Content warning: The following article contains descriptions of sexual assault.
The following is a guest contribution and reflects the author’s views alone. For information on how to submit an article to the Opinion Section, click here.
Trembling with anticipation, my eyes darted across the phone screen as I tried to remember how to read. “Based on my initial assessment, I have determined that the alleged conduct, if substantiated by a preponderance of the evidence, would constitute Sexual Assault under the University Sexual Misconduct policy. However, pursuant to section IV of the University Sexual Misconduct policy, given that the Respondent is no longer enrolled at the University, your formal complaint is being dismissed.”
The words failed to sink in. I read the section again, and then again, before a vague meaning began to coalesce: after the excruciating process of reporting my sexual assault, my case was being dismissed by the University. Despite categorizing my allegation as a violation, Princeton refused to investigate because my perpetrator had already graduated.
Filing a report had been my desperate attempt at feeling safe on my own campus. A hearing was the only avenue available to me to have my perpetrator banned from University grounds until I graduated. I simply wished to walk to class without fearing that I might see him on one of his campus visits. To meal swap with classmates without finding him at his old eating club. To go to the Street without running into him with his friends.
After I filed my initial report, the Department of Public Safety instituted a short-term Persona Non Grata, notifying my perpetrator that he would be arrested for trespassing if he set foot on campus. However, this only lasted for 90 days, as a longer Persona Non Grata could only be granted by University administration after a hearing.
I am not attempting to try my case in the court of public opinion. I deserved to be heard and taken seriously with a chance at justice through a University investigation. I was denied that opportunity because of an unjustifiable loophole. No one else should have the same thing happen to them.
The University is skirting accountability when it denies students an investigation of graduating students, exiting faculty, and alumni.
The dismissal of my report was justified by one bullet point line from the University Sexual Misconduct policy. “At any time prior to the hearing, the University may dismiss a formal complaint if,” the policy states, “The respondent is no longer enrolled or employed by the University.”
According to my initial consultation with the Office of Gender Equity and Title IX Administration, the hearing process can last for as many as six months. Effectively, any student harassed or assaulted in the six months before a perpetrator graduates may not have enough time to see their case to a conclusion before the University washes its hands of the matter.
This same exemption also applies to those no longer “employed by the University.” Princeton claims to hire faculty and staff who educate and uplift students. It’s absurd that professors may not face any consequences if they have sex with their students, as long as they do it during their last semester working at the University.
The danger of sexual misconduct at the hands of alumni also lurks ominously below joyous celebrations and gatherings.
During Reunions, legions of older adults come to campus and mingle with young undergraduates while being supplied with copious amounts of alcohol, creating the perfect environment for an increased number of sexual assaults. “Reunions are a significant time of concern,” one Sexual Harassment/Assault Advising, Resources and Education (SHARE) office staff person told me. “They bring with them a multitude of risk factors for sexual misconduct.” Since Princeton doesn’t investigate cases where the perpetrator is no longer enrolled, the University skirts liability if an enrolled student is assaulted by an alum during Reunions. This school disturbingly invites back alumni in grandiose revelry, yet refuses to hold them responsible for the harm that they cause.
By exempting older students, the University neglects the very factor that makes sexual misconduct so common in the first place: the power that those in positions of authority hold on campus.
I first met my perpetrator at a recruitment event for his eating club. Already intimidated by the seniority of the older students, my perpetrator loomed even larger to me as a member I had to make a good impression on. At the time, I was impressed by his leadership as a senior and flattered when he started talking to me – a lost sophomore still finding her place on campus, having yet to have had a full academic year in-person.
As a campus leader, it had been my perpetrator's responsibility to ensure the safety of younger students, especially around alcohol. As someone who had also ostensibly received additional SHARE training from the University, it had been his responsibility to respond appropriately to instances of sexual harassment and assault. Because of this, I constantly deferred to his judgment, believing him to be more knowledgeable in anything involving alcohol and consent. When I became heavily intoxicated on the night of my assault, I deduced it was somehow my own fault that my body was unable to handle the alcohol he had continued to feed me. In hindsight, I wish I could tell myself not to automatically assume that those older and in power “know better.”
