Voices that need to be heard

Heather McDaniel

Sexual assault victim speaks up: “He got a slap on the wrist. I was treated like I asked for it.”

Before I knew it, he was on top of me taking my leggings and panties off. The pain that followed was excruciating. I just wanted it to stop. Then everything went black. I woke up a few hours later to even more pain. After he left my room, I went into the bathroom.  I noticed I was covered in blood from the waist down. Instead of reporting what just happened, I tried to erase it.

HeatherDanielsAccording to statistics from the Rape, Abuse and  Incest National Network, someone in the U.S. is sexually assaulted every two minutes, and every year there are more than 200,000 victims of sexual assault. The National Sexual Violence Resource Center claims sexual assaults are most likely to occur in September, October and November, on Friday or Saturday nights, between the hours of midnight and 6 a.m.

At least 50 percent of college student sexual assaults are associated with alcohol use. More than half of raped college women tell no one of their victimization. Nine in 10 victims knew their offender. Last year on Friday, Sept. 20, I was sexually assaulted for the first but not the last time. My perpetrator lived in my dorm.

When I first met him, my instincts nagged at me that something was off about him. I ignored my gut and listened to a friend’s advice to give him a chance.

The night he raped me I was drunk. I was upset about my grandma being on her death bed. I had downed two bottles of wine in two hours. He knew I was plastered, and he started drinking as well. That night I learned there was the nice sweet sober him and the drunk him.

Eleven days later I filed a sexual harassment report with Public Safety. I was scared. My friends had talked me into going to the police, but I still couldn’t say “rape.” I didn’t want to admit that to myself. I know now I was in denial. The truth was I initially really liked my attacker—until he forced himself on me. Then it happened again and again. I will never forget the incident when I was awakened by him trying to break in and enter my room.

I finally made a hospital visit when I miscarried.

During the reporting process at Public Safety I was asked if I wanted an advocate from the Women’s Center to be there. Unaware of an advocate’s purpose, I said no. After meeting with Kelly Laakso, a Sexual Assault Victims Advocate on Oct. 17, 2014, I regret that decision.

Around 400 survivors on an annual basis come to the Women’s Center for their services, according to the center’s statistics. “At least one-quarter to one-third of those survivors are NMU students,” Laakso said. The Women’s Center provides free and confidential services to teens, adults and children survivors of domestic and sexual violence, dating violence and stalking. Its purpose is to protect, educate, advocate, counsel and empower survivors.

Like me, many victims are afraid to come forward. We blame ourselves when it’s the perpetrator’s fault. When reporting, some officers victimize us even more by treating us like the perpetrators. Officers could show more empathy. Victims live with this for the rest of their lives. I still remember the public safety officer’s words: “Take the guy’s future into considerations.”

I felt discouraged on top of fearing my attacker would retaliate against me for speaking up. So I lied, said some of it was consensual. I did not press charges at the time. My case was marked as sexual harassment and a no contact order was put in place. Despite repeated requests for comment on this story, Public Safety did not respond.

When I pressed formal charges with the university in February 2014, the student code hearing process further traumatized me. My attacker was expelled but appealed. At the second hearing, I was interrogated about my Facebook post in which I was critical of Public Safety.

I admitted that I posted the comments. But then they kept asking about whether I was drunk in my Facebook photos. I felt they were attacking the victim. The decision of the second hearing allowed my attacker to stay on campus, but we weren’t allowed to have contact. After the hearing, I deleted my Facebook pictures. I stopped going to counseling for weeks. I blamed and hated myself again to the point I almost left NMU. I felt like he got a slap on the wrist, and I was treated like I had asked for it.

“As our conduct board hearings are confidential (i.e. not open to the public) and conduct records are protected under the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, there is little I can tell you about the hearing specifically,” Christine Greer, Dean of Students, said in an email to me.

I asked Greer why my Facebook photos were investigated a week before the hearing?  Greer replied, “The Dean of Students Office did not look at your Facebook page in advance of the hearing nor did the Dean of Students Office bring up your Facebook page at the hearing.”

Again, it’s like I’m living in some parallel universe. I’m not crazy. I know what was said and challenged in that hearing. It made me feel like a victim all over again. Over the summer I stopped self-medicating with alcohol. But I still walk around pretending I am fine, when on the inside I am not. I am trying to heal and take my life back. I remember the night a friend of my attacker asked me, “Can you drop everything with my buddy, I don’t want him getting in trouble.” His piercing dark eyes froze me.

I could not move or respond at first. He repeated himself and stared me down. My perpetrator heard him confronting me and asked to talk to me. I only agreed out of fear I would be physically harmed if I did not. After listening to what I found out was a fake apology, we made a “truce” and watched a movie, a mistake that still haunts me.

While we were watching the movie he grabbed my left wrist and held me down in the bed. I would have gotten raped again but he could not get my leggings off. I went into shock and passed out. When I woke up I was threatened, “If I go down you’re going down with me.”

I still check my door to make sure it’s locked. I still feel unsafe and uncomfortable on campus. But I came back to make sure no other student is treated the way I was. No one deserves to be sexually assaulted.

Be a survivor’s role model, and raise your voice too.