This Viewpoint discusses abuse on campus. Please refer to the end of the article for on- and off-campus resources.
The author of this Viewpoint chose to remain anonymous. All first-person references should be attributed to the anonymous author.
I’ve stared at this blank page for hours as I try to put my experience into words. Everything my abuser did comes back to me in waves, momentarily consuming my thoughts and inhibiting my ability to think properly. I feel absolutely sick to my stomach and numb to my senses as I write this, but I honestly have no other choice. Georgetown University has repeatedly ignored my calls for action, and I will no longer suffer in silence. I am a survivor, and Georgetown has failed me.
I met my abuser through Tinder on November 13, 2018. I always told myself I’d never use a dating app but was admittedly heartbroken over a previous relationship and thought it’d be a good way to move on. The girl I met that day was everything I wasn’t: self-assured, outspoken and a champion for social reform on campus. I really admired the person I thought she was and was proud to call her both a partner and a friend. Unfortunately, as the relationship continued, I realized she was not the exemplar I made her out to be. She was a cruel, manipulative and downright abusive partner who made me question my self-worth and sanity all the time. She excelled in gaslighting and lying to the people around her in order to cover up her predatory behavior. This self-proclaimed hero of social justice and reform was herself an abuser, irony at its finest.
When October 2019 rolled around, I had reached a breaking point mentally because of the relationship: I began having severe and persistent anxiety attacks, started drinking heavily by myself, was only sleeping three to four hours a night and would indulge in food binges after prolonged periods of starvation. I was unable to focus in class, often skipped work and constantly shirked my other responsibilities on campus. As I reached the end of the month, I began having mental breakdowns almost every week and lacked any on-campus support system. When I tried to set up an appointment with Counseling and Psychiatric Service, counseling was unsurprisingly booked, and I never received the help I so desperately needed. I woke up one morning in early November, looked at myself in the mirror and saw someone who was completely broken. I knew exactly what needed to be done, and on November 11, 2019, almost exactly one year after meeting her, I formally ended my relationship with my abuser.
To be entirely honest, ending things with my abuser was not the resounding moment of personal triumph I was hoping for. I was paralyzed with fear as we spoke outside of Lauinger Library, and words barely escaped me. I was so overwhelmed by the entire situation and, above all, just wanted to weep. When it was all over, I went back to my dorm, threw up and laid in bed, quietly shaking for hours. It was finally all over, and I was free for the first time in a year. Despite my newfound liberation, my mental health only worsened throughout the month. It had become increasingly clear that I was once again suffering from Generalized Anxiety Disorder and Clinical Depression, two afflictions I was diagnosed with in my early teens. My sense of self had slipped away, and I was overcome with a general sense of grayness. I became a husk of the person I once was, a feeling I carry with me until this very day. My abuser may be out of my life, but her abuse remains very much with me.
People often ask me why I stayed in such an awful relationship, and my answer is always the same: “I felt like I deserved it.” Having grown up in an abusive home, I felt as though my role in life was to anguish. On top of that, I saw her treatment of me as just punishment for my own personal shortcomings in previous relationships. Every moment of pain and abuse she inflicted on me was self-rationalized. “This isn’t really her. I’m just an anomaly in her behavior. Everyone loves her,” I’d tell myself. However, I eventually reached a juncture at which, for the sake of my own well-being and mental health, I could no longer justify her behavior.
In late November, I ran into her roommate’s ex-boyfriend on the dance floor of a school event after-party. After a brief conversation, he asked if I was still with my abuser, to which I replied, “No.” “Good,” he said, “[Abuser] is a cancer. She knew exactly what she was doing to you.” Those words hit like a ton of bricks. She knew? After all this time excusing her behavior and covering up her actions, she knew?! My thoughts began to spiral uncontrollably as my body simultaneously started shutting down. I felt my legs tremble as I gasped for air in between short breaths.
The club’s blaring music became unendurable, and I felt the walls closing in. I was beginning to implode; this wasn’t a typical panic attack, but a complete and total emotional meltdown. I began frantically calling my friends from home, praying one would pick up and stop me from completely falling apart. I also very stupidly texted my abuser and told her off for all she had done to me. I couldn’t stop shaking and kept throwing up on the walk back to my dorm. I felt my consciousness slowly start slipping away and began to worry I would pass out before making it home. Thankfully, before I completely fainted, my friend called me back and helped calm me down as I continued back to my dorm. I went to bed that night in a state of delirium and called my mom early the next morning. Well aware of what I had endured and a survivor of abuse herself, she thought it best for me to seek out professional help once I returned home after my upcoming finals. It was a game plan I could get behind, and I was happy to finally address all that had happened.
On December 12, I decided to file a formal complaint against my abuser through the Office of Student Conduct. Well aware of what she was capable of and fearful for my well-being on campus, I felt like I had no other choice. I also wanted the issue to be handled in an objective and professional setting because I knew my abuser was generally well-liked by the student body; I knew this wasn’t a case I’d win in the court of public opinion.
I met with Judy Johnson, the director of the Office of Student Conduct, and Victor Lopez, one of the office’s two assistant directors, to explain my story and see what could be done. During my meeting, Johnson’s tone and demeanor came off as disinterested, and her hostile nature triggered me into having a severe panic attack during the meeting. I burst out crying and begged Lopez to have her leave the room. She then threatened to call CAPS Emergency Services on me as I continued to beg for her departure from the office. Eventually, she agreed to leave and Lopez allowed me to recollect myself before proceeding. He informed me that my complaint would be better suited for the Office of Title IX Compliance and connected me with Samantha Berner, the university’s Title IX coordinator, as well as Student Outreach & Support and the Georgetown University Police Department.
