Erin Cavalier, a student at Catholic University in Northeast Washington, wrote this essay in April. It was read that month on campus at an anti-sexual violence event called Take Back the Night. At the time, her account was anonymous. Below is a lightly edited version.
The Washington Post was unable to reach the man she accused of sexual assault. He was not charged with any crime, and the university cleared him of a misconduct allegation after an internal hearing. The man’s father told The Post there is much more to the case than Cavalier’s account but declined to comment further.
Following the essay is a statement from the university in response to Cavalier’s account of her rape report and a complaint she filed with the federal government over Catholic’s handling of the case.
By Erin Cavalier
My Journey from Darkness Into Light
On Dec. 15, 2012, I was raped and he got away with it.
I am not a victim, but a survivor. I am resilient and invincible. He might have killed a part of me and I may never return to the person I was before that night, but I believe that everything happens for a reason and that I am better because of it. I do not believe that my punishment for drinking too much should have been rape. No one should have to experience the horror that I went through.
He tried to establish his manhood by using sex as a tool of empowerment but he just proved that he is a worthless disgusting coward.
For over a year, I have avoided writing things down because I feel that my hurt will become permanent if I do. I struggle to put my life into eloquent words, sentences, and stories. In my head it sounds so good, but on paper it turns into a teenage blog of the latest “first world pains.”
However, I believe it is my responsibility to speak for those who feel as if they cannot. It is easy to allow yourself to slip into depression, but from the beginning I made a promise to myself that I would not just be another statistic about college girls who have been in my situation. I was not going to ruin my solid GPA and become a part-time student or move home and remove myself from an environment despite the fact that it constantly reminds me of my past. I was not going to lose all my self-confidence and shrink down to his level.
I am numb to that night... To the rude awakening, the tears, the interviews, the ambulance, the distinct smell of the hospital. Every day since I have worked to keep that promise to myself. For over a year I have strived to make something out of my situation – to find the positives within all the negatives. But I am human and it is impossible to fully escape the bad.
The thing about sexual assault is that you can’t afford to make it everything, but you can’t handle the idea of making it nothing — it is always in the back of your mind waiting to re-surface without a moment’s notice. It manifests its demons in my mind when I’m barely able to fall asleep night after night and then in nightmares that abruptly awake me. In the day it’s apparent in constant anxiety, unwarranted judgment by my peers, hurtful rumors, a constant struggle to piece together the parts of that night that my mind unconsciously chooses to block out, and by far the worst -- the inability to live my life to the fullest.
It’s crazy because you think you’re over it and that your life is back to normal, but then you find yourself back to where you began. Once I take two steps forward, I feel that I always end up taking one step back. But I have learned that recovery is a slow process and although there may never be an end point, that one step forward is something that I have to be proud of.
Hate is a very strong word and I don’t find myself using it very often, but since that one December night, I cannot think of another word to describe the things associated with rape. I mean it is a hate crime.
I hate that I have to write this anonymously.
I hate that I do not feel safe having my name directly associated with the epidemic of sexual assaults on college campuses throughout the U.S.
I hate that I joke with my friends about the fact that I am a 20-year-old college student with a lawyer.
I hate that I have a very hard time fully trusting males- even my close friends.
I hate that I sometimes feel extremely unconfident and unwanted.
But most of all, I hate that he can go about his day-to-day life without a worry, that he can laugh to his friends when he walks past me, that if we wind up in the same location, and I have the option, I am always the bigger person and leave, that I feel unsafe on my own college campus and that he will receive a diploma from the Catholic University of America in the Basilica of the National Shrine. But the fact of that matter is that there is so much hate in this world already, and my mom always told me to kill with kindness so that is exactly what I am doing.
I promise to move forward because there is no use going back. I promise to be thankful for every day I’m given and to not let the little things bother me. I promise to love and always myself to be loved.
I’ve gotten to the point that I know that if I was able to sit across the room from my rapist for over 6 hours during a university hearing and keep myself together, as I was accused of lying by him and both his mother and father, then I am convinced that I am invincible and I can do anything I want.
I believe that everything happens for a reason and I need to move forward in life and accept, with the idea of taking seemingly absurd risks despite my past because I know that everything worth anything is both terrifying and beautiful.
Statement from Catholic University spokesman Victor Nakas:
The Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights informed The Catholic University of America on Jan. 8, 2014, that a Catholic University student had filed a Title IX complaint. The complaint concerned the investigation and adjudication of a report of sexual assault that occurred in December 2012. The Office for Civil Rights has not made a determination about the merits of the complaint, but has requested information from the university, which we have provided in full and in a timely manner.
We cannot in good conscience comment in public or through the media about an unresolved complaint that is before the Office for Civil Rights. To ensure a just outcome for all concerned, we owe our full attention and candor to the Office for Civil Rights and its process.
Independent of any Title IX requirements, the university’s greatest moral and legal obligation is to the safety, welfare and fair treatment of our students. That obligation continues to apply, regardless of how any investigations turn out and regardless of whether a case is handled through the court system or the university’s internal processes. We strongly believe that we would fall far short of our obligations to both of the students who are parties to the matter under investigation were we to comment on the specifics of the complaint, notwithstanding any permission to do so granted to us by one of the students.
The university is confident that it acted appropriately in investigating and resolving the issue that gave rise to the student’s complaint. Though the Office for Civil Rights has drawn attention to the dozens of schools facing Title IX complaints, we hope that observers will also heed the statement by the assistant secretary for civil rights in the Department of Education who said that “a college or university’s appearance on this list and being the subject of a Title IX investigation in no way indicates at this stage that the college or university is violating or has violated the law.”