence of rape or that the woman as in this article “asked for it.” If men and women wanted to reduce bedroom rape and go to the other’s bedroom at the same time, the real, simple approach is that rape is a big deal because sex is a big deal. Common, unwanted, unromantic sex creates a low-standard sexual culture in which this woman’s bedroom rape “was no big deal.” Not one writer, not one, has claimed that sex is serious and a big deal, and that makes rape a serious, big deal. There is the sex culture problem, and so it will go on for some.

    • ldffly

      Thank you SY. I also object to the language of “acceptable–unacceptable,” “inappropriate–appropriate.” I guess in today’s world, we do anything to avoid the stronger language of morality, right and wrong.

  • willowlewis71

    I hope the person that violated you reads this article.

  • slatest

    I want to thank the YDN for heavily moderating comments on these two pieces.

  • The Anti-Yale

    I would ordinarily agree with your comment about YDN’s right to moderate posts; however, when the posts are about YDN’s possible unprofessionalism in publishing the articles of anonymous authors, the issue of conflict-of-interest is raised. I am sorry that YDN has put itself in a position where self-interest and freedom of expression seem to conflict.

    Not good.

    Paul Keane

    M. Div. ’80

    • Yale12

      Your posts were not censored because they criticized the YDN; they were censored because they were rude, self-centered, ignorant, and downright offensive. I am sorry you are so pathetically self-absorbed, so devoid of human compassion for a rape victim, that you cannot see that.

      • The Anti-Yale

        The issue is not rape.
        The issue is credibility. There is no credibility behind the veil of anonymity, only sensationalism. Sorry. That’s self evident.

        PK

        • penny_lane

          So there is no credibility to the Federalist Papers? To Common Sense? Both were originally published anonymously.

  • Justine

    Sexual assault and harassment against women are facts of life everywhere. College campuses are a mircocosm of the world – not a bubble that many believe them to be. I hope those in power read these victims’ and student reporters’ articles and readers’ comments. Then use it as a call to action for transparency and justice to keep women safe.

  • The Anti-Yale

    “If it weren’t for anonymous sources, Richard Nixon would have served the length of his presidency without detection.”

    The Pentagon Papers? The White House tapes?

    Specific persons, places, dates, times, events, conversations.

    The leakers may have been anonymous, but not their evidence.

    What you have at Yale and NYT is vague characters assassination. No names (other than Mr. Witt), no times, no places, no events, no conversation.

    Absolutely nothing to confirm or refute.

    Just vague generalities: “sexual assault,” “pressuring.”

    Scandalous irresponsibility.

    Paul D. Keane