The following contains an account of sexual assault.
Last winter, when I was a senior at Yale, I was sexually assaulted. I wasn’t strangled or choked, I wasn’t pinned down. I didn’t say “no.” But I was so drunk that I can’t remember most of it.
What I do remember is that it was January, two days after my birthday and a few days before my roommate’s — the two of us had thrown ourselves a party. I remember starting off with vodka, and later moving to gin, tequila, beer and cider straight from the keg. I remember sending a text to my assailant inviting him to come by (at the time I’d believed him to be a friend of mine). I remember going upstairs and taking off my clothes in front of several people, some of whom I didn’t know. I remember that we had unprotected sex (he ignored my request to use a condom). I remember a sudden and overwhelming feeling that I needed to leave my room. And I remember sobbing uncontrollably in the bathroom to my best friend.
My friends and others who attended the party have been able to fill in some of the blanks for me. I was slurring and unable to form coherent sentences; I was stumbling, falling down, leaning on others for help standing; I ran into a door. Needless to say, it was obvious to anyone who’d been there that I was severely inebriated. I’m told that after taking off my clothes in public, I walked into my bedroom and said, “I’m going to sleep,” and that my assailant followed me, asking about a charger for his phone and shutting the door behind him. And apparently after we’d had sex, I burst out of my bedroom in tears, repeating phrases like, “I have no moral code,” “I’m a terrible person,” “I have nothing,” and “I don’t understand what happened.” My friends tell me that, while I was in the bathroom, they advised my assailant to leave and then put me to bed.
The morning after my assault, I was embarrassed. I felt guilty about the way the night ended and I worried that I may have caused my assailant to feel uncomfortable. What was perhaps most distressing to me was that, for the first time in my life, I didn’t know what I felt, or even what I thought I should feel. And for months I carried around this confusion. I didn’t talk about it, and I did my best not to think about it. But when I returned to New Haven after spring break, I ran into him twice in one day. Our paths hadn’t crossed much since the assault even though he lived only two blocks away from me, but that day I was confronted with him and with a reminder of all the thoughts and feelings I’d suppressed. I wanted to know how I should feel. In an attempt to figure it out, I sought counseling at SHARE. I met with someone for several weeks before I was able to work through my negative feelings and recognize the encounter for what it was: sexual assault. After that, I felt wronged and taken advantage of, but what I mostly felt was hurt.
Yale’s sexual misconduct policy is very clear, as is its definition of consent. It states: “Consent cannot be obtained from someone who is asleep or otherwise mentally or physically incapacitated, whether due to alcohol, drugs, or some other condition. A person is mentally or physically incapacitated when that person lacks the ability to make or act on considered decisions to engage in sexual activity. Engaging in sexual activity with a person whom you know — or reasonably should know — to be incapacitated constitutes sexual misconduct.”
The training we received as freshmen was very clear: If a person is drunk, he or she cannot consent to sex. Yale presents it to us in black and white. But it’s only black and white on paper, and in reality we treat such incidents as shades of grey. The values we act upon (or judge others by) are far from the values we voice in public.
I filed a formal complaint with the University at the very end of my senior year. Ultimately, the panel found that my assailant was not in violation of Yale’s sexual misconduct policy. In its report, the panel cited evidence that I was able to “act on considered decisions,” pointing to, in part, the clarity of my text messages to my assailant (though they were misspelled), the fact that I removed my own clothing (despite this being in front of several other people, including a stranger or two) and my comments to friends after having sex (those comments being that “I have no moral code” and “I don’t understand what happened”). The panel cited actions that were a direct result of my extreme level of intoxication as evidence that I was not in fact too intoxicated to consent to sex. This finding — aside from being completely at odds with the written policy — sends a problematic message about what constitutes sexual misconduct at Yale. Essentially, it seems to read: It’s not okay to sleep with a drunk person (unless they’re asking for it).
Yale failed to uphold its own policy — which, for the record, I believe to be a good one. I exhausted all of my options that the system afforded to me to fight the finding: When I received the panel report, I submitted an appeal that was subsequently denied. My assailant has now received his Yale degree and can rest assured that he did nothing wrong — because that’s what Yale implied by declaring that he was not in violation of the sexual misconduct policy. What he did to me is okay in Yale’s book, and it happens to far too many on this campus who do not come forward.
We like to think we’re progressive. We say that the absence of a “no” is not a “yes,” that having sex with someone who’s intoxicated constitutes sexual assault. But, for some reason, there remains a social stigma around calling a spade a spade. The unfortunate truth is that nothing will change until Yale takes a firm stance against alcohol-related incidents of sexual assault, until it puts its good theory into good practice. So no, I wasn’t restrained or choked. But I was physically vulnerable, and despite what the panel has to say about it, I was mentally incapacitated. My assailant was predatory, not violent. And I am at a loss to understand why Yale would undermine the severity of my assailant’s offense and the integrity of their own policy by calling what happened to me anything other than sexual assault.
As of May 31, 2014, Yale is no longer required to report to the Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights, as per the voluntary resolution agreement reached in 2012 in response to the Title IX lawsuit brought against the University. But this isn’t over. While Yale may have taken a step in the right direction by forming the UWC, we must demand more. It doesn’t matter if there’s a system in place unless it actually enforces the sexual misconduct policy and upholds the ethical standard that we’ve set forth publicly. Until then, it’s smoke and mirrors.
Eden Ohayon graduated from Yale College in 2014.