Tuesday, February 5, 2019

"I believe you, and I will stand with you"

Chelsea Young

On September 7, 2012, I was raped on a college campus. I had a classmate ask if I would come help him with his paper for a class we shared, so I met him at his dorm. But it wasn’t homework he had in mind. 
He had been drinking for hours. After talking for a while, he pushed me out of the chair I was sitting in, then pulled me up and pushed me onto his bed. He raped me. I remember leaving his dorm in tears.  I reached out for help immediately. I was met with disbelief and people asking if I was sure that’s what happened. I was taken to the campus police station where they asked me what I was wearing, if I was drunk, and again if I was sure that’s what happened. 
After I reported my rape to the police I was taken to the hospital for a rape kit.  I waited hours for a forensic nurse to show up, and when she arrived she didn’t ask if I was okay; that didn’t matter to her. She asked if I was going to press charges.  I told her I didn’t know yet, because I still needed time to process everything that had happened to me; everything that was still happening to me. I just wanted to have the rape kit done and over with, but the forensic nurse said to me, “Well, if you’re not going to press charges then I don’t want to waste the time and money on a rape kit.” She didn’t believe me either. I waited hours for her to show up only for her to tell me I was wasting her time. I was in absolute shock, I called my mom and told her what had happened, and next thing I knew the nurse came back and apologized and proceeded with the rape kit. 
I remember a few hours later my mom and grandmother, who drove 4 hours to come get me at the hospital, taking me to stay with them at a nearby hotel. I remember waking up two days later to my mom telling me we needed to go back to the college because the chief of police wanted to speak with me. I remember feeling somewhat positive about going in, because the chief of police was a woman and I was expecting a real-life Olivia Benson. 
I went to her office and sat down across the desk from her.  She asked me what I wanted to do and before I even got the answer out she told me, “In public opinion it’s your fault because you were in his room.” She continued to tell me how hard it would be to go through a trial during my first year of college; that people would talk about me; and that I’d lose friends. Then she asked me again if I wanted to press charges and I told her I needed to think about it. She gave me her cell phone number and told me to call or text her when I had made a decision.
A week later, after being tormented by my rapist in the cafeteria and on Twitter, and after crying and leaving class early because I saw a guy sitting next to me wearing the same red basketball shorts my rapist was wearing the night he raped me, I confided in one of my professors. She was angry and took me to the campus police station and told them I was there to press charges against the man who raped me. They told her they were doing a test on campus and nobody was available to help me and to come back Monday. I texted the chief of police and told her I wanted to press charges. She responded and said she was out of town and would talk to me when she got back. 
After that, I felt broken.  Nobody cared about what happened to me because they didn’t believe that it happened. I was angry and sad and I wanted to forget everything. I went to a party, the same night she told me she’d speak with me whenever she got back, and I got drunk. I woke up in jail with a letter from the school saying I was expelled. My mom tried to fight for me to stay and explained that I was dealing with trauma that they had refused to acknowledge. She asked how it was fair that my rapist hadn’t gotten in any trouble for what he did to me, but I got kicked out for drinking. They didn’t care and told me I needed to come get my things and leave. 
When we arrived to get my stuff, I was followed and watched by campus police. I was treated like a dangerous criminal. The next day I went to the county police station to try and get someone who would believe me and press charges. I met with a detective and told her everything that happened the night I was raped. She told me she’d look into it and call me when she had spoken with campus police to get the report and my rape kit. 
After that I took the long journey home. I had come to the conclusion that nobody believed me. It was clear, the school did not believe me.  The police in that county did not believe me. A few days later that detective called me and said she had spoken to the chief of police, and she didn’t know what she could do but give my case to the Commonwealth attorney and see what he wanted to do. So again, another waiting game and more being faced with disbelief about what happened to me, even though I did everything I thought I was supposed to do.  
I waited awhile and when I still hadn’t heard from the Commonwealth attorney, I called and left a message. Again, no return call. So, I left another message and he eventually called me back.  He told me he wasn’t sure what to do with my case, because it was a lot of “he said, she said.” (But isn’t every rape case?) He said he’d go over it again and call me back. Months went by. I had lost all hope. I knew nobody believed me and nobody cared and nobody wanted my rapist to be punished. I was drinking away my pain and trying to forget.
 I can’t remember what happened or what came over me, but after 10 months of no calls, no justice, and falling into a deep depression, I picked up the phone and called the Commonwealth attorney again. I left a not so nice message and demanded something be done; to stop writing me off. It didn’t even take an hour for him to call me back.  He told me that the detective I had spoken to told him I didn’t want to move forward. Obviously, that didn’t happen, but that’s why he never called me. He told me that he would send my case to a grand jury and they would decide if the case would move forward. 
