A University of Colorado-Boulder graduate and campus rape survivor has shared the traumatic story of her assault and the ensuing trial, offering a powerful picture of rape culture and victim blaming in society.
In 2014, UC-Boulder student Austin James Wilkerson sexually assaulted an intoxicated freshman after a St. Patrick’s Day party. He had promised to take care of the half-conscious student, checking her pulse and giving her some water to drink in front of her roommate.
Then, when they were alone, he raped her.
A jury convicted 22-year-old Wilkerson of rape and the university suspended him for a year. However, on Wednesday, Judge Patrick Butler spared him prison and sentenced the rapist to two years of work or school release along with 20 years to life on probation.
It was, for the lack of a better term, merely a slap on the wrist for the rapist, who will be able to work or go to school during the day and will have to return to a county jail at night for the duration of his sentence, but what about the victim?
“‘His life is ruined.’ Oh yeah and it's not like my life isn't ruined or anything. It's always been about the rapist since the assault,” the 21-year-old victim wrote in a letter to the judge before the sentencing. “As the victim of this sexual assault, my life has been ruined socially, psychologically, academically and financially.”
The victim set out a stark picture of how her life has changed socially. She does not attend university football games or drink at parties anymore — partially because these situations remind her of the sexual assault and in part because of all the victim blaming. She also talked about how safety has become her No. 1 priority, even when it jeopardizes her relationships.
“Instead of having the typical fun 21st birthday celebration, I was saying that I couldn't go to the bars with everyone because I had too much homework,” she said. “In reality, I was too scared of my friends' friends because the rapist was a friend of a friend.”
The letter also stated how the university had told her the rapist would have to go the other way if they ever cross paths. But when she actually saw Wilkerson in a school lobby, he stood there, forcing her to turn around and run out the door.
The letter also detailed the victim’s struggle with mental trauma. Along with nightmares and panic attacks, the latter of which forced her to go to the ER twice, she also suffers from severe anxiety and depression.
Unsurprisingly, it has affected her studies.
“About a month after the assault, I tried to kill myself because of the impact of the sexual assault,” she continued. “Some days I can't even get out of bed, let alone do four readings, projects and study for tests. And no wonder. The rapist made pleasurable things of sex, sleep and going out traumatic. So it's no surprise that less pleasurable things like studying are 100 times more difficult.”
The most important part of the letter, however, is the survivor’s experience with victim blaming. She recalled an incident where she found out about another girl who had been raped, to which her roommate responded: “Well, if she was that drunk, then she deserved to get raped.”
She also wrote about a jury member who had the audacity to ask why she did not say “no.”
“Even my own mother was victim blaming. She told me that if I hadn't been drunk, this wouldn't have happened,” she wrote. “Yet, it was excusable for him to rape me because he was drunk. After all I've endured emotionally, physically, psychologically, and financially, the burden of the blame still crashes down on my shoulders.”
As for the financial aspect of the whole ordeal, the survivor calculated the cost to be $250,000.
The amount includes loss of future wages, lower starting income, hospital bills for panic attacks, bills for antidepressants and trauma classes, funds lost on failed and withdrawn classes, bills from suicide attempt that resulted in hospitalization and gas spent for meetings and the trial — among other things.
“The $250,000 doesn't even include a lifetime of future expenses of therapy, antidepressants, etc. as a result of this sexual assault,” the letter continued. “But it's only the rapist's life that has been ruined, right? It's not like I had hopes and dreams or academic and career goals.”
Demanding justice and maximum sentence for the rapist, she asked the judge to not act like CU's director of student conduct “who sacrificed the safety of the community in favor of the rapist's pleasure.”
She wanted the authorities to lock up Wilkerson so she could go places without the fear of seeing him.
However, sadly, that is the opposite of what happened.