CW/TW: sexual assault, physical abuse, law enforcement, mental health
This is my story.
I’m sharing it in hopes that it can help even one woman through the difficult decision to report or to simply feel less alone. That said, it may be triggering for some to hear references to sexual assault and the reporting process. Please prioritize self-care and read as far you feel comfortable. There are resources listed below, and I encourage you to reach out for support if you need it.
In recent years, the statistic that “one in five women” will be sexually assaulted during their time in college has been a rallying cry among advocates for victims’ rights; but now, according to a 2019 “campus climate survey” commissioned by the American Association of Universities (AAU), student self-reported data estimates that sexual violence impacts closer to one in four undergraduate women. At UNC-Chapel Hill, that number is one in three.
I noticed this problem early on at Carolina when my friends and I were groped at frat parties freshman year, and men didn’t take “no” for an answer. After joining a sorority, I became motivated to protect my sisters and the women in my life from gender-based violence and harassment; so, during my sophomore year, I applied for the Delta Advocates program and have been a part of the organization ever since.
Delta Advocates is a group of undergraduate women in the fraternity and sorority life community trained to provide an empathic and informed response for survivors of interpersonal violence. We provide an opportunity for individuals to seek support for their experiences and learn more about the options/resources available on campus and in the community.
As part of the program, I have completed 78 hours of training to facilitate referrals for support and reporting resources, but the most rewarding aspect of my time as a Delta Advocate has been empowering other students to be active participants in creating a safer and more supportive community at Carolina.
I have wholeheartedly embraced the identity of being a support to survivors. It seems naive now, but I never thought I’d be one. Me? A Delta Advocate as a victim of sexual assault? No way! I’m far too careful and informed. I help people who’ve experienced interpersonal violence. But the truth is that I’d been violated whether I wanted to accept it or not. It was something I now had to deal with.
My assailant was someone I knew, not some random man in a dark alley. Not only that, he was the good friend and roommate of one of my close friends. The assault left me with a black eye and with bites and bruises covering my body. Despite the clear signs of physical abuse, I could not accept what happened emotionally. The label of “victim,” and even “survivor,” didn’t resonate with me. I resented it.
The morning after the assault, I woke up sore and confused. I had more than a few drinks and there were periods of the hookup that I couldn’t remember, but I also didn’t black out. I remembered everything leading up to the hookup and afterward, so where was this missing period coming from?
I decided to go grab coffee with the mutual friend of my attacker and me, and this is when things started coming together. I distinctly remember being struck multiple times across the face and asking him to stop to no avail. Then, black out. I realized that my body had shut down to protect itself during the attack. Sometimes guys can get a little rough, but this and the marks on my body weren’t normal. My friend, and my attacker’s roommate, was shocked. He apologized profusely for bringing us together and then hit me with a tough question: “What are you going to do?”
I didn’t know what to say. I didn’t think that I could tell anyone what happened with such a large blackout period, let alone describe what I was feeling. In shock, I called my mom that afternoon and unexpectedly broke down. I sent her pictures of the bruises and swelling that was starting to develop and she insisted that I call the police immediately. But I didn’t want to do that. I didn’t know what I wanted.
I chose to call Holly Lovern instead, one of UNC’s Gender Violence Services Coordinators. I had worked with Holly for the last two years in the Delta Advocates program, and I knew she was someone I could talk to and trust.
As a Delta Advocate, I had a laundry list of resources and options that were spinning around in my head. I needed someone to help me bring order to the chaos and Holly did exactly that. Here are some of the things she helped me work through ...
In deciding what to do after a sexual assault, you and only you know the best course of action. Sometimes that’s doing nothing at all. If you want to make a police report, there are two different options: criminal and informational. An informational report is a written report made to law enforcement that does not open a criminal investigation. A criminal report, on the other hand, opens an investigation and a forensic evidence collection exam can be part of this process. Law enforcement will want to interview you and you may have to repeat your story several times. This can be very difficult and re-traumatizing for anyone, but an advocate, like Holly, can be there to support you during the interview upon request.
