Category Archives: Sexual Assault

How a perpetrator gets away with sexual harassment at CU Boulder

Someone’s status of being “accomplished in his field” should never be used in an investigation.

***Trigger warning for discussion of sexual assault. This post includes information from an actual university investigation. ***

You can walk through the halls at my university and feel like you are in a place of success. The walls are plastered with research posters and stories of accomplishments. For me, it is a dream school for research. I love what I study here, and engineering is one of my passions in life. Unfortunately, choosing to study here came with some unexpected things that I did not want or ask for.

Being a female in engineering, I’ve experienced a fair number of less than favorable encounters that range from awkward peers to sexual harassment. Not all women in engineering experience sexual harassment. Some have been lucky enough to avoid it and some are oblivious, but by graduate school there are a large number of us who have our stories. Most of the time we just roll our eyes and laugh it off. This is part of being a female in a male dominated field. We put up with a lot of obnoxious things and usually don’t report them. (A 2006 study showed that an astounding 69% of women in engineering experienced sexual harassment during their careers).

Yet, when I experienced something on the severe end of sexual harassment, it became necessary to report. Since I had evidence, I thought the case would be fairly straightforward, and that a resolution would be reached. Instead, I came away feeling less safe than I did before reporting.

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The Incident

A group of us gathered at a place just off of campus to celebrate finishing a huge exam. It was early in the evening and constituted more of a mellow dinner gathering among adults than a party.  During the dinner, one of my peers that I didn’t know as well started touching my leg under the table, moving his hand under my skirt and up to my crotch. I quickly removed his hand, but he persisted and did this to me two more times. After the third time, I quickly got up and left the gathering for a bit.  I was shaken but I decided to go back and confront him about what he did to me. I thought physical and verbal communication would be enough to make a clear point that I wanted no part of his sexual advances. Still, despite removing his hands from me, and verbally confronting him, he persisted in his endeavors.  He would later that evening be so bold as to grab my breast and place his hand down the back of my skirt and underwear (which constitutes sexual assault).  To top it off, when I tried to go back to my office, he started following me. My only recourse was to run onto a bus and take it half a mile away just to get away from him.

The Evidence

Worrying for my safety, I drafted an email to him after the incident that briefly stated that he inappropriately groped me, and that told him to never touch me again. He left two voice mails on my phone apologizing, though I suspect he wanted me to be quiet about what happened more than apologize to me.

The Reporting

I was really scared to walk through the halls of my department, and I confided in a few people about what happened. They encouraged me to come forward to resolve the problem, especially since my assailant could do the same thing to other women. One person reported it to my university, and soon after that, an investigator from the office of student conduct contacted me.

I agreed to meet with the student conduct investigator to discuss options. A discussion of options turned out to be the investigator jotting down notes as I gave a short synopsis of events. At the end of the meeting the investigator said she would investigate the perpetrator. My meeting had suddenly turned into an investigation. I shared a copy of the email and the voicemails with the investigator, but after that I was never contacted again until the investigation was over.

Soon after the university “investigation” started, I learned from a third party that police have methods for investigating non-rape sexual assaults. Initially, I did not think of going to the police, because criminal punishment seemed extreme when all I wanted was a continued safe academic environment for me and for other students. Generally, women don’t run to the police every time they experience sexual harassment, even in extreme cases.

With encouragement from a third party, I talked to a police detective, who thought I potentially had a case. Unfortunately, the university investigation disrupted the opportunity for a proper police investigation. By the time I had gone to the police, my university had already handed over all of my evidence to my assailant and his attorney.

In the end, the solo university investigator decided that my assailant did not violate any university policy. The investigation was not only an insult to victims of sexual assault, but an insult to women in STEM fields as well.

The Investigation

Often times I hear people ask how perpetrators of sexual violence don’t get found guilty even when there is evidence. To help aid in the understanding of this, I have decided to include some excerpts from the investigative report. It is important to remember that these items are things that the investigator felt were important to the overall investigation. Quotations denote direct quotes that the investigator included in the report.

My assailant has many opportunities in his future

“Respondent loves his field and is accomplished in his field.”

He “does not want to lose the 11 years of work he has put in to get where he is now”

“He thinks there are lots of opportunities in his future.”

“He is concerned about the possibility that professors won’t want to hire him based on these allegations.”

