Open Letter to Boulder Police, SANE nurses, and CU Boulder
I originally set out to write this as an op ed piece for the Daily Camera, Boulder’s local newspaper, but I struggled with including the details and feelings I felt were necessary in their 750 word limit. While I plan to submit a shorter piece to them soon, I will post this version here.
On the heels of my first published book, I feel a weight tugging at me to address issues I have strong views about. In particular, I’ve dedicated my young adult life to one problem I am most personally related to: sexual violence.
Let me lead you through my experience, beginning right after being raped in the Phi Tau fraternity house on The Hill my first year of college, before classes had even started in August of 2016.
I’m running away, on The Hill. I called my boyfriend at the time who lived in Texas. I struggled to form the words, running toward a gravel alleyway saying to him “you know what happened, you know.” And, somehow he did know. He had called Boulder police department without ever getting off the phone with me. I continued crying and I wanted to hide. I felt exposed and out of control.
I decided I would be safe behind a trash can in an alleyway and I heard sirens. I receiving a voicemail from the BPD, “Kirby, officers have already been sent out, we have to make sure you are okay. We are not going to leave, we need to know your location.”
Trapped. Completely out of control of my own personal space or actions. I wanted to hide from the sirens.
Why is she hiding from the people trying to help her? You might ask. It seems easy to ask that question of myself now that three years have passed. The responses to a traumatic event are fight, flight, freeze, or less known, submit. While being raped, I submit myself. I froze on his bed, his face smiling down at mine. Upon leaving, I fled, feeling this was my best bet for control and safety - hide from everyone.
I finally got off the phone with my boyfriend and answered the police department calls. I told them what street I was on and heard them pull up. Two police vehicles. Lights flashing in the street where I stood, talking to one of them, a male police officer, when my group of new friends arrived, running around the corner. I suppose they followed the sirens too. A female police officer spoke to them and I was questioned by the male.
I can only remember a few specifics of the line of questioning and I will only write what I absolutely recall.
“Did he, um, insert his, insert himself into you?” The male officer stuttered. Even in my shocked state, my pet peeve of euphemisms for natural body parts was alive and well.
“Yes, and you can say penis.”
Can you describe the room? Do you know how long you were at the party? Do you know how many drinks you had? What did the man look like? Can you describe where in the house the room was?
I explain that I had one drink many hours ago. The time was about 4:00 PM and I had the drink around 12:00 PM, one of those disgusting Lime-A-Ritas in a can. I did not get another because I hate that feeling of sugar coating my teeth and I was having a bad time. The party looked like a documentary of wild monkeys. All these people dancing and thrusting their butts out. Human mating calls. Mating dances. So strange.
The police officers switched, explaining that the female would now ask me questions. I’m doing a great job they told me. More cars attempt to turn down the street. I want to sit down or maybe go home. I hear the male tell the female I am refusing to file a case as they trade roles.
“Do you want us to report what happened? We can take you to the hospital to make sure you’re okay.”
“No I don’t want anything to happen I want to leave”.
“Honey, if you don’t report this, he could do this to another girl in the future. You don’t want that to happen.”
I give in and go to the hospital but say not to file a case. They tell my friends to go home and I watch them leave as the male officer gets into his car and drives off. I got into the front seat of the female’s police car and I became overwhelmingly exhausted. I remember she tried to make me laugh on the way to the Foothills hospital.
Okay, let’s pause and reflect on what has happened so far. The police did their jobs, a rape was reported and they acted upon it. Good. They also questioned me in the middle of a street, sent a male police officer who was visibly uncomfortable discussing the crime, and sent another police officer who put the weight of future rapes on my shoulders, within half an hour of being raped. What I needed was safety and control. What I got was pressure from all angles.
Continuing on, in the hospital, I refused to provide my insurance information or my home address, operating under the impression that they would not contact my parents and no tests would be conducted that would require insurance to be billed. I did not want my parents or anyone else to know what happened. I was put in a small, private room to wait in and the female police officer told me she would be back to get me.
So I sat. Alone. In a room with an opaque glass door, sliding through my phone, absorbing all that had happened in the past hour.
I think two hours passed while alone in this room until finally a SANE nurse (a nurse trained in sexual assault response) retrieved me. I told her I just wanted the shortest possible examination so that I could go home. I filled out forms that she provided inside a folder. She asks if I would get pictures taken of my body? No. She urges me again, pictures will be good for the report. No, I do not want to stand naked in front of a camera right now.
She asks if I would get my blood alcohol levels measured with a quick blood test? No. I want to leave. I am not drunk I have said that to two police officers, the intake desk, and now you. She told me this would be better for my case to show that I am innocent and was not drunk. No. I do not want a case. (And, by the way, if I was drunk I would still be innocent).