**I should note that sharing this story to decide what to do was a learning experience for me. Not everyone in my personal life, especially my mom, knew how to handle the news of what happened to me, how to maintain proper confidentiality, or how to advise me on what to do. Finding a professional advocate like Holly is extremely helpful, and they can help you choose how and with whom to share your experience with. I also became aware that I had to use caution because some of those who I’d spoken to would later be witnesses, and I needed to avoid influencing their opinions.**
Holly recommended that I speak to Lt. Ellis of UNC-CH Police and file an informational report. This option appealed to me because it would document what happened without having to make a formal decision to pursue legal action right away. I spoke to Lt. Ellis that afternoon and explained what happened. He was extremely warm and understanding, not at all what I would have expected of a white male officer.
Ultimately, he was worried about my physical well-being and suggested I make a trip to the ER at UNC Hospitals right away. This was a scary suggestion and one I didn’t expect. I was sore and had a headache, but I wasn’t dying. Did I really need to go to the ER? He convinced me by telling me a SANE nurse (Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner) could continue the documentation process. Luckily, even on a Sunday, Holly came too to support me.
The ER was a totally different experience than I ever could have imagined. I walked in and asked to see the “SANE nurse” and was immediately acknowledged by the front desk. Asking for the SANE nurse lets the hospital staff know why you’re there. It’s nice to be taken care of but a little bizarre that there’s an unspoken understanding.
I was at the hospital from 6 p.m. until nearly 1:30 a.m.
Here’s what happened:
6 – 6:15 I arrived at the hospital and waited to be seen.
6:15 – 6:30 I met with an initial nurse who took my vitals and asked for a brief description of why I was there/immediate health concerns.
6:30 – 6:45 Holly and I waited in a blocked-off area before being taken to a private space to speak with another officer from UNC-CH Police.
6:45 – 7:15 The other officer took a written, more formal informational report. I detailed what happened leading up to and during the assault, as well as the injuries I was being treated for. He was extremely kind and let me know I could share as much or as little information as I was comfortable with. He even ran the name of my assailant to let me know if there were any previous charges or allegations against him. This was extremely useful and ultimately helped me in my decision to press charges.
7:15 – 8 The officer left, and Holly and I continued waiting in the private room. The vast majority of the time we spent at the ER was waiting to be seen. The hospital is a busy place and there are many steps to receiving care/documenting the visit.
8 – 8:30 A doctor stopped by to assess my injuries. She did a physical exam and told me that, aside from a concussion, she didn’t think I had anything life-threatening.
8:30 – 9:30 More waiting …
9:30 – 11 Finally, the SANE nurse was able to see me. She came in and asked me to tell her what happened. She then asked if I’d like to complete a rape kit and/or take photographs. At the time, I was mainly concerned with documenting my injuries in order to keep my options open for reporting. The SANE nurse also told me that the rape kit process was guided by me. I could decide which elements of the kit to complete and whether or not the rape kit was logged anonymously.
I decided to go through with the rape kit and photos but these would happen later in the evening. Even though it was early for STI/STD testing, the SANE nurse was concerned about possible infection. She took some blood and a urine sample, as well as had me take nearly 20 pills consisting of emergency contraception and preventative medication. Additionally, due to a bite on my breast, I had a few shots to ensure that there would be no infection.
**I should also let you know that I was prescribed a 28-day supply of two different pills to preventively treat HIV. I had to pick these up the next day and take 3 pills a day of the medication. This was a lot to introduce to my body and I struggled with its impact on my hormones.**
11 – 11:45 Holly, the SANE nurse, and I waited for another room to open so we could take photos and complete the rape kit.
