Kurtz: Institutional Failures

The costs of not remembering what I had for dinner that night.

by D.M. Kurtz | 2/23/18 2:05am

I was assaulted. He may claim not to remember it, but it happened. My friend was there; she saw what he did to me and stopped him before he could do any more. These situations are gray, and I get that, I really do. He was drunk, I was drunk — but my friend wasn’t drunk. She remembers that night a lot better than him or me, but her memory didn’t matter in the end.

My story isn’t especially horrific, it isn’t something that is going to define my life and it certainly isn’t unique. But it happened, and I can’t forget that. Although my body is unscathed, I have been strained in ways that have left me doubting my worth, my faith and my security.

I first reported what happened to me eight days afterward. Getting to the point where I could admit I was a victim and make the report was not easy. At first, I didn’t know how to react. I had always associated being a victim with being weak, and I didn’t want to be weak. I waited a few days to think things through. I talked about it with friends, with the person who witnessed it and with my best friend who had been raped only the week before. I eventually decided to report it to the College. The former Title IX coordinator did not answer my email.

I reported the incident again a week after submitting the initial report and received a response this time. I met with the former Title IX coordinator, and I told her everything. I asked her not to pursue discipline because that wasn’t what I wanted. I didn’t want my perpetrator to be hurt, even though I already was. I did exactly what I wasn’t supposed to — I considered his future, his well-being, him. But at what point did he ever consider me?

I did not decide to report the incident because I was especially traumatized or angry but rather out of fear for my peers and the College’s reputation. When I decided to report what happened, I wanted, quite simply, for a similar incident not to happen again, for officials to convey that what happened was wrong and for the report to be recorded so that if it ever happened again, the next victim would have someone who already believed them. Six months later, I learned he would be in leadership positions interacting with incoming students. I ended up reporting the incident again and asked for disciplinary action to be pursued out of the fear that a similar incident could happen to another.

Here I am trying to rationalize why I did what I had every reason to do. After what the reporting process made me experience, I am so insecure about my reasons for coming forward that it has become almost automatic for me to say that I did not come forward for myself. Because my perpetrator, Dartmouth and Dartmouth’s hired independent investigator allege that I fabricated my narrative out of some unknown self-interest, I have felt that coming forward solely because it happened to me is not a sufficient enough reason.

I tried to be civil through every meeting, interview, phone call and email in the four months over which this investigation took place. I was civil when I wrote 17 pages contesting the findings written by someone I thought to be a biased investigator. I was civil when I was repeatedly asked for the same seemingly superfluous details of the night — “What did you have for dinner? Who did you eat with? Where did you eat?” — that I admitted I couldn’t remember. I admit that I was less-than-civil when the hired investigator, the Judicial Affairs Office and the Title IX Office all disregarded my multiple requests over three months to see the initial report that I made a week after the incident. At that point, my inability to remember details of an incident that occurred six months prior had already been used to discredit my narrative, even though I had informed the investigator that my initial report contained all of those details.

Non-consensual incidents can often be muddied by romantic or sexual history between the victim and perpetrator, but that’s not the case here. Either way, lewd comments made or desires expressed do not remotely equate to consent. Sexual assault is also often framed as a women’s issue, but it is committed against people of any gender. It is difficult for survivors to admit that they are in fact a victim of sexual assault — let alone for men who associate victimhood with weakness and emasculation. Many men feel that they will be unfairly judged, ridiculed or ignored if they come forward. It is an unfortunate reality that I myself continue to struggle with. I wish that my choice to break my silence was the norm, rather than the exception, but that is sadly not the case. We don’t hear much about the many male survivors of sexual assault — especially not the gay ones.

I truly don’t believe that my perpetrator ever set out to hurt anyone, and I don’t think that most people who commit sexual assaults “set out” to hurt someone. But with every person who allegedly commits sexual assault, someone gets hurt.

Throughout the reporting process and the investigation, I hesitated to place blame on Dartmouth, because I truly love my school. By indicting Dartmouth for letting the person who hurt me get away with assault, I felt like I was somehow betraying my own college. But I eventually realized that my reluctance could endanger others in the Dartmouth community, since letting Dartmouth off the hook would give it no incentive to change. I am referring to a handful of current policies — or lack thereof — that would have left perpetrators relatively unscathed even if found guilty. I also believe that officials in Dartmouth’s Title IX Office, Judicial Affairs and the independent investigator did not do their jobs fully or correctly, putting Dartmouth community members at greater risk.

Unfortunately, there will always be more incidents and more administrators and investigators who will screw up. The only constants in these campus sexual assault cases are the colleges themselves — the ones responsible for miscarriages of justice in their own processes.

What I hate most about what happened wasn’t the incident itself. I dealt with that and overcame it. Rather, it was that my perpetrator and Dartmouth have both made me regret coming forward and question Dartmouth’s ability to protect me. The process has made me doubt that there are consequences for nefarious actions and shown me that the school I love so dearly does not love me back enough to believe me or give me justice. There seems to be no amount of evidence — not even a direct witness — that is enough. This is the dark reality of a twisted system that I had hoped and prayed was better than it is. My trust is stolen, faith destroyed and sense of security on Dartmouth’s campus ruined. Both my perpetrator and Dartmouth have made me wish I stayed silent.

Kurtz is a member of the Class of 2020. He is a managing editor and the incoming editor-in-chief of The Dartmouth Review.

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