Jillian Corsie had only been at college for a month when she says she was sexually assaulted by a male classmate in her dorm.
It was 2005 and the conversation about campus sexual assault still had another decade before it became part of the mainstream discussion.
When she turned to her friends for support, she says one suite-mate advised her not to tell their dorm room’s R.A; another let out a sigh of relief: “Thank God I wasn’t there or it would’ve happened to me.” Her boyfriend at the time later admitted that he thought Corsie had simply cheated on him and regretted it.
Corsie, who had turned 18 just a month before, went to local police for help.
“When I reported it to the police, they told me, quote, ‘not to mix alcohol and beauty’ and told me my experience was consensual,” Corsie told HuffPost in a recent interview.
For the remainder of her freshman year, Corsie says she was forced to see her assailant three times a week in the class in which they had met. The rest of her college career, she says, was spent avoiding her attacker on campus. She struggled with anxiety and feelings of isolation, barely talking about her assault even years after it happened.
“I didn’t have any support,” Corsie said.
Now, she’s using her expertise as a filmmaker to highlight the impact of victim-blaming in sexual assault cases. Corsie and co-director Amy Rosner are raising money to create a documentary-style short film called “Second Assault,” in which viewers follow Corsie as she travels back to her college campus and confronts the different people and road blocks she faced when she reported her assault 12 years ago.
“The film is about my journey to confront a system that failed me, and also to confront the culture that we live in,” Corsie said. “And how that supports this idea of a second assault, which isn’t necessarily just what happens when you report, but also what happens when your friends and boyfriends and people around you don’t believe you.”
The film is currently in production and Corsie and Rosner are awaiting more funding in order to complete it. As of Wednesday afternoon, the two had raised just over $9,000 on SeedAndSpark.
Corsie and Rosner were inspired to create “Second Assault” after they heard the 2016 leaked audio of President Trump bragging about grabbing women “by the pussy.” Just days later, Corsie decided to publicly share her sexual assault story for the first time using the hashtag #NotOkay.
“I started getting contacted by news outlets and other documentary filmmakers asking to tell my #NotOkay story. I’m a documentary filmmaker and I knew that if anyone’s going to tell this story after a decade, it should be me,” Corsie said. “Amy and I had been friends already for a few years, and we’d been talking about collaborating and just never had. So she just naturally became my co-director.”
Rosner started her career as a union organizer, but quickly realized she could make a larger impact as a documentary storyteller.
“There was so much learning along the way,” Rosner told HuffPost about “Second Assault.” “We realized that Jill’s story, as personal as it is, it’s really a universal experience shared by a lot of women.”
HuffPost spoke with Corsie and Rosner about the creative process behind “Second Assault” and what they hope comes from such a personal film.
HuffPost: Why did you two decide to make this film?
Rosner: Something that we really wanted to highlight with this film is what does survivor justice look like? If you plagiarize, you’re more likely to get expelled than if you rape someone. So, when people make the argument that we need to depend on the “legal process” what they need to understand is that only three percent of rapists go to jail and it can take up to six years for a case to be tried. So students, like Jillian, are usually forced to spend the rest of their college careers with their rapists.
The system is broken at every single level. When people come out about their assaults, there’s so much personal and professional risk. Everyone’s afraid of retaliation. Jill was afraid that her school was going to come after her. We wanted to highlight just how many roadblocks survivors face when they come out.
What was it like ― 12 years later ― confronting the different people and roadblocks you faced in your reporting process?
Corsie: I mean, frankly, a year ago I would have told you that I would never have done any of this. It would’ve taken a whole bottle of vodka. I couldn’t tell you why but I had kept the business card of the cop who filed my report. I had considered calling and maybe trying to look at the report, and I had done that several times over the years, but I had always chickened out. I was just afraid that the report was going to tell me what everybody else told me, and that it was going to be one more thing that invalidated my experience. Now that it’s done it doesn’t seem like as big of a deal, but at the time it was really challenging.
This past year has been wrought with discussions around sexual violence including the Trump tapes, the Cosby trial and now the Harvey Weinstein allegations and the #MeToo campaign. What has that been like for you as a survivor?
Corsie: I think the #MeToo campaign has been really interesting because I think it shows survivors that they’re not alone. There’s something about these collective voices of women coming out and coming forward that is empowering. Without the #NotOkay campaign last year, I would never have spoken out, and I would never have gotten the opportunity to heal.
Something one of the women in our film says is, “Coming out about your sexual assault is like joining the worst sisterhood ever.” Right?
Rosner: Yeah. There’s so many shitty, shitty fucking sisterhoods that women join that are not choices, and this is one of them. So I think while, yes, #MeToo is a trigger-fest and it has been really tough for a lot of people to take, I agree with Jill. I think we have to practice revolutionary self-care right now and always.
I think the universal issue here is that there’s a deeper systemic problem within our culture that makes difficult for women to speak out publicly or see legal action. So seeing it in mass numbers like this, particularly men seeing this, I think has been a really helpful thing.
Coming out about your sexual assault is like joining the worst sisterhood ever. Jillian Corsie
How do you think that the reporting processes ― whether through Title IX or the justice system ― can improve to better support survivors?
Corsie: If we’re talking about, how do we make change on campus with Title IX, with the legal process outside of campuses, how do we actually make actual positive change? I don’t know. It’s systemically broken at every level.
Rosner: It’s just so absolutely depressing. There’s a systemic problem, and I think one of the major things that Jillian and I really believe in is the conversation around consent. A revolutionary start with this battle is how we talk about consent.
And involving men in that conversation is key.
Rosner: Yes! For Jill and I, we talk a lot about involving men in the conversation. In the beginning, it was really hard for Jill and I to talk about, and I think it is really triggering to even discuss including men, but then when you step back you go like, “Why would we not?”
First of all, why aren’t we talking about consent and what that really means? Why aren’t we educating people? People seem to be focusing so much time on educating our daughters about how not to get raped instead of talking to their sons about how not to rape. It starts with some kind of more profound sexual education.
Corsie: We keep saying rape is a woman’s issue, but it’s not: it’s a human issue.
What do you hope survivors take away from this film?
Corsie: The one thing that I would want survivors to take away is that we believe them. Because that’s the hardest part. The go-to response to any assault survivor ― male or female ― is: “We don’t believe you. Stop whining. It’s not that big of a deal.” Once people started believing me, that changed everything.
What do you hope men (although men can be survivors, too) take away from the film?
Rosner: I would hope that men take away that talking about consent is important. Because talking about this, let’s be honest, is really difficult, and there’s a lot of land mines. Consent is not taught to be a part of masculinity. Our goal is for men to see this film and feel that consensual sex can be empowering and masculine.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Head over to Seed&Spark to read more about “Second Assault.”