On April 25th, I sat in the Meadow Street parking garage not wanting to enter the HPER Building. I was sitting in my car, safe and warm, but I could feel the impending stress manifesting into that internal bear again. Fight or flight or freeze. Physically I was still, but internally I was bouncing off of the walls. I was everywhere, unable to focus my mind. My brain was in a frenzy and I wanted to bolt, wanted to run and hide. But instead I made my way inside the building.
My supervisor offered to give Lauren and I a ride up the hill. We made our way to her car and I sat quietly as she and Lauren talked. I don’t remember a single word of their conversation. It was only a couple minutes until we arrived at the administration building where Tyler, the Title IX coordinator, and the deputy awaited us.
I wanted to run. I didn’t want to do this, but I wanted so badly to do this. I was terrified of the outcome. I was terrified of doing nothing. I was overwhelmed with all possible feelings that a human can have and completely consumed with thoughts – of running, of him, of that night, of all the other nights. Which is why I am so glad that I was allowed to bring Lauren as support. She never stopped giving words of encouragement, comforting smiles, and little pats on my arm to remind me she was there.
Lauren and I arrived 5 minutes to 2:00. We sat outside Tyler’s office while he chatted on the phone. Danielle, the part-time deputy, had a welcoming smile. She was young and looked kind, like an older sister or a camp counselor but in business casual attire. She made small talk with Lauren and I but my mind was still in a haze. I smiled and conversed as well as I could, but can only imagine the fear and anxiety in my eyes.
Tyler said goodbye to the person he was chatting with on the phone and welcomed us into his office. He placed a chair in the back corner for Danielle and she pulled out a notebook and pen. I was so glad that I had Lauren sitting next to me for the next 30 minutes.
Tyler had his notebook and pen ready as well. He told me that he wanted to be completely clear before I filed a formal report. He said he wanted me to know the process, know how hard it would be to do an investigation without witnesses, what might be the outcome.
I listened to him with my full attention. I tried to quiet my brain, make it focus. I told myself the past few days that I would be strong during this meeting. I reminded myself why I filed this report. I reminded myself that my purpose here was not for revenge, was not to destroy anyone’s life. My purpose was to be strong for myself and for others who couldn’t be. My purpose here was to take back control of this situation. That is why I was sitting here in this office. If the only result of this is that his name sits in a file in Tyler’s office in case he does this again then it is better than doing nothing. I had to remind myself of this.
I attached 36 pages of text messages to my report. Tyler said he “skimmed” through these messages. Skimmed? Okay well I hope he does more than that when he goes to do his investigation. He recounts what he has read in my report. I wince. His voice is so factual, little feeling or emotion. I know he has to remain objective and unbiased, but could he say anything encouraging or comforting? I feel the guilt, the shame. It sounds so bad. Well yes, Olivia, it is bad, I remind myself. And that’s what happened. And that is why you are here. Stop running away, stop trying to downplay it. Face it.
I said yes with all of the confidence I could muster, though it was fading fast. I want to do a formal report. Yes. I want to. I’m going to. I’m sticking with my decision. Even though I’d rather say never mind and go home right now and eat a pint of ice cream.
Tyler informs us that his investigator’s last day is Friday so he will be investigating this case himself, which might slow down the process. He said it will go into the summer, which will slow down the process. He says that it is likely that this guy will be hard to get a meeting with, which might slow down the process. There might have to be phone investigations. It is going to be hard to do any investigation with so little evidence and no witnesses, he reminds me. This is where I wavered. I felt the tears coming.
“If there’s so little evidence and no witnesses, how do you decide?”
I could feel the tears spill over as I finished asking the question. Ugh. I wanted so badly to stay strong the entire time. I tried to listen to him explain, but I was angry at my tears and angry at the whole situation. I felt weak and stupid for even being there. So the tears kept coming.
He explained that there is a point in the middle that is 50%. This point is where investigations usually lie because it is simply a “he said, she said.” But the decision is made by trying to find that tiny bit of information or evidence that places it right over the line. Even if it makes it 51% likely that my statement is true and 49% likely that his statement is true, that is how he makes the decision.
After we were finished talking, I made a beeline for the door. The second I passed through the doorway and was out of sight of Tyler and the deputy, I stopped and let all the tears come. Lauren hugged me and told me how proud of me she is. The world needs more Laurens.
Though Tyler anticipated that it would be a long process, the entire thing was wrapped up within six days. My first meeting with him was on Wednesday, April 25th and I was called back in on the following Tuesday, May 1st. He met with my coworker and decided that there just wasn’t enough evidence to do a formal investigation.
Though my text messages demonstrated me being hesitant, becoming uncomfortable, me stating boundaries that he clearly crosses, and him pushing me to hang out that night, saying he wanted to “just talk”, it wasn’t enough evidence. Tyler said that my coworker claimed we had conversations that night in which we discussed what would happen and I gave consent. Apparently the text messages are not enough because I could have changed my mind in the moment.
But I think the part that bothered me the most is that he told Tyler he remembered me saying no and asking him to stop but that I also went along with it. And that is enough to make it consensual. The shame and guilt and blame trickle up again. Because he is practically saying that my “no”s and “stop”s were not enough.
It took me 5 months to officially send in my own report of this situation. And at first I regret the fact that I waited so long, but later I realized I needed to do a lot of processing on my own before I took that step.
If I hadn’t had done this on my own timing, this ending would have devastated me. But taking the time to process and to take control, step by step on my own, was essential. Because I was able to walk out of that last meeting with a fire in me for change instead of darkness. I was able to know that it doesn’t matter what my coworker said, what Tyler decided, what any other human being thinks. It does not change a single thing about me or about this situation. My circumstances do not define my identity and they do not define me.
Tyler asked me what I wanted the outcome of this report to be. I told him that I just don’t want this to ever happen to anyone again, especially at the HPER. I want him removed from positions of power where he has influence over people, where people trust him. I wanted to do what I could to keep anyone from feeling the things that I have. Though these things didn’t happen, I did what I could. The rest is not in my hands.
No one has power to decide if what happened was wrong or okay except for me. I walked into the process with a goal and I left that room having accomplished that goal – to be heard. I made my voice heard, I fought for myself, and I took control of how I am treated. I took a tiny baby step in the direction of change that I hope to one day see for every woman on every college campus.
The entire process, the entire experience, and frankly the entire 3 years have been difficult. I was so lost and struggling so much, but throughout it all I’ve found my voice and I have found a passion for making sure that others find theirs. Through my brokenness I hope to build up those around me. Because I don’t want to tear these men down, bringing them down to their own level. I think the real victory is in building women up, making them realize their own strength.