Azimipour: I did this to be true to myself

Sara Azimipour, Op-Ed Contributor

Content warning: This story includes mentions of sexual assault.

“I’m doing this to be true to myself.” Nov. 15, 2021

There were moments in my battle against the Office of Equity in which I was strong. Now, I feel obligated to share my story of strength, in the hopes of helping others who are deciding whether or not to go through this arduous process. So, I guess you could call this my guide to the trauma-uninformed process that is the Northwestern Interim Policy on Title IX Sexual Harassment, facilitated by the Office of Equity.

Almost a year ago, I started my Title IX case and decided to journal the process.

On Oct. 15, 2021, I met up with another NU student from a popular dating app. That night, I was raped and violated. I didn’t understand what had happened, and because of my perpetrator’s manipulation, I went back. The abuse continued. Exactly one month later, I decided to report my case and wrote a report to the Office of Equity at NU. 

“I am scared. I am scared because the flow chart told me the process was two pages. I am scared because I am invalidating myself enough, and I can’t handle others doing it too. I’m scared because I have to tell them what happened to me in graphic detail. And most of all, I’m scared because I will have to see him at the end of this.” Dec. 8, 2021

I began my interviews during finals week of my first quarter at NU. They said it couldn’t wait. They asked me to tell my side of the story and spare no detail.

“I looked everywhere but into the eyes of the man who had no reaction to the severe trauma I was being forced to regurgitate for him. An occasional nod. That’s all I got. I looked at my advisor. I saw in her eyes the concern she had for me, and I saw in her eyes how badly she wanted to validate me. But she couldn’t speak — Office of Equity rules. I finished my story. The Title IX Official asked for clarification. Specifics that I couldn’t remember even if I had wracked my brain for hours and hours. But, he expected me to.” Dec. 10, 2021

More than 10 hours of horrible interviews later. 

“I like to be perceived as strong. But, I am not. Last night, everything came out. I needed to cry. I needed to scream. I needed to sob like my world was collapsing because it was.” Dec. 20, 2021

They interviewed him, then me again. Months later, they sent out the investigative report. I received weekly emails for four months, telling me there was basically no progress. The report was 197 pages. I had to read and annotate his testimony for my lawyer. I wrote my response. He wrote his. The Office of Equity appointed a decision-maker. In June, eight months after the initial assault, they finally set a date for the trial. I requested not to have to see him, but got no response. 

“I’m terrified to see him.” June 27, 2022

The trial came and went. His lawyer berated me during my cross-examination. My rapist was sworn in and told his side of the story. I cried while delivering my closing statement. In his closing statement, he said he “couldn’t wait” to be an NU alum — a graduate of the university I worked so hard to get into, only to have my experience torn apart by a violent man. 

Almost a month later, I got the email: “This is an Official Correspondence from the Office of Equity.” There were 25 charges brought against him, including Title IX rape, fondling, dating violence and endangerment. They found him guilty of only two, neither being rape. The disciplinary committee, made up of NU professors, said it needed to strongly consider his developmental needs. I wish the committee had taken into account my needs. 

“I am strong, but I couldn’t stop this. But I am strong, so I will take this as far as I can. I will tell my story so that I can heal and so that I can prove to myself that I am not only still as strong as I once was, but even stronger for what I am able to come back from. I am not weak because of what happened to me. I am not.Aug. 10, 2022

NU, you did not truly convict my rapist for what he did. You perpetuate a system of victim shaming that is not led by empathy nor informed by trauma response principles. You took a fragile 19-year-old and broke her beyond repair with a system that made her relive her trauma more times than necessary. It was degrading and unfair. You made her sit through more than 10 hours of interviews in which you couldn’t even get her name right. You wouldn’t even do that. You made her see her rapist on the day of the trial despite all of her requests otherwise. You kept using his name when she requested for you to use only “respondent.” You did this, and I will do everything in my power to not let it happen again. 

“I did this to be true to myself.” Aug. 26, 2022 

Sara Azimipour is a Weinberg sophomore. They can be contacted at [email protected]. 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.