My name is anonymous. I have not asked the other people involved, whose privacy I was sworn to uphold, if I could publish this story. Still, I find that it is necessary for people to know.
I participated in a rape trial at Amherst College. I was a witness for a friend, “plaintiff.” The “defendant” was my ex-boyfriend. My friend dated him first; we were not friends at the time. I was friends with the guy. I was driven to become friends with him by jealousy. A woman – who transferred schools – said she liked him. I did not like him. But she got something I wanted. Ironically, a position with the Peer Advocates of Sexual Respect. I thought, hm, if she likes him, there must be something to him that I do not have or know. Something. So I became friends with him.
Several months into our friendship, I fell in love with him. Still, being young, I had a very naïve idea of what love must be. That’s beside the point. At the time, I thought – is this what love must be like? I felt terrible because he was dating someone. I didn’t know what to do. But I thought – I can be supportive to his relationship, and I will do my best to be friendly to his partner. (The story is more complicated than that, of course. But, for the sake of this story, I have left out quite a few details.)
The school year ended. In the summertime, I dated someone and had sex for the first time. I giggled because I thought – This? This is what wars are fought over? This is why people die? For this?
I was excited to have a boyfriend; my first boyfriend and I dated for two years in high school. I wanted to date someone again.
But, my friends said he was an asshole. I replied, “No, no – he’s not an asshole.” I would also tell them, “But he does x, y, and z.”
I was lucky to have friends who told me straight out – “Listen. If we say he’s an asshole, and you can cite instances of him being an asshole, don’t you think he’s an asshole?”
It took a while for that advice to sink in. Still, I broke up with him by summer’s end. Unfortunately, he came to visit me at the college. I asked him if he could not visit. But still, he insisted. When he came, it was at the end of RC training and the first week of freshman orientation.
I told him that I didn’t want to have sex with him. I offered him the floor and he said he wanted the bed. So I offered him the bed and I said I would take the floor. He told me how much he wanted to sleep with me. He wouldn’t take ‘no’ for an answer. I slept with him, but not because I wanted to. I slept with him because he wanted me to, and because he wouldn’t stop. This was a recurring pattern in our relationship, which I only see in retrospect.
I was embarrassed because he made me moan. And I didn’t want to set a bad example for my residents. But I couldn’t stop myself from moaning. And I hated myself. I was so disgusted. I am still disgusted with myself as I write this.
I know it sounds strange, to take such a long time to process. At the time, I didn’t realize that this was abnormal. I had no idea my relationship could be called ‘abusive.’ I learned about this recently by talking to a case worker at a Domestic Violence house: “an abusive relationship is where one party takes away
the capacity to consent from the other party” and this can occur on a variety of levels, financially, physically, emotionally, etc. Unfortunately, that’s what was happening but I was too unlearned, as were my friends, about the nuances of consent and abuse.
What’s funny is that when I think about the beginning of this relationship, I remember thinking about how weird this guy was. I met him at my summer job. I worked for Grassroots/Campaigns and it was a 2- hour commute by public transportation to Western Los Angeles. Our issue was to fund raise for gay marriage, an issue I have always been deeply passionate about. What was strange was that no one in the office took their job seriously, and my boss was unethical. Still, I needed a job. I needed to build my resume so that I could get “THE job” once I graduated and life would be grand.
He gave me a mixed-cd of music that I still listen to. He took me to his favorite places in Los Angeles. It was sweet, at first. I slept over his place because it was closer to work. I lied to myself so much, but I didn’t know any better.
Fast forward. He leaves campus after spilling his guts out, telling me about how terrible I am. Crying to me about how terrible his life and his job is. I awkwardly pat his shoulder and wonder, “How much longer will he be here? I need to get back to work. I want to go to class.”
Finally, he leaves. I don’t realize what I just went through. That many moments in our relationship were rape, that the relationship became verbally abusive.
A couple weeks later, I find out that my friend broke it off with his partner the previous June. I’m in the weird place of excitement and sadness, not sure whether to comfort or jump his bones.
Sure enough, one drunken night, we hook up. We both had a great time. And we started to date. He has bad habits that rub off on me. I am really excited to date him, and might have been kind of annoying. We both care for each other as best we can.
But…there’s something strange. He doesn’t actually seem to care. He says he’ll do things, but he doesn’t. I ask him – why did you leave me? And he says, I forgot. I had work.
I realize – I need to break up with him. So I do. His friends tell me, stay away from him. He’s an asshole. People are strangely supportive. But it breaks me and I can’t stop crying. I see him on campus. We hook up occasionally. Some of my friends from back home say he’s an asshole. Other friends on campus are also friends with him, so we occupy a strange limbo.