After the grand jury hearing he called and said they came back with no true bill, which means they didn’t believe me either. I asked him who had presented my case and he said it was the same detective who had told him that I didn’t want to move forward with the case. I got angry and asked why he had allowed her to present my case.  He said she was the only one with knowledge of the case facts. 
I wanted more to be done. I didn’t think it was fair that someone who didn’t believe me presented my case to the grand jury.  Of course, it wouldn’t come back a true bill if she made it seem like she didn’t believe me. I asked the Commonwealth attorney what else could be done, and he said he could have it presented to another grand jury one more time. He told me that I could do it myself. So, I did.  If they weren’t going to fight for me, then I was going to go and fight for myself. 
I sat in front of a room full of strangers and hoped that they’d believe me enough to pass this through so my rapist would be put on trial. They did. They circled true bill, and I waited for the Commonwealth attorney to call me. 
It was about a month later when I got a call from the phone number I had dialed many times. I was in New York City with my two best friends walking on the Brooklyn bridge.  I never thought that one phone call would change my life, but this one did. I picked up and a man introduced himself as Dwight Rudd, Assistant Commonwealth Attorney. I had my guard up because I wasn’t informed that somebody else would be taking my case. After introducing himself to me he said, “I believe you, and I will stand with you.”   
With those words, the wall I had built came crashing down.  I was crying in front of a bunch of strangers on the Brooklyn bridge, with my friends telling me to stop because people were staring and they thought I was about to jump. And maybe I would have if it wasn’t for Dwight Rudd. For the first time since my rape, somebody believed me.  Somebody believed what happened to me and that changed everything for me.  I felt strong, I felt brave. 
We planned to meet to go over everything that happened and for him to prep me for trial. A few days later we went to trial. I faced my rapist for the first time in almost a year, I was only in the courtroom for my testimony, but I knew that Dwight was fighting for me. I came back into the courtroom for the judge’s ruling, and I remember feeling like I was underwater; I wasn’t breathing. When the judge said “guilty,” I let out a squeak and a lot of tears. I didn’t want to hug my mom. I didn’t want to hug my grandmother or my advocate. I wanted my first victory hug to be from Dwight because he believed me.   He let me take a break from fighting and finished it for me.  While we still had sentencing, the fight was over. 
The sentencing hearing took place a few months later. Dwight had told me beforehand that we’d be lucky if we even got double digits, but what mattered was that he was found guilty. Dwight didn’t want me to get my hopes up, and I was fine with that. I knew rapists get off easy all the time and I got what I wanted; I wanted him to be found guilty. We went into sentencing and I read my lengthy victim impact statement. I listened to reports I didn’t really understand. I listened to my rapist try to excuse what happened. I heard his family talk about what a great person he was. Then the judge made his decision. The judge sentenced my rapist to 50 years in prison to be suspended after 35 years. My rapist was not only found guilty but he was going behind bars for 35 years for what he did to me on September 7, 2012. 
Little did I know that Dwight had attended a conference called Trauma to Trial one week before he was assigned to my case. At that conference he had learned about the Start by Believing campaign. The campaign had a huge impact on my life. Now, Dwight and I speak at that very same conference, Trauma to Trial.  We have shared our story for 5 years about the importance of believing survivors. If it weren’t for Start by Believing, I’d have never gotten that call on the Brooklyn bridge where I was told for the first time that I was believed. 

Chelsea’s strength and courage are incredible, but no one should have to go through what she did. EVAWI offers many training resources for professionals who respond to sexual assault victims, to ensure they receive a response that is both competent and compassionate.

For example, sexual assault victims should not be asked if they want to “press charges” or pressured to participate in the criminal justice process – not from responding professionals, and not from loved ones.  Investigators will only know whether they have a case to present to the prosecutor at the end of a through, evidence-based investigation. For more information, please see our OnLine Training Institute (OLTI) modules onReporting Methods for Sexual Assault Cases and Interviewing the Victim: Techniques Based on the Realistic Dynamics of Sexual Assault.

Also, sexual assault victims have the right to get a medical forensic examination conducted by a health care professional – regardless of whether they decide to report to law enforcement or participate in an investigation. This is a requirement of the federal legislation known as VAWA (Violence Against Women Act). For more information see EVAWI’s OLTI module called, The Earthquake in Sexual Assault Response: Implementing VAWA Forensic Compliance.

Finally, for more information on the trauma of sexual assault victimization, and common behaviors survivors often exhibit (including self-medication with drugs and alcohol), please see EVAWI’s OLTI module on Victim Impact: How Victims are Affected by Sexual Assault.