Horowitz: Northwestern’s Title IX process protects perpetrators of sexual assault

Annie Horowitz, Op-Ed Contributor

Content warning: This story discusses sexual assault and rape.

According to Northwestern, someone can penetrate you without your consent but not be a rapist. The person who penetrated you can pour liquor down your throat until you can’t consent. Even after the University determines he endangered your life, it still won’t call him a rapist. 

Last spring, I visited NU after I was accepted as a transfer student. An acquaintance invited me to his party, on a mission to get me wasted. He forcibly poured alcohol down my throat. He did this at least three times. 

I became blackout drunk. I have a vague recollection of being in his bedroom, then nothing. Hours later, a stranger found me alone passed out in the living room covered in vomit. I filled in the rest: My acquaintance penetrated me without a condom, then he and his friend dressed me and carried me to the couch. I was unresponsive. While someone checked my breathing and rolled me onto my side so I wouldn’t choke, my acquaintance went to the beach. 

My cousin and I paced her kitchen the next morning while researching how to get a rape kit. I sent my mom selfies in my hospital gown to reassure her I was okay. When she picked me up and asked how I was doing, I told her through tears my favorite shorts were in a police locker. 

I hired a lawyer and filed a report. I had every advantage navigating the Title IX process. The investigators concluded I was credible; they caught him in several lies and found he colluded with his friends to align their stories. They could not trust his account. They interviewed witnesses who saw me incoherent, immobile and profusely vomiting within five minutes of the penetration. 

But none of this mattered. The Office of Equity determined he penetrated me without consent, and I was not in a position to consent due to alcohol and marijuana consumption. However, they also decided a sober person would not have necessarily known I was unable to consent.

According to NU’s Interim Policy on Title IX Sexual Harassment, “Consent is not present when an individual does not have the capacity to give consent.” So within the same breath, the Office of Equity acknowledges I was raped, but refuses to hold the rapist accountable.

Instead, they found him responsible for mere “endangerment.” By pouring liquor down my throat, he put me in danger of something very bad happening, but he wasn’t responsible for doing the bad thing. And I was told that because endangerment is not a crime of violence, I have no right to be heard by the sanctioning committee or be informed of his punishment. If there was one, I still don’t know.

He incapicitated me, then used my incapacitation to mount his defense. Even though the Office of Equity knew he lied about what happened before and after, they decided to believe his account about what happened in-between. He claimed to have believed I not only coherently, but enthusiastically, consented to having unprotected sex with him. I was too drunk to remember, so his unreliable and unbelievable testimony went unrebutted. 

The Office of Equity made indefensible inferences from the facts, particularly about the likelihood of my consent. I believe they did this because they were desperate to avoid finding a student guilty of rape. My experience highlights fundamental problems with the University’s approach to campus rape. 

There is a very dangerous loophole in NU’s policy that allows rape to occur without a rapist. If you get someone so drunk, rape them and claim you couldn’t tell they were drunk, you will get away with it. 

I am tired. I am tired of hearing my assailant’s lies about a sexual encounter for which I was not mentally present. My friends, my family and I are exhausted trying to make sense of a senseless conclusion. When I repeatedly asked the Office of Equity why I was not entitled to the outcome of my own case — to know whether my rapist was on campus — I was left unanswered. So, when I saw him in a 9:30 a.m. lecture on the first day of Spring Quarter, I was caught completely off guard. He is still in the class, and I am not. And this was the best NU could do. NU has not, and will not, protect me from him.

I came to NU excited. I now know it as a place where my rapist remains welcome, yet I can’t help wondering if I still am. 

Annie Horowitz is a Weinberg sophomore. If you would like to respond publicly to this op-ed, send a Letter to the Editor to [email protected]. The views expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect the views of all staff members of The Daily Northwestern.