By creating a narrow and limited window for reporting sexual assault, the University ignores commonly delayed reporting times, at times exacerbated by the complexity of interpersonal relationships.
The morning after my assault, I woke up on the floor of my perpetrator’s bedroom. Lying in the morning light, I slowly came to the inconceivable realization that my bra, leggings, and underwear were all missing from my body. Searching my dazed brain, I could find no concrete memory explaining when exactly they had come off.
As I continued to regain consciousness, I realized that I had passed out during the night in a puddle of my own vomit. Raising my head, I numbly picked out grains of regurgitated rice from my long hair. At that moment, I was still so mentally and physically disoriented that I didn’t have enough time to get dressed before stumbling to his bathroom to throw up yet again. A toilet, no underwear, alone.
On that cold February night, while I had lain there on the floor unclothed and covered in vomit, my perpetrator had climbed directly above me to sleep soundly in his bed, cocooned in warmth. I shared with the University all these details (and many more) nine months after they occurred, only for them to brush off my pleas for support and a shred of justice.
I can’t adequately express the anguish and regret I feel for not reporting sooner, when there was still enough time to bind the University to the responsibility of investigating. If I had reported in the immediate days following the assault, I would have still had a chance at a hearing before my perpetrator’s graduation freed him from any accountability.
But the reasons I didn’t immediately come forward aren’t uncommon. In the classic “rape myth,” strangers emerge from shadowy alleyways and hold victims at knifepoint to commit assaults. This narrative clouds the reality that most assailants are familiar individuals in our everyday lives, just as my perpetrator was. He remained in my life until he graduated — the day the University granted him a free pass from all of his actions toward me.
Throughout our entire relationship, I was not yet in a position to face certain realities, and was nowhere near a position to report or even acknowledge what had happened to me that night. When I was finally able to say something a semester later, it broke me to report someone who had once consumed so much of my life. And it broke me even further to be dismissed by an institution that had claimed to exist for my benefit.
Tragically, my experience is not an uncommon one on this campus. According to the 2017 We Speak survey, 27 percent of female undergraduates at Princeton were sexually harassed or assaulted in a single academic year. We are all around campus: in your precepts, extracurriculars, eating clubs, and zee groups. And it’s crucial to recognize that for every survivor, a perpetrator exists among us: in our friends, hook-ups, fraternities, student leaders. This hard truth demands us all to reflect critically on our own actions and on the actions of those we choose to include in our lives.
“Don’t wear revealing clothing.” “Don’t get drunk.” “Don’t go out alone.”
On top of a misogynistic culture that puts the onus completely on feminine and femme students to “prevent themselves from being assaulted,” the University implicitly sends students this ludicrous message: it’s your own responsibility to make sure that your rapist is an underclassman or a junior, not a senior. Because if it’s the latter, you’re on your own.
The Sexual Misconduct policies, separate from Title IX, are completely constructed by the University. Princeton has every power to amend them to allow for the investigation of recently graduated students. They’re simply choosing not to.
Sadie is a pseudonym used by a current Princeton undergraduate student. The ‘Prince’ made the decision to publish this op-ed anonymously due to privacy and safety concerns for the author.
Editor’s Note: In the process of publishing this piece, the ‘Prince’ took several steps to corroborate the author’s account of her interactions with the University, including reviewing the author’s written communications with Department of Public Safety, Title IX, and SHARE administrators. The ‘Prince’ did not independently verify Sadie’s allegations of sexual assault.
If you or a friend have experienced sexual misconduct and are in need of assistance, Princeton has a number of resources that may be of use. You can also reach SHARE, Princeton’s Sexual Harassment/Assault Advising, Resources and Education service at 609-258-3310.