Most victims of sexual assaults on college campuses choose not to report the crimes, or decline to prosecute. Even victims who do follow through with criminal charges find that the experience exacts a personal toll. The AJC interviewed two Georgia students, one who filed charges and one who did not, and presents their stories here. In keeping with AJC policy not to identify victims of sexual assault without their permission, the AJC is keeping confidential the name of the UGA student quoted below.
‘I know I said no’
When is rape not rape? When you try to convince yourself that it’s not.
That’s what a student at UGA did when she was assaulted there three years ago by a friend she’d known in high school. Now in college, the former high school classnates were casual friends.
One night, she went back to his dorm room after hanging out and drinking with friends at the bars in downtown Athens. She says she passed out in his room.
“The next thing I remember was him on top of me with my clothes off,” she said. “I said, No.’ But he said, ‘I’m almost done.’”
“He knew I was wasted,” she said.
She now thinks he used the assault to get back at her after rejecting him in high school. “I’ve never felt so used before,” she said.
For a long time after the assault the UGA senior was in denial, refusing to admit to herself that she had been sexually assaulted. The fact that it was done by someone she considered a friend hurt the most.
She didn’t report the assault, eventually telling only her roommate and his fraternity brother. She still hasn’t told her parents.
“I was embarrassed,” she said. “It made me feel ashamed and I shouldn’t have to feel like that.
“I thought I would lose friends because there are stigmas to calling out popular people, and I didn’t want that to be something that was with me throughout my time in college,” she said.
The UGA student has undergone counseling, but still visibly wrestles with her experience. She vacillates from being angry at her attacker, calling him a “jerk,” to being angry at herself for still considering his feelings. Ultimately, she knows she can’t hold on to the anger.
“I know what happened to me was not OK,” she says. “I know I said no.”
‘I didn’t want him to win’
Hannah Lengyel is the exception to the rule that most sexual assaults on campus go unreported.
Lengyel was assaulted during her freshman year at Valdosta State University in March 2012 by a male student she’d had sex with before. The two were alone in a shed behind a house where a party was underway.
Both had been drinking. He started kissing her, but Lengyel says she tried to push him off as he got more aggressive. He ultimately overpowered and assaulted her.
Lengyel waited a week before reporting the incident to first campus, then city police. With no DNA evidence, but bruising on her body, police charged her attacker with sexual battery.
“I wasn’t originally going to report it,” Lengyel said. But as more students began finding out and questioning the student about the incident, he began denying any wrongdoing, she said. “He was saying to people, ‘It’s not rape if you’ve already (had sex),’” she said.
Lengyel’s attacker was arrested three days after she reported him and spent three days in jail. He denied raping Lengyel, but took a plea deal for misdemeanor battery and sexual battery, Lengyel said, and was ordered to pay a $1,000 fine and complete 80 hours of community service. Contacted by the AJC, the young man declined comment.
At times, Lengyel said she felt like she was being blamed for the assault. For example, police believed her story, but made her feel guilty for drinking at the party, she said. “They told me to keep my nose clean because I could be prosecuted for underage drinking,” she said. “That surprised me because it shouldn’t have mattered what I had been drinking, I was reporting an assault.”
Throughout the entire four-month ordeal and aftermath, Lengyel never took time off from school.
“I felt like if I withdrew from school he would win, and I didn’t want him to win.”
She completed her sophomore year at VSU before the stigma of reporting a rape became too much. Friends of her attacker shunned her, and her longtime friendship with her college roommate deteriorated. Lengyel participated in group counseling offered by VSU and attended private counseling sessions arranged by her parents.
She left VSU after her sophomore year and enrolled in Georgia State University, where she will graduate from in May. Instead of a career in teaching, she now plans to ultimately attend law school and represent sexual assault victims like herself.
“I think reporting it was the best decision I ever made,” she said. “Even if you don’t get a conviction, you put (the attacker) on notice that you’re not just going to let this happen.”