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Thursday, November 30, 2023

In 2016, I decided to try online dating apps for the first time. It was great until I was assaulted. Three times. Over the course of less than two years. The first time I was attacked came at the end of an evening I spent with a man I met on Tinder. We had dinner downtown and then went to hang out at his apartment complex’s pool. I figured this was totally safe — neighborhood pools are public areas and there were other people there. I had to use the public bathroom before going back home for the evening, but it was being renovated, so my date invited me to use the bathroom in his apartment before heading home. I agreed. Once I got inside, however, the nightmare every woman fears began. He grabbed my arms — leaving bruises — and attacked my face with his tongue. It was disgusting, but after a few seconds of struggling to get away, I realized that this man was not going to willingly let go of me. My brain went into survival mode: I kissed him back until he let go of my arms, at which point I ran toward the door. I jammed my foot in the doorway as he tried to slam it shut. I knew then that it was time to start screaming for help. He must have known, too, because as soon as I opened my mouth to start screaming, he lost his grip on the door enough that I was able to use my foot and a free hand to pry it open and run away.

I texted my friends on my way back home, unable to believe what had happened. They asked me why I was stupid enough to go into his apartment. It was surreal, and I felt deeply embarrassed and naïve. Until this point, I didn’t worry about going to a public pool with someone I’d spent several hours talking with. It also seemed normal to use this person’s bathroom before going home. Part of me still thinks that should be a normal thing, but now I rarely go into even my male friends’ homes. Men I’m dating must always come to mine — and only after we have had several dates.

I eventually reported the attack to the police. It was shortly after the Brock Turner sentencing, and I realized I was very angry that this man, a resident at UF Health Shands Hospital at the time, thought he could just do whatever he wanted. The male officer who took my report did not believe me at first and seemed to think I was an idiot for going into the man’s apartment to use the bathroom. The officer tested me, having me tell my story forward and backward about seven times. He also repeated the story back to me a few times, leaving out certain details in an attempt to catch me lying or trip me up. Each time I corrected him. Eventually, I think he started to believe me, but I can’t be sure. He didn’t seem to understand why I was even reporting this.

Although I knew the man would deny the attack occurred, I wanted the police to speak with him so he would know there are at least some consequences to his actions. I thought maybe this would deter him from trying to attack another woman in the future. The officer did finally agree to talk to him, but when I asked about my safety (I was a Shands patient and knew he may be able to look up my address that way), the officer shrugged. I never heard anything else about the case from the Gainesville Police Department, and it’s unclear if it ever contacted my attacker. The whole encounter was humiliating, so I decided to let it go and tried to forget about the whole thing.

Since that first attack, I have been raped by two different men I had known quite well. The first man actually admitted via text message to raping me while I was unconscious. I still have these messages, and I’m aware that if I showed the police, this man would be arrested. The problem, however, is that I’m a white woman and he is black. Although I believe in justice and want to protect other women from this man, I also don’t think it’s fair that he will face a much greater prison sentence simply because of our racist judicial system. Moreover, I don’t want to deal with the police again. I already felt bad enough about being raped while unconscious; I don’t need the police to make me feel worse like last time.

The second time, I was raped by a very wealthy man I’d been spending time with. I got a rape kit done immediately after but decided not to report to the police because I know this man has far more resources than I will ever have, and I don’t trust the police to keep me safe from any retribution. It’s not worth it to risk my safety once more when I know the police don’t care and the officers who come out to take my report will likely humiliate me again. I’ve already been through enough.

Fast forward to the recent Ford-Kavanaugh hearings. Congressman Ted Yoho and others across the country keep asking why Christine Blasey Ford did not report her assault 35 years ago. Incensed, I called Yoho’s offices in Florida and Washington, D.C. to explain why women don’t report. Next, I decided to relay my thoughts to GPD in hopes that it may enact some much-needed institutional changes.

I spoke with a detective in the police department about my concerns and was not met with any warmth. He wanted to know if I wanted to file reports. I explained that I did not call to file any reports; instead, I stated that I wanted to communicate my concerns to the police administrators so they may consider better ways to respond to victims of assault. I explained that I thought that the officers would benefit from sensitivity training when dealing with sexual assault survivors, and that it may be beneficial to offer victims a choice between a male or female officer to take down their reports. The officer I was speaking with, however, seemed incapable of understanding that I was calling for an institutional review of police practices. He repeatedly told me I sounded upset and asked if I had tried therapy.

We went back and forth like this several times: I would explain that I was calling not for myself, but on behalf of all women who are too afraid to report to the police. I told him that if the police really wish to serve and protect all people, including assault survivors, he and his superiors should take my message seriously. He, in turn, responded by trying to reframe my concerns regarding institutional policy practices into my own personal problems. It eventually became clear to me that this officer was not just failing to understand my message — he did not want to hear my message. I asked him if it might be more useful to speak with someone else or write a letter to the police department to make my concerns known. The officer responded that I could write a letter if it would be therapeutic for my mental health.

This is why women don’t report. Rape and sexual assault are traumatic experiences that often stir up feelings of shame and powerlessness for victims. GPD seems bent on reaffirming the shame and powerlessness I felt from my assaults. The initial officer I reported to didn’t believe me (at first at least) and implied I was reckless for going into my date’s apartment to use the bathroom. When I offered the detective I spoke with concrete suggestions and insights into how the police can better serve sexual assault survivors, he refused to acknowledge my concerns and instead suggested I needed emotional help. This is institutional abuse. And this is why 77 percent of victims, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, don’t report rape and sexual assault to the police.

This letter is being published on the condition of anonymity for the safety of the student.


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