December 2, 2014

Student recounts sexual assault

“I hope that by sharing my story, I will make others feel comfortable sharing theirs.”

Editor’s note: The names that appear in this article have been changed.

On December 19, 2009, I was sexually assaulted. I met Sam, the man who assaulted me, the previous summer at debate camp. We kissed at the end of camp and stayed in touch afterwards. We did not go to the same high school, and, in fact, did not live in the same city. We only saw each other at certain competitions or tournaments that our respective schools traveled to, in various cities. The competitions lasted all weekend. Students typically stayed in hotels—arranged by the tournament—and Sam and I would kiss in secret in one of our respective hotel rooms after our chaperones had gone to sleep, leaving students to their own devices.

Sam sexually assaulted me in his hotel room while we were at a tournament in Minneapolis. We were kissing and he asked me how far I was comfortable going, and in a haze of exhaustion and naiveté I said “I don’t know.” That was all he needed to justify pushing me onto the bed, taking my clothes off, and digitally penetrating me until I started shouting “no” and trying to push him off of me. I have never felt more degraded than when I hurriedly put my clothes back on as he watched, both of us silent.

For the first three weeks after it happened, I didn’t tell anyone. I had never told my parents about Sam in the first place, and it seemed too complicated to explain to them that a guy I’d been “hooking up with” had gone too far. Very few of my friends had known about Sam, and, at first, I was too ashamed to talk about it. When I did finally tell one friend about what had happened, I tried to pretend it wasn’t that big a deal, like, “of course it was bad, but then again sometimes bad things happen.”

The truth is, I both felt completely responsible for the entire episode and thoroughly convinced that what Sam had done was not a “real” crime. To my sixteen-year-old brain, it was only “real” rape if there was penis-in-vagina penetration after you explicitly said no. I felt it was my fault both because I had gone to Sam’s room in the first place, and because I hadn’t explicitly said no.

I spent a lot of time crying and hiding in my room so that my parents wouldn’t see. I started drinking, both with friends and in secret by myself, pilfering cognac from my parents’ liquor cabinet. I fought with people I’d been close with for years, accusing them of not caring about me while refusing to tell them that I was still upset about what had happened with Sam. I felt empty, guilty, ashamed, and alone.

Meanwhile, Sam told all of the members of his debate team that he’d had sex with me, and that I’d been willing to do anything he wanted. Unsurprisingly, these rumors quickly spread. I heard about them when another member of my high school’s team asked me whether I’d “hooked up” with Sam, and then told me about the rumors.

I didn’t quit debate immediately after that, but I did quit early in my senior year. I was lucky in that I didn’t have to see Sam every day, and after I quit debate I didn’t have to see him at all. I had the privilege of avoiding my assaulter by going about the rest of my life, a privilege that is denied to many survivors of sexual assault, especially those at universities. I still thought about it quite frequently—and I still felt ashamed and guilty—but at least I didn’t have to run into Sam.

A year and a half passed after I was sexually assaulted before I even began to believe that what happened was sexual assault. I was spending the afternoon with my then-boyfriend, Mark, when I started crying after seeing Sam’s Facebook profile pop up on my news feed. After getting me to calm down, Mark convinced me to tell him the whole story. When I finished he looked at me and said, “That’s unforgivable. That’s sexual assault.”

Personally, I never wanted to seek disciplinary action against Sam. I wanted him to apologize for what he did, and really mean it, and I thought several times of contacting him in an effort to extract an apology. I never did.

For the most part I don’t think about Sam anymore. Sometimes, however, I will see or read something that reminds me of what happened, and the memories will come flooding back. I felt that way reading Rolling Stone’s recent article about rape at UVA, and I have felt that way hearing about incidents that have occurred on this campus. As sexual assault increasingly becomes a topic of discussion both nationally and at UChicago, I have increasingly wanted to share my story. My sexual assault did not occur on this campus, but similar incidents did. I know how alone one can feel and how easy it is to believe that being assaulted is your own fault.

I consider myself a fairly private person, and I find it very difficult to make public details as intimate as these. But I also wanted to share my story so that anyone who has experienced sexual assault on this campus will know that they are not alone, and that it is not their fault. I believe it is important that we create a culture in which survivors of sexual assault feel comfortable talking about what happened to them, and I hope that by sharing my story, I will make others feel comfortable sharing theirs.

Julia Reinitz is a fourth-year in the College majoring in comparative literature and slavic language and literature.