‘I had to graduate with my rapist’: We spoke to the sexual assault survivors behind the letter to Betsy DeVos


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‘I had to graduate with my rapist’: We spoke to the sexual assault survivors behind the letter to Betsy DeVos

‘Where would I be without Title IX’

Aniqa Raihan graduated this spring from George Washington University. She walked across the stage just like all of the other graduates, including her rapist.

Raihan, like many others, has been forced to face her assailant on one of the most important days of her life.

This is just one of the experiences that inspired Raihan and 113 others to sign an op-ed that attempts to hold Betsy DeVos and the Trump administration accountable for failing sexual assault survivors.

“From the moment we were raped or assaulted, the question of who protects us has haunted us all,” the letter reads. “We suffered immensely, as did our academics, relationships and overall well-being. Institutional betrayal forced many of us, and countless others, to leave school.”

Raihan reported her rape to George Washington University, and her rapist was found responsible. The hearing board recommended he be suspended for a year, but the Dean of Students lessened the sanctions so all he had to do was attend two meetings and take an online module.

Samantha* was the first person to file a Title IX complaint against American University after she was dismissed from her position on student council for requesting her rapist be banned from student council events she hosted.

Smantha does not feel as if she got the education she paid for, because of her assault and the way the university handled it.

Faith Ferber also filed a Title IX complaint against American University after the school made her sign a confidentiality agreement, preventing her from discussing her case. Even though Ferber’s assailant admitted to assaulting her he was not suspended. Ferber says the fear of seeing him on campus, in addition to the semester-long reporting process, prevented her from getting the most out of her education.

The survivors babe spoke with all had the same resounding fear, if the lack of proper Title IX enforcement is already preventing students from maximizing their learning experience, then what will happen if DeVos and Trump cut back on resources dedicated to enforcing Title IX and protecting victims.

James Landrith, victim services advocate and rape survivor, says having the discussion about cutting back on services is dangerous.

“We have been making progress, but by having someone like him [Trump] sitting in the White House, we are going backwards. This discussion is creating a false narrative suggesting that Title IX investigations are illegitimate.

Scaling back the resources available to victims, and the man-power behind the 339 open Title IX investigations, would be detrimental to encouraging survivors to report.

Once a week for an entire semester, Ferber was forced to meet with the student conduct office and recount her assault. She says she wishes someone would have told her how strenuous the process would be.

“American is attempting to shorten the reporting process, but if there are cutbacks to Title IX this progress may be stalled.”

But for many, like Fabiana Diaz, a University of Michigan survivor, it saves lives.

“I can’t even imaging rolling back these services. I wouldn’t have graduated. I don’t even know if I would be alive, and I can say that very sincerely,” she said.

These survivors represent only a minuscule portion of the the people who are affected by campus sexual assault, and they need more resources not less. Cutting back on Title IX resources and weakening the laws, would be detrimental to survivors, future victims and society as a whole.

“We stand to lose a hell of a lot of talent,” Raihan told me. “There are a lot of amazing people who are survivors who could do incredible things if they were just able to get through their education.

“The rollbacks on Title IX and on trans-protections are preventing them from getting through high school and college.”

* Name has been changed to protect her identity.