When No Means No, But Universities Don't Listen

In August of 1994, my mother dropped me off at Daum residence hall, where I would live for the next year as a freshman at the University of Iowa.

Three weeks later, a student I had recently met attempted to rape me in a friend's dorm room on another part of campus.

I said no. I said stop. I said please, no. I said all the words that meant I did not want it to happen. Not there with him on the floor -- and definitely not with two of my friends in the room hooking up with other guys.

I said the words. I may have not said the words when he started kissing me, but I definitely said them when he pulled down my pants, when his arms twisted through mine and his feet spread my legs open, when I tried to push him off of me, when he ripped down my underwear and when -- finally -- I found the strength to kick him and run out of the room.

I sat with my back against lime-green tiles in a bathroom down the hall. This was before cell phones. I had no immediate connection to the outside world, so I sat there, crying, until I was brave enough to walk back into the room where I was almost raped.

When I returned, the guy was still there, but was passed out. My friends were still there, also passed out. It was a typical scene after a night of partying -- except for me sitting on the couch until sunlight came through the window.

The next morning it was as if nothing happened. I wrote about it my journal. And then I forgot. But not really.

Almost 20 years later, as a wife and mother, and as a writer and teacher, I read an article in which University of Iowa President Sally Mason says the "goal is to never have another sexual assault. That's probably not a realistic goal just given human nature, and that's unfortunate, but the more we understand about it, the better we are at trying to handle it and help people get through these difficult situations..."

When I read Mason's words, I felt ashamed.

Ashamed that nothing has changed. Ashamed that the female president of my alma mater -- a school I love despite what happened to me -- could say such words even if she retracted them later. Ashamed that even after eight sexual assaults have been reported to university officials this academic year, it appears not much has been done.

I also know that even more cases are going unreported. According to the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network, sexual assault is one of the most under-reported crimes, with 60 percent still being left unreported.

More than I am ashamed, however, I am proud -- proud of students at the university who are speaking out against Mason. Because I couldn't, because others cannot.

If I could go back and tell my 18-year-old self anything, I would tell her this: Respect yourself enough to stand up for yourself.

But it's more complicated than that. Isn't it? Where should I have gone? To whom should I have turned?

The residence assistant on the floor? It wasn't my dorm. Had I been drinking? Yes. Was I underage? Yes. Does it matter? Yes. It matters because this made me afraid to tell, afraid to get help, afraid to move.

Does it justify what he did? No.

At the time, I believed, in some ways, it was my fault. I had no idea where to report such an incident. In fact, I'm not sure reporting it ever crossed my mind. I was ashamed of myself for putting myself in that situation.

But shouldn't a young woman feel safe with two of her friends in the room? Shouldn't no mean no? Shouldn't a university be able to do something to prevent such an act -- or at the very least help a victim feel comfortable enough to come forward?

I agree with the protesters who are retorting, "Rape is not human nature." The man who sexually assaulted me was not programmed to force himself on me. He had a choice.

If University of Iowa officials -- and those at other universities -- turn their backs on victims and allow students who assault other students to remain on campus, they are reinforcing Mason's statement that these acts are just "human nature." They cannot be controlled -- and that we, the victims, need to remain silent because nothing can be done.

This is unacceptable.

Universities need to do more. They need to create programs that educate young men and women about sexual assault. They need to seriously examine the drinking cultures at their schools. Most important, they need to support the victims by providing a safe space for people to report these crimes.

Do not let another 20 years go by. Let's put an end to sexual assaults on college campuses everywhere.

A version of this article was originally published in The Daily Iowan.

Evelyn Lauer is currently working on a memoir, which is set, in part, during her college years. You can follow her on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.