11:45 – 1:15 Once the room became available, we were able to get started. I was surprised by the massive amount of paperwork involved with completing a rape kit. It’s unreal. After signing a thick stack of papers, the nurse gave me some information to keep about the kit and how to access my information. I then got undressed and put on a hospital-issued robe. It meant a lot to me that the nurses and hospital staff worked hard to preserve my modesty given the situation. I then would fold down and remove parts of the robe for the nurse to take pictures of my injuries. The rape kit itself was much more extensive than I could have imagined. The best part was that every element was optional. If you don’t feel comfortable completing part of the exam, you don’t have to do it. No questions asked.
A rape kit is a package of items used by medical personnel for gathering and preserving physical evidence following an allegation of sexual assault, to conduct a sexual assault forensic exam. The kit itself is a container that includes a checklist, materials, and instructions, along with envelopes and containers to package any specimens collected during the exam. A rape kit may also be referred to as a Sexual Assault Evidence Kit (SAEK). The contents of the kit vary by state and jurisdiction but may include:
Bags and paper sheets for evidence collection
Materials for blood samples
The evidence collected from the victim can aid the criminal rape investigation and the prosecution of a suspected assailant. DNA evidence can have tremendous utility for sexual assault investigations and prosecution by identifying offenders, revealing serial offenders through DNA matches across cases, and exonerating those who have been wrongly accused. If you can, try to avoid activities that could potentially damage evidence such as:
Using the restroom
Cleaning up the area
It’s natural to want to go through these motions after a traumatic experience. Luckily, I had been in such shock that I didn’t shower and went to the ER less than 24 hrs after my assault. But, don’t worry! If you have done any of these activities, you can still have an exam performed. You may also wish to bring a spare change of clothes with you to the hospital or health facility where you’re going to have the exam.
In most cases, DNA evidence needs to be collected within 72 hours to be analyzed by a crime lab — but a sexual assault forensic exam can reveal other forms of evidence beyond this time frame that can be useful if you decide to report.
The length of the exam may take a few hours like mine, but the actual time will vary based on different factors. It may be helpful to have someone to support you during this time. Be aware that if you invite someone other than an advocate into the exam room, they could be called as a witness if you decide to report the crime.
The following days after leaving the hospital, Lt. Ellis from UNC-CH Police suggested that I come down the station and continue documenting my injuries. Bruises take a few days to develop and although I’d done a lot of documentation at the hospital, it was important to see how my injuries changed overtime.
This was another time commitment I didn’t expect. I went to the police station and had to take the same photos every day for the next week. I wanted to, of course, to keep my options open, but I didn’t expect the mental and physical toll of undressing in front of an officer. Luckily, a female officer took the photos and I was able to bring a friend for moral support.
It was shocking to see my bruises change and other marks appear on my body. In addition to the bite on my breast, there were several places where my attacker had bitten me, and seeing teeth marks develop was disturbing. It was tough but, in the end, I’m really glad I documented these changes.
The following weeks, after finishing the initial documentation process, were extremely difficult. I had trouble sleeping, waking up from nightmares almost every hour, and my self-worth was at an all-time low. It was time to focus on healing and, for me, that meant deciding how I wanted to proceed. Ultimately, over the many days of documenting what had happened, I realized that what had happened to me could happen to someone else. It also didn’t feel like the first time my attacker had done this. It felt calculated. With this in mind, I felt it was important that I press charges. I simply didn’t want anyone else to go through what I had been through.
I had the option to report with Chapel Hill Police and/or with UNC’s Equal Opportunity and Compliance Office (EOC). Ultimately, I chose to report with Chapel Hill Police, but as a resource, here’s what you should know about reports with the EOC (according to the EOC website):
Reports can be made at any time regardless of when the conduct took place. EOC will seek to resolve all reports within one academic semester.
Resolution may include (1) no further action, (2) voluntary resolution when appropriate to address the conduct without disciplinary action, or (3) an investigation and adjudication that may lead to disciplinary action.
Where an investigation and adjudication are pursued, sanctions may include educational, restorative, rehabilitative, and punitive components. Some behavior is so egregious in nature, harmful to the people involved, or so detrimental to the educational process that it requires severe sanctions, including suspension from the University or expulsion from the UNC System.
