Letter to the Editor: Rowan did not punish the student who spiked my drink

April is Sexual Assault Awareness month and has led those who suffer to speak up. - Photo via Adobe Stock Images

Dear community,

Thank you for talking about drink spiking and sexual assault in the last issue of The Whit. I appreciate that you talked about the problem, instead of continuing the silence. I also appreciate that your preventative measures focus on perpetrators rather than victims. In fact, I’m so touched that I felt called to respond.

Since it is Sexual Assault Awareness Month, I would appreciate it if you publish this letter anonymously. We’re used to hearing tired, samey statements from Rowan University and corporations. I want to give fellow students a window into what it is really like to be a survivor, straight from the source.

First of all, I’m more than an unwanted notification on your phone. I’m more than a tragic case. I’m more than a number in a statistic. I’m more than the punchline of your done-to-death Bill Cosby joke. I am a warm, loving, and kind person, one of those odd characters you see in the Student Center everyday. I’m a smiling face, a campus leader, and I may even be a classmate or friend of yours.

For the most part, I’ve been left alone with the burden of healing from what an evil person did to me. Having a good circle of friends has helped, as has therapy. Still, I go through life carrying the disturbing knowledge that the fact that I am a living person with dreams, loved ones, and goals did not matter when a coworker who I’d considered a friend ended up spiking my water and sexually assaulting me.

My resulting PTSD diagnosis, depression, and suicidality have impaired my ability to participate in my classes and in campus culture. Despite this, I function excellently — mostly because I have trained myself to dissociate.

One of my proudest moments was casually passing by my rapist on my way to class. I did not get rid of the smile that was already on my face, and I did not cry. I do not have time to feel bad about what happened. From the very beginning, I never did. I recall having to cover his shift at the Barnes & Noble Café (remember that place?) two days after the assault.

Everybody else forgets about the rape. It disappears into the annals of scary Rowan Alerts, and life moves on. I wish it would let up a bit for me. It never does.

One thing I wanted to respond to in the article was the Rowan Wellness Center being quoted as saying “Rowan University will discipline students responsible for drink spiking.”

Rowan did not discipline the student — an elementary education major — who spiked my drink.

When I went to the Title IX office, my first question from the coordinator was “Why do you consider what happened to you to be rape?” I was later asked, “What is Rohypnol?” (it is the most common date rape drug), followed by “Why do you think it was Rohypnol? Do you take Rohypnol regularly?” (Rohypnol can be, but is rarely a recreational drug.) As soon as I heard these careless and detached words, I knew I would not receive justice from Title IX.

I am perfectly aware that questioning and cross-examination are necessary when an accusation is made. But, speaking as someone who studies health communication and knows this is possible, if interpersonal communication between Title IX coordinators and potential victims of sexual violence cannot be made less humiliating and more trauma-aware as potential victims offer testimonies, then the Title IX office cannot be said to protect us.

Because after all, as your article states, 1 in 13 students report having their drinks spiked in college. 1 in 4 undergraduate women experience sexual violence. If these statistics are true — if these are facts — if sexual violence is so overwhelmingly common on college campuses — then why was I met with shock and disbelief by the Rowan Title IX office and the Glassboro Police? It was as if the incredibly common crime I experienced was unheard of to them.

This question is outside of what The Whit covers, I know. So I will respond to your article’s suggestion, that Rowan informs potential perpetrators of the “charges one may face if they participate in this illegal activity.”

D.A.R.E.-like inventions will not stop rape. When someone spikes a drink, I suspect that they know full well what they are doing. In fact, the thought of how dangerous and wrong it is probably gives them a rush. They know they can evade the law through careful social engineering and their choice of drug. They know that the justice system is not designed to persecute a covert crime like drug-facilitated sexual assault.

Why? Because the burden of proof lies on the victim. And the date rape drugs of choice, such as Rohypnol, impair a victim’s memory, therefore rendering them an unreliable source on their own experience. So unless they have a drug test — and drugs such as Rohypnol leave a victim’s body quickly, so unless they get tested (while already in an exhausted, inebriated state), victims of date rape are often left with a foggy testimony, if they remember anything at all. In my case, the local urgent care did not provide testing for date rape drugs, and I already felt too sick, witless, and half-asleep to have the energy to take another trip to the faraway hospital. Especially knowing that even if I did have the drug test, I’d probably be met with questions like, why I was with my rapist in the first place? Why I, a woman, considered a man my friend? Why I accepted a drink of water? What I was wearing? The insinuation behind all of this being, naturally, that I was asking for it.

Rapists know that victims’ options are limited. They also know that the police and university will likely not punish them. No wonder perpetrators of drug-facilitated sexual assault are often serial rapists. My rapist admitted as much.

Solutions to these larger problems may require revolutionary societal changes. But one solution that I know we can work towards on campus is community.

I am writing on the day that the Take Back the Night walk is to take place, which Rowan hosts once a year to spread awareness for resources such as Title IX and the Wellness Center. Awareness is good. But for a survivor like me, this feels painfully performative.

Rowan offered me free counseling following my Title IX report in August. This helped me survive a difficult Fall semester. However, this service was abruptly cut four months later, just as I had built a rapport with my counselor and opened up to her about the most painful experiences of my life. At the same time that I had to work on final projects, I had to figure out how to find a new therapist which I can afford. I have been seeing her for months over telehealth, but I don’t find it as helpful or supportive as my in-person sessions, and my other options are limited due to my insurance.

I was upset to find out that the Wellness Center does not offer any support groups for survivors of sexual violence, but I am not surprised: offering such a service would admit that there is a problem on this campus. Rowan instead referred me to a support group managed by SERV, and I have been on their waitlist since December. I send an email once every three weeks, and every time I am given the same response: “someone will be reaching out to you soon.”

In that time, my life has been especially painful. I tackle this semester with a smile on my face, but on the inside, I am feeling more isolated and lost than ever before. Talking to a fellow survivor would change my life. I want to meet someone else who has survived this nightmare. I love my friends so much; they do their best to support me, but they do not understand what it is like to be me.

I am tired of feeling so alone. I know I’m not alone. 1 in 13 college students have their drinks spiked. 1 in 4 undergrad women experience sexual violence. If we are so common, why can’t I find us?

Lonely people do funny things. When I received the latest Rowan Alert about the person whose drink was spiked at an off-campus house, I remembered my own assault with fear, sadness, and hopelessness. The next morning, as I was cleaning my emails, I was going to delete that Rowan Alert — I was going to try and pretend that such a painful thing never happened. Instead, I decided to star it.

I don’t want to forget the person behind this Rowan Alert, the way I was forgotten. I know that that fellow survivor likely feels like I do — lost, isolated, disappointed at the world’s injustice.

If any 1 in 13s or 1 in 4s are reading this, I want you to know that you are not alone. We can and we will survive this world, even if it is not made to serve us justice.

Full healing is not possible when the problem does not end. Nevertheless, we will find ways to make our own peace.

You can find me on campus wearing denim and a big smile this Denim Day, on April 26.

With love and strength,

the person behind the Rowan Alert you received late at night on August 13, 2022.

For comments/questions about this story, email the.whit.rowan@gmail.com or tweet @TheWhitOnline