As American universities in California and across the nation grapple with whether their policies towards sexual assault on campus are adequate, and why 60 percent of rape and sexual assault victims keep silent, my case may shed light on these questions.
I was raped in my college room at the age of 20. I did not report it to the police and now, 18 years later, I am facing murder charges and the death penalty for the death of my assailant. All because I did not turn to the police after I was raped.
I turned to the college nurse but I got no help and the incident was not officially recorded in college records. I could not turn to my family, feeling that I had disappointed them once before. My father had sexually abused me for seven years starting at the age of 5. When he was exposed, I was made to feel ashamed. That shame stayed with me, quickly turning into a deep sense of guilt and humiliation. During the formative years of my childhood, I had learned to submit in order to survive, and this made me vulnerable for the rest of my life.
In college, it happened again. Despite struggling with him, I could not stop a man from taking me against my will by direct force. At 4'9" and weighing 95 pounds, he found it easy to overpower me. When it was over, the outside world stopped to exist. I could not hear or think. I was alone, distressed, and with no options.
I could not turn to my family, and to my misfortune, a man I had dated for a few months came to visit me, attempting to rekindle the relationship. I tried to keep the horrible incident to myself. But the rape opened up an old wound that had not healed, taking me back to times of helplessness and submission as a child. When this man arrived he noticed my distress and was sympathetic. He pressed me for hours until I broke down in tears and recounted the details. He became enraged, however. He wanted me back in his life and I had been damaged, dishonored, to him. He bullied and blamed me for it.
One horrible night, he and a group of his friends proceeded to take matters into their own hands. I was whisked away by one of his friends while the others physically assaulted the man who raped me. I was warned that if I turned against them a worse fate would await me. I was trapped, outnumbered by three older men, one of whom had a gun, and two women who accompanied them. I was miles away from my home. I had no access to a phone or a car and did not know how to drive then. When I was finally taken home, I was told they had released my assailant. Weeks later, I found out he had been killed, however. The nightmare would not end there, another of the men, who threatened me that night and recently died in a shoot out with the police, wanted to ensure I would remain quiet, so I was pressured to marry the man I had dated so that I could not be made to testify against him.
In the following 18 years, I tried to rebuild my life. I went back to college and earned a PhD in Psychology. I had an opportunity to work on mental health at the World Health Organization in Geneva, and soon after, got a job as a Psychology professor. Last year, while traveling to the USA, I was arrested abruptly, disappearing from my daughter's life for two months. I was eager to cooperate with the authorities and remove the black cloud hanging over me.
But once again, my trust was violated. The District Attorney claimed they "were not interested in me"; that "I was not a target." I cooperated fully and without restraint, as I wanted to help them solve the case. They used my information to crack a case they could not solve for 18 years and were finally able to arrest the main suspects. Yet, they continue to charge me with murder despite having clear evidence that I did not participate in the killing.
My lifelong struggle to rise above shame and humiliation continues as I am portrayed as a murderer. I have done everything to help build the District Attorney's case because justice should be done: a man's life is never to be taken by another human being, under any circumstances. I want to raise my four-year-old daughter in a world with justice; where she can feel safe to trust others and have that trust be cherished and valued -- not violated.
My situation is a striking example of how inadequate college campus policies placed me at the mercy of others' bullying and intimidations. I needed protection when I sought out the nurse, but I didn't receive it and others took advantage of my distress.
If we need support, comfort and protection, why do victims do not report rape or sexual abuse to the authorities? Non-reporting is pervasive and it cuts across race, professional status, and economic levels. We recently heard of the prominent, high-powered women who did not come forward when the ex-mayor of San Diego assaulted them. What stops us, victims, from reporting is more than the shame. Rape and abuse are not only a violation of your body, but a violation of the trust you place on another human being. I trusted my father. For a fleeting moment, I trusted my rapist, letting him into my room. Then, I trusted the man I dated. Now, I have trusted the prosecutors.
The Orange County District Attorney's decision on whether to pursue charges against me will send a powerful message to women on where they stand in the eyes of the justice system. The justice system needs to assuage victim's fears that no one will believe them and that they will be further humiliated. Orange County has the opportunity to convey that message of trust to women by dropping the charges against me.