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Student assault victim shares experience

| Thursday, April 3, 2014

The Justice Education Department at Saint Mary’s began its “Week Against Violence” on Tuesday night in the Student Center with the discussion “Beyond the Violence,” led by Saint Mary’s junior Jessica Richmond, who discussed her personal account of violence.
“Authenticity requires vulnerability, courage and integrity,” Richmond said, adding that she lives by these words.
Richmond shared her story of physical and sexual assault to offer perspective and advice to her peers as fellow victims and friends of victims.

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“People see vulnerability as being weak,” she said “But I build my life around viewing vulnerability as a strength ⎯ being open to having conversations like these, airing my dirty laundry, as I like to say.”
Although Richmond openly shared her personal encounter with violence, she said she was once much more reluctant to speak about the horrific experience.
“There are very few people in my life that knew what happened and to the great detail of what happened,” she said.
Richmond, who shared her story with her father this past weekend, said her parents’ reactions to the events were why she did not want to tell them in the first place. Richmond said that upon hearing of her attack, her mother misdirected her frustration toward her daughter. She said her mother’s strong reaction made her more cautious about delving into details.
“I almost felt as if there was resentment towards me for not telling her sooner,” Richmond said. “My mom immediately jumped to ‘What did he do to you?’ and being a victim, I recommend you never do that to someone because that instantly put me on the defensive. I didn’t want to tell her.”
Richmond said many people, including her mother, have asked her why she did not report her attack.
“I’m not trying to play into being young because I think there are many younger women that are stronger than I was [who are also] assaulted, but I was so scared,” she said. “I was so alone. I had no idea [of] the resources out there. I had no idea what to do. I was scared of him.”
This fear lies in the systemic sexism of the United States’ judicial system, Richmond said.
“Men have a power and an authority in society, and there’s a lot that goes into that,” Richmond said. “But he scared me to death. Even after knowing he no longer worked with me, he didn’t live near me, he terrified me.”
Richmond said her decision to keep the attack private was an act of self-preservation.
“It was the thought of going to the police and saying I wanted to press charges when there was no evidence and when no one knew about what had happened,” Richmond said. “I didn’t want to air my dirty laundry for the whole world to have him get a slap on the wrist.
“I didn’t want to have to tell my story a thousand times only to be told ‘Well, there’s nothing we can do.’”
Richmond said she also feared it would become a “he said, she said” situation, or she would be condemned for not explicitly saying “no.”
“Life went on,” she said. “I didn’t report it. That is the one thing I come back to most often. Maybe I should have. Maybe if I called him to justice, it could have gone in my favor. I find myself still sort of switching a little bit, but I don’t regret not reporting.”
Richmond said her decision not to report might not be the best choice for all other victims of violence. Each person should make an individual choice.
“Do I think [other victims] should?” Richmond said. “Yes, because there’s a great chance [they] can get something out of it, but I think for my health I couldn’t. This is not ‘Law and Order.’ Due process doesn’t happen in 45 minutes.”
Richmond said she attributes much of her growth since the attack to her boyfriend of three-and-a-half years.
“He’s my support system,” she said. “It’s kind of strange because he’s a man, he’s six-foot-seven and almost three hundred pounds. He is my version of empowerment.”
Richmond said her boyfriend and his sensitivity played key roles in her ability to heal.
“I found that when we first started dating I had all sorts of triggers,” she said. “ A certain smell would throw me into a hysterical crying fit, a certain way of being touched, a certain playful comment. Sometimes it wasn’t the words that were being said; it was just the tone it was said in.
“I can’t have my neck touched. That is like my one thing that will put me in a fetal position crying.”
As a victim of violence, Richmond said it is amazing to have someone there to say, “Okay, that’s completely fine. I respect you for that.”
“Once I got to that point, I became offended when people used tamer words because it’s oppressive,” she said. “Don’t be afraid of using the terms. Don’t be afraid to say, ‘She was raped.’”
Richmond said that in spite of having a solid and healthy relationship with her boyfriend now, if she could go back in time she would tell her high school self that she did not need a man.
“We’re women at such an amazing school with such an empowering philosophy that we can do anything,” she said. “I don’t want someone to stand in front of me.
“That’s what’s great about [my] relationship now. [My boyfriend] stands behind me pushing me forward.”
Adrienne Lyles-Chockley, head of the Justice Education Department, ended the discussion by offering Richmond affirmations on behalf of the audience.
“This is such a gift and a refreshingly honest dialogue, so I want to affirm this and affirm you,” Lyles-Chockley said.
The Justice Education professor said she also supported Richmond’s decision to not go to the police.
“I’d also just like to affirm your choice not to report,” Lyles-Chockley said. “I appreciate that part of giving the person that was raped or assaulted control [means] granting them control of what happens next. So we support women by listening and helping according to their individual needs. Friends often don’t understand, and it’s just not that simple.”
As a continuation of the “Week against Violence,” Saint Mary’s will host a panel presentation on community responses to violence against women, titled “Justice and the Victims: Beyond Law and Order,” on Thursday night at 7 p.m. in the Vander Vennet Theater.

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