I seek resources, but I keep crying and I want someone to help me, but I don’t know who to ask for help. Some people are half-heartedly supportive. I find that I need to be hyper-motivated or crazy if I want someone to respond to an e-mail or follow-up with something s/he said s/he would do.
In the meantime, I continue communication with his ex-partner. We stay on good terms. Zhe has a best friend who I’ve also become close with, especially during the course of this tumultuous relationship. I will call hir “an affiliated party” (aap for short).
One night, we go out to party. I tell aap, y’know what? I’m going to be honest! I’m going to get over this guy. He’s an asshole. aap says we should toast and tells me a drinking cheer about friendships. The night goes on. aap gets drunker. In someone’s common room party, aap breaks down and tells me that zhe has been sleeping with the ex-boyfriend. I comfort aap. I ask aap what zhe needs. I offer aap my bed to sleep in. Another friend, a mutual friend who has been witnessing this whole shenanigan with me, wonders in so many words – What the hell are we going to do? What the fuck is going on?
We offer a silent prayer.
I tell aap that I can’t help hir. That I’m sorry, but I can’t. I stop speaking to the ex-boyfriend. I commiserate with plaintiff.
I get through finals. I work. Summer passes.
The following school year, plaintiff tells me of what happened, of how zhe was raped. Plaintiff says, I am only filing because of what he did to me, you and aap. it needs to stop. aap had a history of sexual assault. I wasn’t aware of my own. For me, he was simply an asshole.
We went through the trial. aap continued to hook up with the ex-boyfriend. He was not officially going to school anymore. He had failed out of his classes.
In my dorm, he would stay in the suite below mine. My memory blurs here. I remember telling my suitemates about how much it bothered me, but they told me I was overreacting. I remember trying to talk to his friends who lived below me, but I don’t remember if we had the ability to effectively communicate. I didn’t know how to get to my RC’s suite. aap would come to my suite for parties, and I asked her if she could not come.
I felt increasingly unsafe. I was a scholarship student. I was worried that he or his friends would prank me, steal my stuff, ruin my room. It was all I had at the time. I had been kicked out of my home. I was verbally abused, and neglected. My ancestry has a history of developed and undiscovered personality disorders. I am of the working poor with white skin. No masks. Just a smile and plastic credit cards to mask my debt.
My suitemates didn’t understand, but my friend said, “I know what you mean. I have the same fear.”
I called the Dean of Residential Life if I could move to an open room in Humphries, the only places on campus where I felt safe. He said that the room was locked and that he could move me to any other place on campus. I said I didn’t feel safe anywhere else on campus. He asked why. I said I don’t know, but I reiterated my concern about the prank. The Dean said you have no reason to feel unsafe. He has no history of this behavior. And if you do not want to move to another place on campus, I cannot help you.
So, I went forward. I slept in friends’ rooms. The trial proceeded. It was a stressful semester.
He was so rich. His family lived on Manhattan’s Upper East Side. He had a behavioral problem since he was a young, but his family had the resources to take him to special schools that cost upwards of $70,000 a year. He was so spoiled. And he would go to another great school after Amherst. He would go onwards and I wondered with my friend, ‘would he ever learn? Will he care?’
Zhe said, ‘At least he went through the trial. at least he had to listen.’
He was exiled from the ‘herst for two years, which be around the time that plaintiff and I would graduate. aap took some time off.
Only recently did I know that what happened with the dorms would never happen in a real sexual assault trial. I don’t know what to do with that information. But I hope that the trustees fund enough changes within the school such that they can ensure similar safety violations never occur again.
As the Peer Advocates of Sexual Respect touted in my first week of freshman orientation, I agree that ‘consent is sexy.’ But the world is filled with places where consent is contextual, and different words mean different things. Perhaps, there needs to be better information earlier on about sex education. I had the misfortune of having only formal abstinence education all of my life. I wish I had better sex education. I wish I learned about consent, abuse, and how to integrate Western conceptions of these things into personal cultural frameworks.
I hope that Amherst College creates more staff positions that would allow the college to appropriately address these concerns. For example, more staff at the Multicultural Resource Center and Women’s Center and creating more efficient work systems at the Department of Residential Life. Or perhaps building more partnerships with the surrounding four colleges in the area, and giving students the time and resources to access those partnerships, as well as enrich those relationships.
Put your money where your mouth is, Amherst College. I know you’ve got enough of it. My gender is woman.
I refuse to roar.
I will live instead.