By now you know that there is an epidemic of sexual assault on university campuses. But what you probably don’t know, is that there is also an increasing trend of assaulters suing their victims in an attempt to silence them. How do I know this? It happened to me. It’s a long, painful story, but here’s the abridged version.
I was sexually assaulted during my first year at university in the U.S. I reported the perpetrator and was found in the right by the university. Despite this, my assaulter sued me in an effort to silence me. For most of my adult life, it worked. But not anymore.
And while living in the UK has been a haven for me, after I launched the Restless Network, I realised that this silencing happens to women here too.
There are a lot of people to blame for this new strategy. The abusers and their aggressive attorneys, first and foremost; the justice system, which lets them do it; but also, the universities. Before I came forward, the university promised me that they wouldn’t tolerate retaliation. In fact, in the U.S., universities are supposed to be required to protect women who have been assaulted under “Title IX,” the federal law that regulates how universities handle gender discrimination and sexual assault. But when I was sued, the university was unwilling to consider this lawsuit as retaliation. It felt they washed their hands of it and left me unprotected.
My assaulter sued me to try to get me to recant my story, to silence me so he could avoid his suspension by overturning the adjudicator’s determination in my favour. Had the university followed their own guidelines and took appropriate action, the lawsuit would have been dropped.
Instead, I was subject to over three years of constant legal harassment and personal isolation, as I was stripped of any privacy by the court and his investigators—who even went so far as to stake out my home in the U.S. and harass my friends for information about me. A whole new level of abuse. I was unable to tell anyone, even a psychiatrist, that no, I wasn’t okay and that I needed help.
But as awful as my experience was, I am one of the lucky few who could afford to defend themselves and come out the other side able to speak about what happened to me. So many women go through this, but you don’t know about it, because litigation, or the threat of litigation, is such an effective tool in silencing women.
My family had to spend well over $100,000 (over £78,000) trying to defend me. Most people can’t afford that. That means they’re left with no recourse and no help. Take Lucy and Verity Nevitt’s case here in England for example.
While the university in my case failed in its responsibility to protect me, at least I had marginal protections and a standardised investigation in the university’s adjudication process. British women do not have that and face this issue with even less recourse than I had. I’ve seen so many U.K. students asking on the Restless Network app what to do when their universities won’t investigate or protect them from their assaulters. They won’t change their class schedule, never mind take action against retaliation. And there’s no recourse, because there isn’t any country-wide legislation in place in the U.K. that legally requires universities to protect students who have been sexually harassed or assaulted.
So by now you’re probably feeling like there’s no solution. But here’s the thing: laws can be changed, universities can be pressured to act, and there are UK cases and you can donate to cases like those on Crowd Justice to avoid further precedent being set for this kind of intimidation into silence. But to do that, we need to start talking about this issue. And we need to be loud about it. We need to advocate for change on behalf of the many women who have had that ability taken away from them. We can make it illegal for perpetrators to use the law to harass and retaliate against their victims. And we can demand that universities everywhere have standardised policies and legal obligations to address sexual harassment and assault on campus.
Survivors deserve to be able to report without being persecuted, wealthy abusers should not be allowed to manipulate the law to silence us, and our universities should protect us. It’s that simple.