Elizabeth Willette

I was a senior studying at Appalachian State University when I woke up with very little recollection of the night before.  More specifically, I woke up with little to no memory of anything after the first beer I had at the bar near my apartment.  My roommate was out of town but I had met up with some friends to have a drink.  For those of you who don’t know, Appalachian State University is a school with a small town, rural feel.  When you go out at night, you tend to know most of the people there and you recognize the rest.  There are no nightclubs and there is certainly no fear of someone slipping rufilin into your locally brewed beer.

That semester had been a strange one for me.  My friend of a few years had started showing interest in me for the first time.  I am a blunt person and found no issue in explaining to him that I was in no way interested in becoming anything more than friends.  He was what I called persistent; what I now call aggressive.  His behavior escalated with each confrontation until our mutual friends stepped in, took him outside, and “took care of it”.  The extremely close talking, touching, unwanted kisses to my face and hands, continual questions as to why I wouldn’t go on just one date grew into grabbing and squeezing of my arms while he yelled at me for not giving us a chance.  I had started to get scared but felt much better about the situation when our friends stepped in.  

The night of the incident, he showed up at the bar with our friends and offered to grab me a beer.  That is the last thing I remember clearly.  When I awoke, fear and anxiety came over me in a thick haze.  I was fully clothed, confused, but the flashes of memory were undeniable.  I asked him to leave and he apologized several times on the way out.  I turned the shower on, sat down in the tub, and cried.

It took two days for me to call my sister.  She ordered me to go to the police after hearing my story.  She was stern and realistic; she was exactly what I needed in such an emotional time.  I finally left my apartment and walked to the campus police department.  They were very supportive. I was going to go to the hospital, get a rape kit done, try to prosecute, go all out and try to get him.  Especially since there were previous incidents of harassment, I felt like we had a pretty strong case.

When the female officer handed me off to the male detective at the hospital, I began to see that my case was going nowhere, fast.  My detective spoke with the rapist, who claimed I consented while I was intoxicated, and concluded this wouldn’t be admissible in court.  I tried my hardest to reason with him, to explain that there is no consent when you are too intoxicated to think clearly or when you are drugged.  It was clear that he did not comprehend the most basic definition of consent in regards to North Carolina law.   In a later conversation, he told me that he thought the rapist was a nice guy who seemed upset when spoken to about the situation.  “He doesn’t have a record, he is a good kid, and didn’t mean anything malicious by it.  I don’t think he’ll do it again.”  With that, my case was essentially closed.  It was up to the district attorney to decide whether or not to prosecute.  My detective was the person who presented the case and evidence gathered to the DA for the decision.   The rape kit was never processed and charges were never pressed.

The next few weeks were spent catching up on missed school work, going to counseling to overcome my panic attacks and flash backs, and running into the rapist.  I spoke to no one on campus as I was convinced that, because I had no evidence to prove anything, they would dismiss me too.  I lost most of my friends purely out of fear and shame.  

After a couple weeks, I quit my job at the student union and contacted the student conduct board for help.  Seeing him daily was too much and I was on the verge of dropping out the same semester I was scheduled to graduate.  

I met with two Directors of the Student Conduct Board to review my options in seeking justice and safety through the student conduct system. After explaining my story, they seemed less than optimistic that my hearing would result in anything at all. 

My case involves being drugged thus I do not remember much of the rape, though he admitted to knowing I was “very intoxicated” and to having sex with me despite this knowledge.  In fact, he even texted me stating that he knew “what happened was technically rape.”  They explained that I not only had no evidence he was aware of my state, but also no evidence of sex occurring because a) I did not clearly remember the act itself and b) the rape kit was not processed.  He could go into the hearing and claim he made the story up to sound cool and we would be left with a “he said, she said” debate.  She failed to explain that the harassment prior to the rape would have sufficed in getting him off campus for that semester, something I found out much later.

I was deterred from using the student conduct system to find justice because the director lacked faith in her own system, allowed the system to continue to function poorly, and failed to inform me of my options to seek justice and protection.

My case resembles many and its outcome encourages the belief that men can do whatever they want if the woman is intoxicated or drugged.  There is a slogan that the Red Flag Campaign uses as example of a common belief among men which sums this up well: “If I want to get some, I just have to get her wasted.”

I was one of many students in the No Equal? No More! Campaign to end sexual violence on campus.  I worked with the Dean of Students and Chancellor Peacock to recognize issues victims face and to find solutions.  The campaign started in reaction to several football players gang raping multiple students only to be quietly allowed back on campus after being found guilty through the student conduct system. This was a terrifying surprise to their victims who were not notified of the reversal of charges.  Despite the effort of many students and professors, Appalachian State University made no changes vital enough to affect the norms on campus or the student conduct system.  Chancellor Peacock stepped down shortly after the controversy arose.  

There is much work to be done on campuses and in law enforcement agencies.  I hope my story can bring light to some of the many issues presented to victims throughout the process of dealing with sexual crimes.  I look forward to continuing to push for change and am hopeful for the day when justice for victims, both on and off campus, is a norm.