Colorado campus rape survivor shares powerful statement as student attacker avoids prison

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Amy Lewis
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Earlier this year we saw the survivor of the rape case at Stanford university in the States release a powerful statement, directly addressing attacker Brock Turner who was given a widely-condemned sentence of just six months in prison, despite the maximum punishment available to the judge being 14 years.

Now, inspired by the display of strength of the woman at the centre of the Stanford case, a woman from Colorado has released her own impact statement, which was read to the court before her campus attacker was let off from a full prison sentence, despite a guilty verdict from the jury convicting Austin James Wilkerson of one count of sexual assault of a helpless victim, and one count of unlawful sexual contact.

In a ruling that echoes that of the Stanford case, Judge Patrick Butler instead ordered Austin James Wilkerson, 22, to serve two-years of ‘work release’, where he will be free to attend school or work during the day, returning to a county jail at night, along with 20 years spent on probation.

The ruling has angered those close to the victim, who has remained anonymous for her protection, as well as campaigners and supporters of sexual assault victims, who had hoped that the widespread scrutiny of the Stanford case might have led to a heavier sentence.

Following the judge’s ruling, prosecutor Caryn Datz, deputy district attorney for Boulder County, Colorado, told reporters: “It does not satisfy our concerns about deterring one of the most prolific and impactful crimes of gender violence in our society.

“In 2016, we still have a long way to go.”

Addressing the culture of victim blaming and the extent of her trauma, read the survivor’s full statement below.

“His life is ruined.” Oh yeah, and it’s not like my life isn’t ruined or anything. It’s always been about the rapist since the assault. As the victim of this sexual assault, my life has been ruined socially, psychologically, academically, and financially.

To begin with, this sexual assault has ruined me socially. I don’t go to CU football games anymore. I don’t drink at parties anymore. I don’t even go out anymore. This is partially because I’m too scared to be in situations that remind me of the sexual assault. But it’s also in part because of all the victim-blaming that I have internalised. Instead of having the typical fun 21st birthday celebration, I was saying that I couldn’t go to the bars with everyone because I had too much homework. In reality, I was too scared of my friends’ friends because the rapist was a friend of a friend.

Another instance of being afraid of my friends’ friends was my living situation for the 2015-2016 school year. My friend and I were going to live with our group of friends. However, during the contract negotiation, my supposed friends sprung a new roommate on us. I was fine with this for the most part, until my “friends” had the new roommate share a bathroom and floor with us girls. These were not the terms I consented to. Everyone thought I was being irrational for not wanting to share a bathroom and be on the same floor level as their friend, who was a guy I had met only twice. I feel like those dogs who become afraid or don’t like being around certain people. In my case, I’m afraid of acquaintances, since this sexual assault was an acquaintance rape. Safety is my #1 priority, even if it means jeopardising relationships.

“Oh boo hoo,” you might say. “She doesn’t get to go out and party and have fun. Big deal.” But it’s not just socially, it’s psychologically. It’s the anxiety. When I started filing this sexual assault case with CU back in the fall of 2014, I had a horrible nightmare that the rapist was going to retaliate against me. He was going to kill me with a bomb. I tried to tell the authorities, but they wouldn’t listen. I woke up from this nightmare crying. I immediately called my mom and told her I couldn’t go to class because the rapist was on campus. She reassured me that he wouldn’t retaliate against me because there would be consequences. I reluctantly agreed to go to class, but in the back of my mind I thought about how the rapist had committed this horrific crime knowing that there would be consequences. So what would stop him from retaliating?

On campus I was on high alert, constantly checking over my shoulder. Keep in mind that CU didn’t have a Criminal Protection Order. All CU said was that if we crossed paths, he would have to turn and go the other way. However, this didn’t happen. After the trial conviction, the rapist was in the waiting area. Instead of him turning around and going the other way – like everyone had reassured me he would do – the rapist stayed there. I was the one who was going the other way. The flight part of my fight-or-flight instincts kicked into overdrive. I practically ran the other way so I wouldn’t have to be anywhere near him. Even with the Criminal Protection Order and the court not allowing weapons, I did not feel safe around the rapist. And I never will.

When I’m not having nightmares of rape, retaliation, or retrial that goes awry, I’m having panic attacks. Like the nightmares, these started after the sexual assault. Prior to the assault, I never had a panic attack in my life. At first, I thought these panic attacks were random, but the more of them I had, the more a pattern emerged that aligned with the sexual assault: I would be peacefully sleeping when all of the sudden I would be jolted awake by this horrible thing happening to me. There wasn’t much I could do except try to breathe through it – just try to survive – and wait for the horrible thing to be over with. Just. Like. The assault. One of the most vivid panic attacks I remember was again when I was filing this sexual assault case with CU in the fall of 2014. I was peacefully sleeping. Then I woke up to the horrible feeling that I was dying. I was so scared and confused that it felt like I was going crazy; it didn’t feel real.

