I entered my first relationship during the beginning of my freshman year of college at Carnegie Mellon University. Everything was going just as I had hoped. I loved my classes and my new friends and I was dating another woman in my program. However, my relationship quickly became violent. My girlfriend became verbally and sexually abusive. During the six months that we dated, I was raped repeatedly and I began to live in fear.

After the relationship ended, she stalked me at school and at my dormitory. She continued to have violent outbursts and I was constantly terrified. Unable to talk about the more gruesome details of what had happened, I was able to approach several faculty members about verbal harassment and her violent tendencies. They organized a "No Contact Agreement" between the two of us, stating that we would not be able to speak to each other or contact each other in any way outside of our coursework. This became effective at the end of our freshman year.

I moved off campus for my sophomore year and after signing the lease, she moved in to my building in the apartment across the hall from mine. That semester we were in five classes together. Since I am in a small program, there were only 10 to 15 people in each class. I could not get away from her and I didn't feel safe at school or at home. In classes she would reference sexual assault often and would constantly use intimidation tactics, like screaming and sudden violent outbursts. Meanwhile, I had been diagnosed with PTSD caused by her abuse and was struggling with panic attacks, flashbacks, night terrors, and involuntary shaking. I feared for my life around her, and there didn't seem to be any escape.

Almost a year later, finally ready to say what happened and hold her accountable, I filed a complaint against her through the University's community standards process. The first part of this process was for me to fill out a campus police report. The campus police officer accused me of seeking revenge by making the report and questioned why I had been in the relationship if I was being so badly abused. The officer then informed my abuser about my report without my knowledge or permission despite the fact that I hadn't pressed any criminal charges. My abuser immediately began following me again. I quickly moved out of my apartment and began staying with a friend. I didn't feel safe walking around campus on my own; so a few close friends began escorting me everywhere I went.

The campus hearing took place during the spring of my sophomore year, and after the most harrowing four and a half hours of my life, the board found her guilty of sexual assault. Her consequences, however, were not expulsion or suspension, or anything else that would ensure my safety, but rather a review of the pre-existing "No Contact Agreement" and a counseling assessment for her. I felt less safe than I had before beginning the process.

Members of the board stated that they thought, "She had a different understanding of events" and excused her behavior. I filed an appeal of the decision, which was denied because after reviewing the case the appeals officer deemed each board member to be "a thoughtful individual."

Over the summer I went through intensive treatment for my PTSD and have returned for my junior year, but every day is extremely trying. I see her every day and she continues to try to intimidate me. I have not been able to get the most out of my education. My college experience has become about survival, rather than learning. The University has said that if I cannot handle these circumstances, that I should leave, and that I'm not the only sexual assault survivor in this situation at Carnegie Mellon University.

This process has been devastating. I've been re-traumatized every time I've tried to stand up for myself. Going to school under these conditions is unbearable, but I should not have to leave, nor should I have to compromise my education because of what has happened to me. Somehow, I have faced all of the consequences of my abuser's actions, and there is no reason that I should have to continue to live this way.

Title IX, a federal civil rights law, requires universities to properly respond to sexual harassment and assault. The ACLU filed a Title IX complaint on behalf of "Gabrielle" with the Office for Civil Rights, U.S. Department of Education. The complaint filed with the OCR asserts that Carnegie Mellon failed to respond adequately to the student's complaint and instead required the student to bear the burden of addressing the effects of the violence and harassment. The ACLU is asking for the university to ensure that she can continue her education safely, and to revise its practices for responding to and preventing sexual assault and harassment to comply with federal law.

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Anonymous

I am terribly sorry for what you have been through. As a fellow CMU student, I am appalled and disappointed that there wasn't more that CMU did for you. You are an exceptionally brave, strong young person who will get past this.

Anonymous

This is the reason that all women (or men) on a campus that are being stalked, harassed, abused or raped need to forgo trying to deal with campus police (who seemingly do their best to minimize the situation and belittle the complainant) and go directly to the city/county law enforcement officials. If they are turned away, they should write up a complaint anyway, sign, date and submit it via registered mail to the agency, return receipt requested.