To move beyond my informational report to a criminal report, I told Lt. Ellis of UNC-CH Police that I’d like to be connected with an investigator from Chapel Hill Police. After sharing my information, an investigator reached out and we set up a time to meet. Holly Lovern was able to accompany me to the station and act as an advocate during the interview. You do not have to report alone. Holly has been able to support me through every step of this process and you’re allowed to have an advocate too!
When we arrived at the station, we were greeted by the investigator who then took us to a private room. The interview space was set up like a recording studio with black foam padding covering the walls and ceiling. The investigator just had to flip an additional switch as we walked in, and the room would automatically begin to record sound and video.
The interview itself, like the rape kit and documentation process, was guided by me. The investigator sat on the other side of a desk and Holly in a chair to my right. She went over the reporting process, making sure that I was aware that I was pursuing legal action and of the timeline. Going to court could take up to a few years!
The investigator then asked me to tell my story, stopping me occasionally to clarify something or ask questions. At the end, she asked me for any documentation I may have (texts and/or photos on my phone) and I exported them onto an office computer. I did some paperwork and gave my consent for her to access the documentation and report from UNC-CH Police and the rape kit from UNC Hospitals.
She told me she would be in touch and that she would reach out to the names of witnesses in the next few weeks. That was it.
It would be a lie to say I feel at peace. In reality, I have a new set of anxieties about what will come next, but I’m glad I made the decision that I did.
There are many definitions of consent, and my favorite is a “firm and enthusiastic yes!” But this verbiage excludes a crucial aspect of consent: that it can be revoked at any time.
For a while, North Carolina was the only state in the country where a person could not revoke consent once sex had begun, but Governor Roy Cooper signed a bill to modernize sexual abuse laws in October 2019. I’m so thankful for Governor Cooper and this new bill because, without it, I wouldn’t have been able to report.
This process has been such a learning experience and in some ways, I’m thankful for the new perspective I have. I can be a better Delta Advocate and, I hope my story can be a help to one of you or your friends.
If you’ve dealt with interpersonal violence or sexual assault, know you’re not alone.
The Gender Violence Services Coordinators (GVSCs) provide confidential support and advocacy for students, faculty, and staff of all backgrounds and identities who have experienced or been impacted by sexual violence, interpersonal violence, stalking, or harassment.
To schedule an appointment, please email: firstname.lastname@example.org
For information regarding drop-in hours, please visit: www.womenscenter.unc.edu/programs/gender-based-violence-services
If you need to reach the GVSCs by phone, please call: 919-962-1343 Cassidy Johnson or 919-962-7430 Holly Lovern
The GVSCs have offices in the Carolina Women’s Center, located in Suite 101 of the Stone Center
Delta Advocates are undergraduate women in the fraternity and sorority life community trained to provide an empathic and informed response for victims/survivors of gender-based violence or harassment. They provide an opportunity for individuals who have experienced or have been impacted by gender-based violence or harassment to seek support for their experiences and learn more about options and resources available on campus and in the community.
Find DA contact information here.
Report and Response Coordinators (a resource for all types of reports)
Ew Quimbaya-Winship – email@example.com or (919) 843-3878
Rebecca Gibson – firstname.lastname@example.org or (919) 445-1578
Kathryn Winn – email@example.com or (919) 843-2993
Director of Title IX Compliance/ Title IX Compliance Coordinator (a resource for all for reports of sex discrimination, harassment, sexual assault or sexual violence, sexual exploitation, interpersonal (relationship) violence, and stalking)
Adrienne Allison – firstname.lastname@example.org or (919) 962-7177
Online report submission form (a resource for all types of reports)
You are not required to decide whether to request any particular course of action at the time a report is made. The University recognizes that deciding how to proceed is a process that unfolds over time. The University will make every effort to respect your decision about how to move forward and will keep you updated throughout the process. Resources and interim protective measures are available to you regardless of the course of action chosen.