When I could actually sit up and move – not frozen lying down – I asked my roommate to take me to the hospital. Of course once I got to the hospital they told me everything was fine. After going to the hospital another time, my parents told me that I had to stop going to the hospital. If something was wrong, I was to call my mom because she is a medical doctor and would be able to help. In the spring of 2015 I had yet another panic attack. I was peacefully sleeping when I was jolted awake. This time it felt like I was having a heart attack. It was a sharp, jabbing attack on my heart. About half an hour later it passed but I was still shaken. Instead of going to the hospital, I called my mom at four or five in the morning crying. Between uncontrollable sobs I told her that I had just had a heart attack. I told her my symptoms and she told me that the symptoms were not that of a heart attack. Even after her reassurance, I couldn’t fall back asleep; I was too afraid to wake up to the horrible thing again.

It’s the depression. About a month after the assault, I tried to kill myself because of the impact of the sexual assault. Some days I can’t even get out of bed, let alone do four readings, projects, and study for tests. And no wonder. The rapist made pleasurable things of sex, sleep, and going out traumatic. So it’s no surprise that less pleasurable things like studying are 100 times more difficult.

It really was a snowball effect: the rape affected me socially and psychologically, which in turn affected me academically. Every time I would try to put this trauma out of my mind, I would be reminded of it again and again with new updates, hearing dates, and trial dates. Like, “Hey, remember that traumatic thing that happened to you? Yeah you’re gonna have to relive that in your retelling to CU-Boulder investigators; the DA’s office; a detective; your therapist; your psychologist; your psychiatrist; your Office of Victim Assistance counselor; a judge; a jury; the rapist’s family, affiliates, and legal team; your loved ones; and many others! Hope that doesn’t put a damper on your school thing!” Everything is a reminder. I can’t escape the rapist figuratively or literally. For example, earlier this year my team and I went to New Mexico for a tournament. Back in Colorado, I returned to the unsettling news that the rapist was going to New Mexico the weekend after I went. What if he was there when I was? Would he supposedly turn around and go the other way? We’ve seen how well that has worked…

Finally, financially. $250,000. $127,582 lost of future wages because I’ll still be in school instead of working. Lower starting income because I’ll only have an undergraduate degree instead of a master’s degree: $14,698. Hospital bills from panic attacks: $5,000. Bills for antidepressants: $100. MESA trauma class: $90. Money spent on textbooks and material for failed and withdrawn classes: $10,000. Money lost on failed and withdrawn classes: $15,000. Money lost on having to do extra undergraduate years (which includes housing and living expenses): $20,000. Bills from suicide attempt resulting in MIP, hospitalisation, and BASICS classes: $4,000. $52,900 for my parents’ time, my time, and gas spent for meetings and trial. The $250,000 doesn’t even include a lifetime of future expenses of therapy, antidepressants, etc. as a result of this sexual assault. But it’s only the rapist’s life that has been ruined, right? It’s not like I had hopes and dreams or academic and career goals.

But worst of all is the victim-blaming. Freshman year, one of my roommates, who you met at trial, was victim-blaming. At the end of April 2014, our floor was talking about how we saw this girl throwing up outside of our Williams Village dorm, Darley North. A few days after that, we received an email saying that a girl had reported a rape to the police. The rape was perpetrated after a party in a WillVill dorm by someone she knew. Some people on our floor speculated that maybe the girl we saw throwing up outside our dorm was the one who was raped. My roommate chimed in, “Well, if she was that drunk, then she deserved to get raped.”

I was livid and vehemently defended the victim, and this was before I had even processed the sexual assault perpetrated against me. But my roommate wasn’t the only one who was victim-blaming; it was a person (or persons) in the jury. Following my breaking down and crying and getting ridiculed about the sexual assault, someone in the jury had the audacity to ask me why I didn’t say, “No.” The real question is, “Why didn’t the rapist get my consent?!” It would be like if someone robbed you and they said, “Well you didn’t say no!” Does a lack of a “no” make the robbery okay? Of course not! Even my own mother was victim-blaming. She told me that if I hadn’t been drunk, this wouldn’t have happened. Yet, it was excusable for him to rape me because he was drunk. After all I’ve endured emotionally, physically, psychologically, and financially, the burden of the blame still crashes down on my shoulders.

Therefore, it’s my contention that the maximum sentence would be the most suitable. I wouldn’t have to worry about running into the rapist at CU football games or on campus or even in New Mexico. The best reassurance – not CU’s, “Oh he’ll just go the other way!” – would be to know that the rapist cannot physically get to me. Please don’t be like CU’s director of student conduct, who had total disregard for my safety and the safety of others by allowing the rapist to go to an on-campus comedy show after he was found guilty of multiple counts of sexual assault. Please don’t be like CU’s director of student conduct, who suspended the rapist from CU for just over a year, meaning that he would be allowed back on campus while I was still attending.

Basically, please don’t be like CU’s director of student conduct, who sacrificed the safety of the community in favor of the rapist’s pleasure. Knowing that the rapist cannot physically get to anyone would give the community and me a peace of mind – well, at least for a little while out of my lifelong suffering. Have as much mercy for the rapist as he did for me the night of the sexual assault, which was none.

In conclusion, the rapist CHOSE to ruin his life. But like the sexual assault itself, my life has been ruined without my consent.

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Amy Lewis

Amy Lewis is a freelance writer and editor, a lover of strong tea, equally strong eyebrows, a collector of facial oils and a cat meme enthusiast. She covers everything from beauty and fashion to feminism and travel.