OPINION: Walker Wall is right. Pomona protects assaulters

A wall has a "Pomona Protects Assaulters" painted on it.
Pomona College is failing survivors of sexual assault by upholding outdated beliefs about victims’ visible suffering, argues guest columnist Nanea Haynes PO ‘22. (Anna Choi • The Student Life)

 

CW: mentions of sexual assault

Would a victim of sexual assault really attend a sports game when the alleged perpetrator is a player on the team? This question weighed heavily on the judge of my Title IX case, who found my assailant “not responsible.” 

The virtual hearing following the seven-month investigation took place in a hot, stuffy conference room, tucked in the basement of Pomona College’s Smith Campus Center. Chips, fruit snacks, and cookies were scattered across the table between my case manager and me. From 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., I sat there, facing the pixelated image of my assaulter.

The verdict, which I had spent months waiting for and agonizing over: My behavior over the seven-month period of the Title IX process was found not consistent with that of a “real” victim. 

Even before the respondent was interviewed, the principal concern was not whether or not an assault had taken place. The principal concern was whether or not I had acted like the adjudicator thought a victim might act. His lawyer sent the investigator a list of my inconsistencies and accused me of “tak[ing] away from the validity of those individuals who truly are sexual assault victims.” He said I should “suffer severe sanctions” for coming forward with such accusations.

Throughout the investigation and hearing, rather than focusing on the evidence of the sexual assault and rape I endured four years ago, the defense held a microscope over my general “behavior” during my senior year (read: years of therapy later) and made an assessment of whether those behaviors were consistent with someone who’s been sexually assaulted. 

Here were some of my supposed inconsistencies:

  • I complimented a classmate of mine who is also his teammate.
  • I introduced myself to neighbors in my residence hall.
  • I went to the Pomona-Pitzer vs. Claremont-Mudd-Scripps sports game. 
  • I went to the game ten days after calling Campus Safety on him for entering my residence hall. 

My wanting to feel safe at home and my desire to go to sports events with my friends was an “inconsistency” too large for this retired judge to wrap her head around. As a result, she concluded that I could not possibly be a victim. 

Attending that game was supposed to be a triumphant moment for me, in which I was able to support my friends without letting the assault ruin my college experience. I thought I had fully prepared to be around the team, which often perpetuated victim-blaming, but I didn’t think the government-appointed professional would succumb to such blatant victim-blaming from the defense. In her eyes, the only way for me to claim legitimate victimhood would have been to be unable to be around him in any capacity. By attending, I hadn’t behaved meekly enough.

The outdated belief that the judge was subscribing to and perpetuating is that I am only permitted to respond to my trauma within certain parameters. This is ludicrous not only because it eclipses and erases the unique realities of survivors (as anyone who attended Take Back the Night’s speak-out knows), but because it employs blatant ex-post rationalization. The verdict is out, but I still want to ask the Claremont Colleges community: Do you believe that my behavior after my rape can be used as evidence that my rapist is not responsible for his violent behavior? 

The verdict’s implication is twofold: that Pomona’s survivors all fit the same meek image of victimhood, and that my perpetrator’s punishment should only be proportional to my visible suffering. The investigator and the judge not only burdened me with expressing this deep, emotional suffering “correctly” — they revealed their arrogance by assuming my pain was something they could even begin to understand. Pomona cannot continue hiring retired, trauma-uninformed judges in Title IX cases. Any hope I had left for justice vanished when the judge herself criticized me for pursuing two Title IX cases in college. Again, what bearing does this fact have on the evidence I provided for my rape, other than that there are multiple rapists on this campus?   

Regardless of the specific contradictions and how they viewed my behavior, my behavior shouldn’t have been the focus of the case. The evidence of my sexual assault should’ve been the most significant consideration. 

The debate on my claim to victimhood is but one tiny sliver of my whole experience with Pomona’s Title IX office, which involved policy violations by both the administrators and the defendant. My story however, is not unique — many survivors at Pomona face the same victim-blaming rhetoric that cost me my credibility and, at times, my self-worth. Despite how common this issue is, there is no currently existing solution for survivors. 

I would like to live in a place where, at the bare minimum, assaulters fear the repercussions of being caught. I want to go to an institution that demands justice for survivors — one that won’t paint over the message on Walker Wall but will instead listen to our demands. It is quite clear to me that Pomona College is failing survivors. While I believe that Title IX shouldn’t involve the Pomona administration at all, the least they could do is hire informed investigators and judges who would see through the defense’s victim-blaming tactics.  

To return to the question that I argue we should not even be asking: Would a victim of sexual assault really attend a sports game when the alleged perpetrator is a player on the team? The answer — my answer — is simple: Yes. Had I known the system was so rigged that the question would not be whether or not I had been assaulted, but instead whether I showed any signs of spirit left, I wouldn’t have filed the damn case. 

Guest columnist Nanea Haynes PO ’22 hopes Pomona will take her feedback to heart. She wants to acknowledge Camilla Guo PO ’22, her confidant and friend, who was instrumental in writing this piece, and would like to share this petition on protecting survivors at Pomona.

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