Content Warning: This piece contains references to sexual violence and rape.
August of 2019, I arrived at Yale as excited as any other first year. I was a 17-year-old ball of exhilaration who couldn’t wait to see snow.
But within my first two weeks on campus, I was a victim of sexual violence at the hands of someone who, at the time, I considered a friend.
I will spare the details. I said no. I said stop. He didn’t care.
As I lay awake in bed that night, waves of guilt swept over me, pummeling me from all sides, inundating me. For weeks, and even months, I questioned whether I had led him on, or if my cheery disposition was, to him, a tease. Even worse, I started to think that maybe my no’s and stop’s weren’t enough. Should I have been angrier? Used force? Every bone in my body had frozen that night. The fear engulfs and overtakes you.
He hurt me. I hate to admit it, but what he did affected me. I couldn’t concentrate in class; I was more irritable and distant. Every time I’d see him in the dining hall or at Woads, a panic would weigh heavily on my shoulders. It affected my sleep, my grades, my relationships, everything. I was fighting a losing battle.
I took pictures of the party that night. I recently got the film developed, and when I flipped through the photos, I was taken aback by how normal they were. People were smiling with their arms around one another. Solo cups and reggaetón. The prints failed to capture a single shadow of suspicion that an intimate part of me would soon be brutally stripped away.
I didn’t tell anyone. Not for a while. I was ashamed, embarrassed. I didn’t want people to treat me differently. Slowly, I started to tell a few friends, but I never sought any of the institutional avenues Community and Consent Educators always lauded. Part of me feared that talking to a professional would render my trauma tangible, and something I could no longer ignore. Another part of me felt that seeking help was giving up, a sign that I was too weak to handle it on my own.
April 4, 2020, at 4:07 p.m., I called the Sexual Harassment and Assault Response and Education, or SHARE, hotline, after learning that he had been boasting about that night, turning one of the worst moments of my life into a “messy” hookup story. For the first time, I felt truly helpless. The current had pulled me under; I was drowning. I didn’t know who to turn to. So, I picked up the phone and called one of the many numbers provided by my FroCo that I never thought I’d have to use.
The woman on the other line gave an initial introduction, but I wasn’t listening.
“I don’t really know what I’m supposed to say.”
“Start wherever you’d like.”
I told her everything. From the night it occurred to the fallout I experienced throughout the school year. Every detail, everything I could remember. And I’d like to profess that after spilling my guts to a stranger on the other end, the weight was lifted off my shoulders — that it felt cathartic and deeply relieving. It wasn’t. But it was a start.
There are three avenues of reporting sexual misconduct at Yale: sharing informally with a Title IX Coordinator to discuss accommodations and other support measures, filing a criminal complaint with the Yale or New Haven Police Department, and filing a formal complaint with the University-Wide Committee on Sexual Misconduct, or UWC. Like many others, I didn’t want my name etched into a UWC case for fear that the committee would claim to have not found enough evidence to corroborate my story. I didn’t want this to be my legacy. I didn’t want him to be my legacy.
Even when sufficient evidence is found, the policies seem to protect the perpetrator rather than the survivor. One Yale College student who was verified by the UWC as having “engaged in sexual penetration without consent” was invited back to campus after only a one-semester suspension. One. Semester. The Yale administration believes that four months of vacation for a rapist is adequate to protect its students from sexual, physical and emotional harm. There is no world where a perpetrator of sexual violence should be welcomed with open arms back to campus with a mere slap on the wrist and a few sessions of consent training. There must be a zero-tolerance policy for rape on campus. If the UWC committee conducts an investigation and discovers that a student has indeed committed this most vile and despicable act, there is no reason why they should have their educational privileges protected.
It’s no wonder the vast majority of sexual misconduct at Yale is informally reported, if at all. What motivation do we have to speak out? What hope do survivors have for justice?
As COVID-19 cases begin to wane, the Yale community grows increasingly more eager to return to our second home, to return to normality. But, our normality is poisonous. The COVID-19 pandemic may be dissipating around us, but Yale has all but failed to address this epidemic of sexual assault. In the decade prior to the pandemic, sexual misconduct reporting across all three avenues skyrocketed 425 percent over a period of 6 years. Though this may indicate that students feel more comfortable reporting informally through Title IX, the rate of formal reports through the UWC has remained largely unchanged. So, despite the skyrocketing in sexual misconduct reporting, it’s evident that students are not empowered by the University to seek justice for the trauma of their sexual assault through the UWC.
I am eternally grateful for the women and queer people at Yale that I have spoken to and shared my trauma with; our solidarity has given me hope and a much-needed sense of solace. I have felt empowered and seen by the community of survivors that exist here. It’s a supportive and caring community, but one that exists because of an insidious underlying problem. Too many of us at Yale have experienced sexual violence.
I have gone back and forth for over a year and a half in deciding if this is a piece I want to write — a part of myself that I am ready to share more widely. I’m terrified as I write this at the thought of how my community’s perception of me will change. It’s taken me a long time to feel like I can take ownership of my narrative, over this difficult chapter in my life. It’s taken me a long time to try and reduce that chapter into a single sentence of my story. It is up to Yale to curtail future harm and instill justice in sexual assault reporting systems, so one day these traumatic experiences won’t have to even grace a single page of anyone’s narrative. If I sit around waiting for someone to speak up or take action, nothing will change. I can’t fix the past, but you can bet that I’ll fight like hell to change the future for those who will come after me.
JORDI BERTRÁN RAMÍREZ is a sophomore in Trumbull College. He is a senator in the Yale College Council on the sexual wellness committee. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.