This fall semester, the university’s policy on Title IX changed.

The changes include reassigning sexual assault investigative functions to the Office of Equity and Diversity and no longer requiring faculty to report instances of sexual misconduct if a student discloses it through a written academic assignment.

Many may see the second part as counterintuitive to a campus striving toward a sexual-misconduct-free-environment, but I don’t see it that way.

A year ago, I met a boy from Tinder for coffee. He was cute enough, but as we had little in common, I saw no more potential in him than as a fling. At that point, I had not had sex, and I thought it could be a relatively innocent affair.

Later that week, he invited me over to hang out. But before I knew it, things had escalated more quickly than I could react to. I protested as he kept pushing against me before, in frustration, saying, “If you’re going to continue to try that please wear a condom.” He took that as consent, and before I knew it I was in so much pain I could hardly move. My body was trying to do anything to lessen the sharp pain in my stomach, pushing at him with my hands as he moved me around like a rag doll. All I wanted was for it to be over.

When he finally gave up and let me go, I quickly redressed and sat speechless on the foot of his bed.

He was the first to speak,“So … you consented to that, right? Cause I don’t want you to go home to your friends crying saying you were raped.”

I stared at him. I couldn’t find words, “Yeah … yeah, of course.” I was shaken; my voice was timid. I couldn’t look him in the eye.

He hugged me before I left and told me to “feel better.” I was in pain for two days. He never checked up on me, even though I texted him that weekend. All I wanted was to somehow reverse that horrible night.

But after telling me he could be my “knight in shining armor” prior to that evening, he promptly told me he only realized after taking my virginity that he was looking for someone “with more experience.”

I was horrified, hurt and angry. I genuinely never wanted to see him again. So I told him that and blocked him on everything I could. We haven’t made contact since.

This is a part of my own story that I’ve been ashamed to tell.

When those who were close to me found out, they wanted me to pursue a case against him. But I just wanted to forget about it, so I kept my mouth shut. I wanted to wipe the event from my memory and pretend it never happened. I told less people. Every boy I’ve been romantically involved with since hasn’t wanted to hear this story, and I haven’t wanted to tell it.

I didn’t know what to call it; to call it rape or sexual assault suggested a narrative in which I was a helpless victim that had been traumatized by the violence committed against me. I didn’t see that as the truth, as I didn’t see myself as blameless. And I didn’t want this experience to define me. I didn’t want to give this terrible event that kind of power over my life. I didn’t know how to handle it.

But I do know that what happened to me that night hurt. I know I felt angry that he didn’t even acknowledge how he hurt me. I know I felt like a piece of me was taken, and that I’ll never get that piece back. I know every time I think I see him my skin goes cold, and I start to shake. I know that keeping what happened to me secret didn’t make anything better. And I know I felt so much shame that I let something like this happen to me.

But I don’t want to feel ashamed anymore. I don’t want people to feel like they have to hide behind anonymity and not talk about what happened to them. I don’t want people to feel confined to a narrative that strips them of agency, or that what happened has to define them. It’s why I wrote this column.

Narrative is subjective, and we make meaning of the things that happen to us. Choosing whether or not to pursue a case is the victim’s prerogative, no one else’s. And when we create a space that allows for people to come forward with these stories not solely for prosecutorial purposes, we can begin to understand.

The person who did this to me may never see fault in what happened, and that’s an issue. The fact of the matter is, we live in a society where people like Brock Turner serve only three months in jail for the sexual assault of an unconscious woman in an event he still sees as consensual. Unfortunately, it’s notable that he even served time at all.

Nothing will change unless we talk about it. By pretending these things don’t exist or happen to people we know, we only strengthen their power. Desire, consent and human sexuality are things that need to be discussed in tandem with these stories so we can see where things went wrong and try to fix them.

So, to survivors of any form of sexual assault, you are not alone. You are worthy of being valued, respected and heard. Your story matters, and I hope that in sharing my own it gives you the freedom to tell yours.

JoAnna Brooker is a junior in journalism and can be reached at jbrooke3@vols.utk.edu

This story has been modified from its original version, published on Monday, Sept. 13. The original version stated that "The (Title IX policy) changes include reassigning sexual assault investigative functions to the Office of Diversity and Inclusion." It has been corrected to state that these functions have been reassigned to the Office of Equity and Diversity

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