Two years ago, I joined ROTC on campus as a sophomore. That March, in 2015, the boy I considered to be one of my closest friends both in the program and in the school decided to take advantage of me one night after I had been drinking at the bars. I didn’t know what to think the next few days; I passed the night off as something that had happened before: I got too drunk, and mistakes were made. It wasn’t until I came back to school my junior year after a summer away from everything University of Michigan-related that I realized I wasn’t OK, and what had happened to me wasn’t OK.

I spent the first few months of my junior year feeling targeted and isolated every time I had to sit in uniform among my ROTC peers, and experienced panic attacks continuously. I felt unsafe, paranoid and scared of the other cadets. The military is built on trust, but mine had been so violated that I didn’t really know who in that entire room I could trust. I went to the Sexual Assault Prevention and Awareness Center soon after school began, asked for help and started seeing a therapist who I still see today. She later told me I had been diagnosed with PTSD, something that at the time I only associated with war veterans and people who had been nearly murdered in an alley behind a bar.

When I first went to my therapist, I refused to think of myself as a victim. I had been living a lifestyle of partying and drunken nights at boys’ places in college that hadn’t been a problem, until the boy was a friend and I had said no. Before, it had only been the assholes, my interactions with whom I could shrug off, convincing myself that I was using them as well. 

But actually accepting that I hadn’t had control over what happened that night in March was very difficult, because if I was a victim, then I was weak. It took me many long months of therapy to start appreciating the word victim for what it is. It has absolutely no bearing on me or my decisions, and is only a word to describe a person that someone else thought they could use. The label of victim does not define me, and it in no way means “weak.”

Toward the end of winter semester, just when I thought I might be able to move past the event and keep living my life how I choose, the same boy who assaulted me allegedly assaulted someone else. I felt terrible. When it’s just me enduring the pain, that’s OK, but if I had said something back in the spring, this other girl might not be having to go through the same thing I was.

She chose to file a university report against him, and I spent a month debating whether or not I should say something. I was still healing and didn’t think I’d be prepared to talk about him, and I honestly didn’t want to get him in trouble. I felt bad that I might be the one to end his military career. It wasn’t until another girl in the ROTC program came up to me and told me that she was scared of him that I concluded someone like him will only continue to hurt women, and he has no place having authority over people in the military.

So I spoke with a professor I trusted in the ROTC program, and things started to move very quickly. I was told nothing would happen unless I filed a report with the police and with the school, though I felt there was nearly no chance of that leading anywhere — it had happened almost a year ago, and was now only a he said, she said scenario. I decided to move forward and file a case with both the police and the University. 

The investigation led by the University took about four months. The school had set up measures the last month or so, keeping him away from ROTC and places we’d both be. But this year, my senior year, I’ve had to return to the program with him back in it.

I don’t hear of this situation happening too often, where a victim of sexual assault has to see and interact with their attacker after the fact, and is expected to work on the same team as them. Yes, it does suck. People in the program don’t bring it up anymore because he is back and, so I’ve heard, preaches his innocence. But I have a strong support system around me this year consisting of people who’ve heard of what he has been accused of and agree that it’s despicable, especially for a future military officer. They hear my side of the story without just assuming the guy who’s back with us in class must be innocent.

It’s very difficult having to share the space with him once again, but I’ve progressed so far this past year and I am really proud of myself. I have my moments where I have to leave the room in tears instead of continuing to sit in a SAPAC briefing and be told “sex without consent is not OK,” but for the most part, I’ve been so much happier.

For the first time in years, I can focus on my schoolwork, and I don’t feel like I have to drink four times a week to get rid of my thoughts. I have an amazing boyfriend just a few years after I thought that I was broken and incapable of letting someone grow close to me. I want to use my experiences to help prevent similar things from happening to others. That way, he does not win — I do.

Emily Butte is an LSA senior.

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