I set up a meeting with Berner to discuss what was going on and how best to proceed. While Berner was supportive and a useful resource, I opted not to pursue the case; I was going abroad the next semester, and the last thing I wanted to do was relive my trauma while exploring Europe. However, I did tell Berner I would most likely return to her office if my abuser’s behavior were to continue. As it stood, I gave my abuser the benefit of the doubt and hoped to put all that happened behind me. I don’t know why I ever expected decency from a person who continued to show me she had none.
After I returned home for the semester, I began intensive therapy to help cope with all I had been through. I was also prescribed Lexapro to help deal with my anxiety and depression. By the time I went abroad in early February, I felt like I could finally move on with my life. Unfortunately, my abuser had other plans. She and one of her friends began harassing me publicly, which is exactly what I told the university would happen. The moment I found out about her actions in late April, I immediately contacted the Office of Student Conduct to investigate. Lopez told me he couldn’t do anything about it and once again connected me with Katie Boin, the SOS adviser I had met back in December. After our first meeting, she said to contact her with any updates to the situation. After emailing her several times and not hearing back for weeks, I once again contacted Lopez, and he agreed to meet with me in late May. The meeting went nowhere, and the university refused to investigate my claims. The Office of Student Conduct linked me with Jaime Brown from the Center for Student Engagement so I could run my complaints through her.
After Brown and I met, she said my complaints fell under the purview of the Office of Student Conduct and that I should contact them if I wanted anything to be done, despite having been sent to her by that exact office. I felt utterly defeated at this point and just hoped my abuser would stop the harassment for both of our sakes. Of course, she didn’t, and a similar instance of harassment occurred in late June. I once again immediately emailed the Office of Student Conduct, literally begging for them to do something. I detailed the fact that I quite literally threw up on myself as the result of the latest incident and once again stated that I was being harassed for leaving my abuser. The Office of Student Conduct never replied to this message despite its urgency and, only a few days later, my abuser continued harassing me.
I once again emailed the school to file a formal complaint against her. I didn’t hear back for more than two weeks despite once again begging for help. Realizing the previous routes I had taken for justice were of no use, I decided to research other resources provided by the university. It was through my own probing that I discovered Health Education Services, the most useful tool for survivors on campus in my opinion. The HES adviser I’ve been in contact with has been my strongest ally throughout this whole ordeal and is the only reason I’ve seen any real progress in my case. She was able to quickly identify my ex as “a textbook abuser with near sociopathic tendencies” and saw the urgency of my situation. After multiple sessions with my HES adviser, I was able to sort out what I had endured and felt comfortable gathering the evidence needed to back my claims. I once again went to the Office of Title IX Compliance with a formal complaint and once again met with Berner and Johnson, who provided absolutely no help with the process. In fact, Johnson once again reprimanded me for my use of strong language. This encounter was the second time she was more offended by my use of the word “fuck” than by my story of abuse. I felt like I was being demonized by the very office meant to help me. I ended up leaving the call early crying my eyes out because Berner and Johnson once again told me they would most likely not investigate my claims because of their “vagueness” — though both agreed I was most likely abused throughout my relationship. I told my fantastic adviser from HES about the meeting, and she took it upon herself to step in and help me. After speaking with Johnson and Berner, she sent me an email detailing how to best proceed with bringing a case forward. After seven months of repeated calls for action, only then was anything being done.
For the past several months, I’ve endured personal hell. I’ve taken leaves of absence from both my spring semester classes and summer internship, have been forced to relive some truly vile memories as I’ve gathered evidence against my abuser and now actively meet with three separate trauma specialists to address what I’ve been through. I do not want to be writing this article, but I feel as though I have no other choice. Throughout this whole process, I’ve done everything the “right” way: I met with the right people, made the right complaints and used the right resources in addressing my concerns. Despite my actions, the university has shown me nothing but apathy and hostility.
Georgetown is an institution that loves to flex its Jesuit identity — the phrases “cura personalis” and “people for others” are as key to its identity as rats and moldy dining hall food — but it rarely seems to stand by the Jesuit ideals. I’ve literally begged the university to do something about my abuser for months to no avail. This entire process has shown me just how apathetic school leadership can be to survivors and their experiences. I cannot be my only advocate, and I should not have to be. I have mountains of evidence against my abuser, so why won’t the school listen? My experience is by no means unique; other survivors have voiced similar frustrations about the exact same so-called resources and leadership. This process is truly despicable and in need of immediate reform.
To Georgetown, I ask this: How can we as survivors be expected to speak up when you take no interest in our stories?
The author is a student at Georgetown University.
To seek help as a survivor, consult the following resources.
Health Education Services: [email protected]
Counseling and Psychiatric Service: 202-687-6985
D.C. Rape Crisis Center Hotline: 202-333-RAPE (7273)
Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network: 1-800-656-4673
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255
Georgetown University Resource Center: https://sexualassault.georgetown.edu/get-help/resourcecenter/
Title IX Online Reporting Form: georgetown.protocall.info/incident-report