April 20, 2017

GUEST ROOM | Siobhan Brandman

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I recently received a check up at Gannett. The counselor went through every box on the routine survey, and right before I was about to exit the room and head to my 10:10 a.m. class, she goes, “Oh by the way, I see you checked the box for ‘non-consensual sex.’ Do you want to talk about it?” She had said it so casually — almost forgotten the question even, that I was in no way enticed to rehash stale memories with this women, who didn’t seem to care, as this was objective and procedural for her. A week later and I’m still thinking about that same question and I still don’t want to answer it.

I’m not interested in using this piece as a place to talk about any of my personal experiences with sexual assault, but rather, as a platform to critique Cornell’s lax policy towards reported sexual assault cases on campus, as well as the internalized misogyny that surfaces when our legal system handles rape cases, particularly when women are the victims. Sexual assault cases fall under Title IX and Cornell now has more open active Title IX investigations than any other university. In fact, it is alleged that Cornell is not even bothering to investigate these cases and students are filing complaints. So, when a case from Cornell actually makes it to court, you better believe that there was more than enough evidence for it to get there. I am not claiming to know the details of Wolfgang Ballinger’s case, but at a school where sexual assault cases are reported every weekend and rarely investigated, I suspect there was some foul play. Ballinger  accepted a plea agreement before the trial began (he would be tried for a felony offense), and I assume his pleading guilty to a misdemeanor sex offense, which garnered him six years of probation, was probably a strategic move.

I posted a Facebook status in the same vein as this column on Friday and the response was shocking. The post received 250 comments and twice as many reactions and shares. Survivors began messaging me privately, sharing their stories or telling me they were inspired to confront their realities. This was all well and great until I received a comment on status that changed the direction of my thoughts. On Saturday, I received a comment from a Cornell student reading, “My biggest piece of advice for any girl who is raped or sexually assaulted at Cornell is to not report it and remember that there is a 10 year statute of limitations. Cornell’s process is just emotionally painful and does not benefit either party (the rapist or victim),” and continuing, “Also, I don’t think it is fair to call out Wolfgang specifically on this status; you don’t know the details of his case or exactly how Cornell went about handling it. I don’t think it’s fair to use him as the example — especially when Cornell did not give him a proper judicial process. My process took eight months…he did not get that. The court ruled how they ruled. & by the way cornell’s punishment for rape is 1 year suspension & assault is 1 semester. So, in my opinion, Wolfgang got a very harsh treatment that lacked fairness…and that’s coming from someone who has been through Cornell’s sexual assault reporting process.” While I believe every person is entitled to their opinion, I can not condone advising women to not report being sexually assaulted in any capacity. If anything, the more women who stand up for themselves and ignore the shame that society attaches to being a victim of sexual assault, the more we can prevent sexual assault from happening and destigmatize the internalized misogyny attached to it.

This girl’s comment reflects the problems with our patriarchal society. Instead of being defeatist and accepting of the poor treatment of women in sexual assault investigations, we need to team up and demand to be treated as equals. If someone calls the C.U. Police and says, “Hey, I think my neighbors are being too loud” or “Hey, my neighbors are smoking pot,” you sure as hell know the C.U. police will investigate the reported, even if they get there and there is no pot or noise. Why should we not expect the same for a human body? I am in full agreement with this girl (who, it should be mentioned, had her case thrown out for admitting she had lied about her sexual assault to keep her from getting in trouble, though I do not mean to assume in anyway she may or may not have been assaulted). It sucks to report sexual assault at Cornell because such reports often go uninvestigated, and when they are, the woman potentially faces social, as well as emotional, backlash. Additionally, I am fully aware of how hard it is to bring oneself to report being sexually assaulted. Whether it is because you come from a very conservative family or you don’t want to be labeled as “the dirty girl” or “the annoying girl” or “the dramatic girl” etc, it cannot negate the importance of claiming your body as your own and reporting assault.

To men, and I don’t mean all men, you know who you are: we women are not property to be owned. And we definitely are not bodies to used and then discarded like trash. We women are your mothers, your sisters and most importantly, your equals, and while I know it is more fun to exploit positions of power and treat us as less, we are just like you (and arguably, more complex).


Siobhan Brandman is a senior in the College of Arts and Sciences. Guest Room appears periodically this semester.