In one of the emails my assailant sent to the investigator, he mentioned the hard work he was doing. While the entire work description was not included, the investigator felt that the following information was relevant to the investigation:

“Respondent proceeds to state how hard he has worked in his field and how dedicated he is to that”

***Note to reader: I am also getting a PhD in engineering, just like my assailant. I am also accomplished in my field. This was never mentioned. The report didn’t mention how having my assailant in my department would affect my research and my leadership opportunities. My safety and learning environment did not appear to be of importance during the investigation either.

What does it say to victims in prestigious fields when perpetrators can use their success in those fields to cover up sexual harassment? What does it say to all the good successful people who would never use their careers as a way to cover up sexual harassment?

My assailant is married

This is apparently very important information to put in the report because we all know that married men never ever cheat. Obviously.

“He and his wife are close and often in communication when they are apart.”

“Respondent and his wife have been married for one and a half years. Their families are very far away so they are very reliant on each other.”

“I asked Respondent if he finds Complainant attractive. He said no, and that he is attracted to women who are physically similar to his wife. Respondent’s wife and Complainant are physically dissimilar.”

“he and his wife are Catholic. They text while apart.”

Furthermore, my assailant was able to use his wife as a witness even though she was not present during the assault at all. She submitted a long statement, which was included in the investigative report.

My assailant was allowed to have an attorney

“He was accompanied by an attorney advisor”

*** Note to reader: I was never ever given this opportunity. I went in to discuss options with the investigator alone, and then the investigator started an investigation during our meeting. There was no follow up, or even an opportunity for me to get a lawyer or have someone present with me.

My assailant was able to change his story

Despite my assailant previously apologizing in response to an email that described some of his sexual actions, my assailant changed his story and called what he did “hand play.” The investigator wrote:

“they had “hand play” which Respondent described as “not sexual in nature””

That term seems like something an attorney would come up with…

The investigator went off of impressions

Regarding my assailant:

“I find his reaction to the email suspect. I am also concerned about the fact that respondent did not tell his wife about the email from Complainant when he received it, since he emphasized the closeness they share. Despite this issue, Respondent gave an overall impression of credibility based in part of his verbal and nonverbal symptoms and attitudes during our interview”

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I write this as an educational piece for the public. Sexual harassers and abusers often go free or just get a slap on the wrist.

While CU Boulder continually works on improving the investigative process, some problems still exist with addressing people who perpetrate sexual violence and harassment. Sarah Gilchriese is not alone. There are more victims here, and sometimes our assailants go unpunished.

It is a problem that only one single investigator listened to my story and made a decision about the outcome of the investigation. There were no precautions in place for situations where the investigator is biased towards one person based on their academic credentials, or the investigator does not take thorough notes during the interviews. It creates a frightening situation for victims who come forward about perpetrators who are successful in prestigious fields of study. Furthermore, it was also disturbing that my evidence was handed over to my assailant and his attorney without getting the police involved. In fact, university investigators do not notify the police in these investigations.

My experiences leave me conflicted. I want to know what I should tell young women who would like to study engineering at CU. Do I tell them that they might have my assailant as a TA or a mentor? Do I tell young prospective students that if they get sexually harassed or assaulted to hope that it isn’t by someone who is “accomplished” in their field?

Through the tears and pain and being terrified, I chose to stick with my PhD program because I did not want to throw away all of my work, and because I love what I am doing. It has come with sacrifices, such as not feeling safe on campus, and avoiding any events where my assailant could come into contact with me and repeat his actions. Thankfully, some members of my university have attempted to ensure my safety and to create an academically fair environment for me.

Yet, there is one thing that still very much upsets me. After an investigation like mine, perpetrators learn that they can hide behind their careers and success and no one will believe their victims even if there is evidence. That is wrong.

***

Editors Note: This story is told from the perspective of a female in engineering. However, sexual harassment and sexual violence affects women and men on college campuses and beyond. According to the CDC, about half of women and 1 in 5 men experience some form of sexual violence in their lifetime. For more resources, you can visit the RAINN website.

No, actually a gun isn’t going to protect me from rape

**Trigger warning for discussion of rape incidents and victim blaming

One of the perks of being an undergrad at my university was that every time there was a police report about a rape or sexual assault in a dark ally, a university wide email would go out with tips on how not to get raped. The emails contained very “useful” information like “don’t walk around alone at night.” Giving women tips on how not to get raped seems to be a popular thing to do these days.