Finally, she asked if I would get swabs taken of his DNA? I say no, I want to go home. She tells me that I would help prevent rapes in the future because they will have his DNA. I say fine, as long as it is just stored and not used for a case. I don’t want a case I want to go home. I ask if it will cost money because I do not want my parents to know and I did not provide my insurance. She tells me this is for the best and I won’t have to worry about that.
She swabbed inside of me with those long q-tips you can imagine getting a strep test done with, just at the other end of my body and three or four at a time. She swabbed my stomach. She took my underwear for evidence.
Nearing 8:00 PM, I repeat my lack of desire to have a case filed and the female police officer showed back up to drive me to campus, saying goodbye as I walk off with my folder of information and no underwear on under my shorts. Exhausted.
Okay, let’s pause again. Again, I am bearing the weight of future rapes. I am asked to stand naked for a camera. I am falsely told that I will not need to worry about the cost. Fast forward to September when my parents in Texas call asking what the massive emergency room bill they received is about. I am forced to explain what happened, proceeding to send my life down a path I had no idea I would be on.
Further, unbeknownst to me, while I was sitting in a hospital for five hours, police went to my dorm room, talked to my roommate who I was not close with, talked to my hall RA, talked to the hall director, went to Phi Tau, talked with the president (who later will tell my good friend I am lying about the rape), talked to the member who raped me, and left a note on my dorm room door. What I needed was comfort, safety, and compassion. What I got was misinformation, pressure, and exposure.
Later that week, I ended up having to talk to my RA who asked me to go down to the hall director to relive what happened with people who should never have known. The RA and hall director had also questioned my roommate, they told me.
The Office of Institutional Equity and Compliance emailed and called me repeatedly. They were doing their jobs. Reaching out to support me. So let’s see what reaching out looks like with and excerpt from the email I was sent:
I am an Investigator for the Office of Institutional Equity and Compliance (OIEC). Part of my job is to follow up on and look into concerns brought to our office under the Sexual Misconduct Policy. It is my understanding that you may have experienced an incident of unwanted sexual conduct and I wanted to reach out to you to let you know about options and resources that are available to you.
Specifically, I wanted to let you know that we have a process on the CU-Boulder campus, entirely separate from any criminal process, to look into whether someone on our campus violated the Sexual Misconduct Policy. The criminal process and our internal process at CU-Boulder can occur simultaneously, and it is your decision as to whether you want to participate in one process, both processes, or neither process. More information about these processes can be found here: http://www.colorado.edu/institutionalequity/file-report/guidelines-filing-complaint. There are no time limits on our side, so if at any point you would like to speak with me about the incident, I am available to meet or speak with you by phone.
I understand now may not be a time where you want to or need to meet with me, so I want to make sure I get you some information in writing about options for reporting and assistance.
Assistance and Safety:
• There are options available to you for assistance and to help ensure your safety.
• Our office can discuss options with you about potential accommodations to help you feel safe while living, working, and learning.
Advocacy and Support:
• The Office of Victim Assistance (OVA) offers free, confidential counseling and advocacy services to students, staff, and faculty who experience or witness disruptive or traumatic incidents. So whether you, or someone you know, want assistance, information, or to talk confidentially about your options, OVA is a wonderful resource. More information about the office is available online: http://cuvictimassistance.com/
• One particularly helpful part of OVA is that OVA advocates can also be present during any meetings you might have with us as a support for you.
• The University prohibits retaliation against anyone involved in a conduct process or who reports conduct concerns. Reports of retaliation are separate and distinct potential policy violations that we would look into and address.
• If you have any concerns or questions about retaliation or what could be considered retaliatory action, please let me know.
Okay, pretty thorough, they are doing their jobs. However, how many times can someone say processes before you just stop reading? In my traumatized mindset, this was meaningless, confusing, and overwhelming. What I needed was clarity, support, and trust. What I got was emails with obscure language.
Title IX and The Clery Act state that campuses receiving federal funding (including CU Boulder) must be transparent about how one can hold a disciplinary hearing aside from taking legal action. I learned about this in 2019. This year. Three years after being raped. The reason being that it was never explained to me! I had no idea what “processes” referred to.
Recently, I re-opened these emails and looked into what exactly was emailed to me. Upon clicking the link provided, you must then click “Read the full Sexual Misconduct, Intimate Partner Abuse and Stalking Policy.” After this, you must click through the policy, riddled with extra-careful policy language, click “III. Policy Statement,” and, finally, scroll to C, D, and E subsections to learn about ‘Options for Reporting and Assistance Following an Incident of Sexual Misconduct,’ Confidential Resources and Privacy’, and Reporting Sexual Misconduct,’ to learn anything about what it means to report, what it means to have a disciplinary hearing, what my rights are, what the university’s rights are.
