In the United States, we have started the discussion surrounding rape on campus, but I want to ignite a new discussion about intimate partner abuse. For a year, I was in an abusive relationship with a student at the College of William and Mary.
My ex-boyfriend kept our relationship a secret from his friends and constantly invalidated our relationship. He made excuses for his manipulative and hurtful behavior and made me feel crazy for calling out his cruelty. He violated me sexually by lying to me to gain my consent. Only a few months after our final breakup did I acknowledge and process the ongoing abuse in our relationship. Abuse is a pattern, and it is entirely the fault of the abuser.
I filed a report through the College’s Title IX office early in October of this year with allegations of emotional abuse and coercive sexual behavior. Their decision rendered me speechless. The Title IX Review Team decided that not all emotionally abusive behaviors are an explicit violation of their dating violence policy. They stated they did not have the jurisdiction to investigate my complaints of sexual coercion because I am not a student at the school, and they did not feel that my perpetrator was continuing to create a hostile environment on his campus, even though I am the second woman to bring complaints against him. Processing my ex-boyfriend’s sexual abuse was absolutely agonizing and left me dealing with post-traumatic stress disorder for months, but the College’s failure to investigate my claims made everything far worse.
What I experienced was not so much sexual trauma but emotional and psychological trauma resulting from sexual coercion and emotional abuse.
I now know that this narcissistic man will never understand or care about the devastation he has inflicted upon me. I am afraid for women who cross his path because he seems charming and innocent but is incredibly manipulative. I do not want someone else to go through the pain, anxiety, insomnia, embarrassment and withdrawal that I have experienced this past semester. Throughout my relationship with him, he reminded me that I was so very loved, beautiful and smart, but also disposable and unworthy of respect. What I experienced was not so much sexual trauma but emotional and psychological trauma resulting from sexual coercion and emotional abuse.
The Title IX coordinator assured me they do not condone his behavior and have taken remedial steps to ensure that the campus is safe. However, he will not receive any form of punishment, and he will keep his scholarship. He will not be held accountable and can continue living his life as if he did not violate mine, simply because he violated me in the wrong state. Any student who has reasonable evidence or testimony against them for committing sexual assault anywhere or who has been found to be abusive poses a danger to the students on their respective campuses. I believe the College acted unethically by not investigating my case. I filed a report with the Office of Civil Rights and my complaint against the school is under evaluation.
The power of Title IX is limited, and it cannot always address all forms of inappropriate, wrong or even abusive behavior.
The power of Title IX is limited, and it cannot always address all forms of inappropriate, wrong or even abusive behavior. Emotional and mental abuse should be recognized as an insidious assault on psychological health, and students need to be held accountable to uphold ethical codes of conduct. Just because I lacked bruises from physical violence does not mean that my relationship was not abusive. Sexual coercion is an infringement upon someone’s right to make informed choices about how to use their body, and it is sexual assault. We need to stop normalizing and excusing disrespectful and abusive behavior and instead support survivors who come forward in a society that often stigmatizes their experiences. Abuse is not always criminal, but that does not mean universities or students should excuse it. Calling these behaviors mistakes and making excuses trivializes the experiences of survivors and creates the foundation for rape culture and dating violence. The College’s administration had the opportunity to take a stand for survivors and uphold its supposedly high standards of student conduct and intolerance of dating violence. Instead they cowered beneath the cultural pressure of rape culture.
To my ex, the weight of shame, guilt and pain are not my burden to carry. It is forever yours.
Email Anna Knochel at firstname.lastname@example.org.