The only issue is that it is absolutely useless and ridiculous. For most women, these tips are just a routine part of life, not new advice. Many of us try our damned hardest not to put ourselves in any situation where we would be “at fault” for getting raped. Even though most rapes don’t occur from strangers in the dark night, we still follow the unwritten law that darkness and alone are a bad combination for women, as we are told this again and again. It goes to the extent where some women at my university avoid late night study groups or review sessions just to avoid getting stuck having to get home late at night. Sending out an email to all of us telling us something so useless is just demeaning.

This leads me to my next point on victim blaming. It’s the self-defense argument. Recently there has been a lot of gun hype on my current university campus in addition to the huge hype that is in the media about gun control. Those who have a conceal and carry permit are now allowed to carry guns on my campus. There was an article about it the local paper, and a female student was interviewed. She said it was important for her to carry a gun because she had a late evening class and had to walk home alone. I can understand her fear, and I am sure it is empowering to feel that you are defending yourself. In fact, as female students, we are usually bombarded with advice telling us not to walk alone at night, so I can see when there is a glimmer of hope where we might be able to ignore this unwritten rule, it would be taken up. However, I don’t think a gun solves the problem of rape. It doesn’t even come close.

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Victim Blaming

What finally triggered me to write this article was a picture going around in response to the comment made by Joe Salazar. A male friend posted it. Not only is it a disgusting image of a woman being victimized, it gives the wrong impression that guns magically ward away all rape. The image is shown below.

CLICK THIS LINK TO SEE IMAGE.

[Trigger Warning, image contains depiction of sexual assault]

The real rape statistics

The things I want to say to people passing this picture and similar ideas around

I want to ask the supporters of this image some questions about rape, since they seem to think rape can be used as a valiant argument for gun owners.

Just how often do you think rape occurs in a dark alley from some scary stranger? If I am walking alone at night and there is some guy walking behind me, should I reach into my purse and put my hand on my gun just in case? What if a man is walking towards me? Should I pull out my gun to let him know that I am not going to get raped tonight? After all, I probably wouldn’t know that he was out to rape me until it was too late.

How would you feel if you were walking down the street, and you walk up to some woman to ask her directions and she reaches into her purse to make sure she has her gun handy? After all, if she doesn’t, and you happen to be a rapist, it would be her fault for not trying to defend herself, right?

But let’s just throw that whole random stranger thing away for a minute. In a recent CDC report, only 13.8% of women who have been victims of rape reported that it was from a stranger. Now consider that a percentage of these stranger rapes were committed in situations where the victim was drugged or incapacitated and would not have the ability to defend themselves with a gun. In the small percentage that is left over, how often do you think a gun would really work? This article contains two stories of gun owners who were victims of rape. (Trigger Warning for the link).

Now, let’s talk about the 86.2% of rapes that are committed by someone that the victim knows. Do you really think women are going to make sure their gun is right on them when they are hanging out with an acquaintance? Furthermore, even if a female is carrying a gun on her, do you think if her acquaintance is making a move on her that she is going to shoot first and ask questions later? Don’t you think maybe she might be trying to process the situation instead, or be trying to think of ways to decline her acquaintance, or be in a state of shock or disbelief?

I don’t believe I know anyone who would be able to shoot a perceived friend that is trying to rape them. Not only because of the victim is trying to process the situation and determine what exactly is happening, but also because murder to most people seems like a very last resort, like something that would be used in a situation where if you don’t shoot now you will be killed immediately. Furthermore, as a society, we don’t deem rape as a very bad crime. The time done in jail is relatively short, and it definitely does not come anywhere near a death sentence. In fact, rape is so difficult to prove that it is estimated only 3% of rapists will ever spend a day in jail. Using those statistics, can you imagine how difficult it would be for a woman to prove she was trying to defend herself against a potential rapist she shot at, who had not yet committed rape?

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Guns might be a way for you to put your mind at ease when you are walking home, but in the end, rape is not some simple scene from a bad action film where a rapist jumps up behind an armed women with a gun already in hand, ready and loaded.

The reason we have rape is not because women aren’t defending themselves, or walking alone at night. The reason we have rape is because we have rapists.