Did your eyes skim the past few paragraphs? If yes, I’m not surprised. Mine did too when I received the emails in 2016. I have no doubt that these employees wanted the very best and to protect me. I can only imagine all the legality they must follow to make sure both the victim and the suspect are protected. However, recall the Daily Camera article published in July of 2016 that wrote: “Ninety-two percent of sexual assault victims at the University of Colorado did not report their assaults to the university or police” maybe you can understand better how ambiguous reporting feels.
I remember sitting in the C4C dining hall the following semester as the police called me again. They told me they had the DNA results about the person who raped me. They told me his name and that he told them he did not rape me. Ok? She said they would store the DNA. Yes, that’s what I asked for.
I had asked countless times the day I was raped to never know his name. Unfortunately, I will now never forget his name. I will also know forever that he lives without believing he did anything wrong. I know now, that he even has a girlfriend. I learned from friends later that, in fact, Phi Tau members agreed that I was lying.
The University of Colorado Boulder has a tragic problem. While our school is technically aligned with Title IX and the Clery Act, my experience did not reflect the safety and support measures that should be present on campuses. Most importantly, I did not know my rights. In fact, another Daily Camera article of 2016, which reported the staggering statistic that 28% of female undergraduates at CU have been sexually assaulted, also reported a quote from the Boulder County District Attorney at the time, Stan Garrett, saying, “But [the police in Boulder are] also very well-trained in working with victims of trauma, to help people get through the process by making it as positive an experience as it can be.”
The police, who questioned me in the middle of a street, who told me I should prevent the rapes of future women. One timid and awkward, one who had to leave me to sit in a room alone because she was called to other victims. The ones who told me my rapist’s name and told me he said I lied. These officers did not seem well trained on my rape response. I do not believe this is their fault, however.
Our school is rampant with sexual assault and yet I had no understanding of my rights outside of urges by the officers to file a victim report. Instead, not wanting to go through a legal process in a world that may not even believe me, I went to campus everyday wondering if I would see the person who raped me. Then, as details of his face, faded from my memory I worried even more that he would see me without me knowing. I graduated in three years with two degrees with the sole intention of getting away from my rapist. I could have left for another school and I often wrote application essays to other schools, but I did not want to submit again to my rapist. I wanted to attend the school of my choice.
What can we do to make CU safe? I look at other campuses which have dozens of blue emergency lights to press when one feels unsafe while CU has zero. (In fact, they were removed in 2015 due to prank calls). I wonder as I learn of deaths at fraternities and overdoses. As I watch fraternities on probation still go to formals. As I receive emails of sexual assault on campus.
I write this letter with no answers. I wish I had them, but I cannot claim I do. Instead I have my story. My explanation of what needs help. What needs help are not the individuals who responded to my case, they did what they were trained to do. What needs alterations is our campus community. The training that CUPD receives. The transparency of options available to those who are sexually assaulted. To think that 28% of females I attended school with may also have been walking around each day on the same campus as their rapist is horrifying.
I urge our community to speak more about the common occurence of rape in Boulder. To help victim’s rights become more clear. I urge Boulder police to provide greater training for rape responders, specifically, what language to use, what mannerisms to employ. I urge our campus to create new safeguards. We need transparency, compassion, comfort, and most importantly, safety.
I found solace over time in sharing my story and helping others. My memoir details my story and my growth in spite of being raped. I write a blog about my experiences and I work to support organizations that educate and support individuals who have experienced sexual assault. I personally learned about my rights from knowyourIX.org although I am sure anyone at OVA or OIEC, or the equivalent on your campus, would be happy to explain further and support you.
If you know anyone who may have experienced sexual assault, if you have a friend or family member attending CU, if you live near CU, I urge you to speak up about this issue as well. We desperately need lower rates of rape and improved responses when they do occur (and they occur every 92 seconds). I also know that CU is not unique in this issue. College campuses in the US are oftentimes ill-prepared, or unwilling to prepare for sexual violence surrounding or on their campus.
Looking back, I am okay with having gone to the hospital and the storage of my rapist’s DNA. I also, however, know the mental grief caused by comments from the people I had to depend on that convinced me I was responsible for future rapes. I have spent three years now wondering if I let him hurt future women. But, that is backwards and fueled by societal understandings of rape. I will repeat this probably until I die, but, your response to violence does not make you guilty of anything. No one is responsible for a rapist’s actions except him/herself. The response training for student sexual assault must stress exponentially more care and intention in the language used. It needs to include the explanation of all rights, not only legal rights, also rights on campus.
If you have experienced sexual assault, know that you have full control over what happens. I urge you to speak to someone safe about your experience. If you do not have anyone close to you who you feel you can speak with, the National Hotline for Sexual Assault can be reached 24/7 at 1-800-656-4673. It is not your fault. You deserve to feel safe, in your city, in your school, and in your home.