What is the legal standing of a university, exactly? Is it considered a jurisdiction unto itself, like say, a Native American reservation or an official with diplomatic immunity? I can never wrap my head around why university personnel with little to no judicial, law enforcement or basic social work training can even begin to "legislate" actions that are so lacking in basic protections for our collegiate population. The agenda for most universities is one of self-preservation, not justice, and it is appalling.

Anonymous

Stay strong and stand up for yourself. These is never a justification for abuse, regardless of gender.

Anonymous

A friend of mine worked for the newspaper at the University I attended in the late 90's. She was sexually assaulted by the editor-in-chief. She pressed charges, and had a restraining order against him pending the court date. The school tried to tell her that she was the one who needed to quit the newspaper and find another college to attend, because he was so close to graduating and it would be a shame to ruin that by making him drop out.

This is more common than it should ever be. The idea that a victim should have to reconfigure their life to accommodate their attacker is abhorrent in civilized society.

Anonymous

Gabrielle, I am both saddened by your experience and inspired by your strength. Similarly, I was told by my university (which also happens to be in Pittsburgh) that, should I decide to submit a report to the university about my sexual assault, it would most likely only result in a no contact order and forcing my attacker to move from our resident hall to another. I didn't end up reporting my case because I realized I would have to endure all of that stress for virtually no protection.

Unfortunately, ours is the plight of college women nation-wide. Our schools' priority should be protecting us, but sadly it is not. Something needs to be done to protect college women from these circumstances. Clearly, schools are not respecting title IX like they should be. Everyone deserves their education.

Anonymous

Similar thing happened to me at this school, but with a staff member. No contact agreement, police report, and was swept under the rug. I was intimidated for 3 years.

CMU Faculty Member

Very unfortunate and sad. The response of the police seemed very unprofessional, and calls for an investigation. Please avail yourself of the many good and supportive people at cmu. I wish you the best, and thanks for sharing this difficult experience.

Anonymous

I hope this has been solved; you shouldn't have to leave Carnegie but really.. I hope you have transferred. If you could get into Carnegie Mellon and stay there academically through all of this, there shouldn't be a school you cannot be accepted into.

Dawn

I feel your pain. I am in a similar situation at my job...or should I say, former job. I was harassed for almost 2 years by a coworker with whom I had to work closely with at a small school where I am a teacher, Environmental Charter High School in the city of Lawndale in California. I feared reporting this to superiors because they were very close with the perpetrator: relatives, childhood friends, and a fiancé who was in charge of my payroll. I eventually lost it--I had a panic attack and reported it in an angry, expletive-laced rant early in the morning after one of many sleepless nights.
My employer's response? To put me on leave pending an "investigation", question other staff members who were not involved, thus revealing my situation in a humiliating fashion, accusing me of using drugs and fabricating the entire situation, and ultimately, terminating my employment without explanation several weeks after my complaint.
I understand when the author describes PTSD as this is exactly what I experienced, and continue to experience.
In this day and age, sexual harassment has to be taken seriously. Victims can no longer be denigrated, humiliated and thus harassed all over again.

Anonymous

I feel your pain. I am in a similar situation at my job...or should I say, former job. I was harassed for almost 2 years by a coworker with whom I had to work closely with at a small school where I am a teacher, Environmental Charter High School in the city of Lawndale in California. I feared reporting this to superiors because they were very close with the perpetrator: relatives, childhood friends, and a fiancé who was in charge of my payroll. I eventually lost it--I had a panic attack and reported it in an angry, expletive-laced rant early in the morning after one of many sleepless nights.
My employer's response? To put me on leave pending an "investigation", question other staff members who were not involved, thus revealing my situation in a humiliating fashion, accusing me of using drugs and fabricating the entire situation, and ultimately, terminating my employment without explanation several weeks after my complaint.
I understand when the author describes PTSD as this is exactly what I experienced, and continue to experience.
In this day and age, sexual harassment has to be taken seriously. Victims can no longer be denigrated, humiliated and thus harassed all over again.

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