Op-Ed: I Am Not the Relationship Violence I Endured in College

When I first entered college, in 2015, I didn’t expect to meet the wonderful friends I have, experience the adventures we’ve been on, or even be a writer for Westword.

I also never thought I would have to initiate a Title IX investigation.

This school year, I asked the Title IX office at my university to investigate an ex-boyfriend on allegations of stalking and relationship violence. The whole experience has been exhausting and terrifying at times, but I’m proud of the decision I made. And I’m proud of the woman I have become because of it.

I knew what I was diving into when I launched the investigation. I knew I would have to relive memories I never wanted to visit again and would be spending some nights in tears. The hardest pill to swallow was knowing I would deal with mental and physical disorders for the rest of my life as a result of the relationship. I knew I would lose friends who thought I was going too far.

But throughout all of it, I have become more outspoken — about sexual assault and other issues. I’ve met so many people who have shown me love and been supportive. Before all this, I struggled to solve problems, but I’ve learned to keep a level head during stressful moments.

Someone else took away my self-confidence and strength, but I have regained both. The woman I aspired to be is now the woman I am, and I am excited for her future.

According to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center (NSVRC), one in three women and one in six men in the United States have experienced some form of sexual violence in their lifetime. The NSVRC reports that 20 to 25 percent of college women and 15 percent of men are victims of forced sex during their college years. As a college student and survivor of assault, these statistics terrify me.

I know others who survived experiences similar to mine. I have female friends who carry mace or other forms of self-protection. I feel the need to call campus safety and ask for an escort when walking home at night. My female friends are constantly told to never walk home alone at night, and to text all their friends when they are home. We all feel sadness whenever campus security sends yet another email about a sexual assault that occurred on or near school.

With the #MeToo movement having gained momentum and more survivors speaking out, why does sexual assault still occur?

I can’t speak for every survivor, but I can speak from my experience. My perpetrator had a sense of entitlement and need to feel dominant over a woman. But times are changing, and what we need to stress to children and adults alike is the need for enthusiastic consent.

Our laws also need to be changed. Recently, a judge in New York ordered that a 26-year-old bus driver would not serve jail time for raping a 14-year-old girl, finding that because the bus driver had no prior arrests and there was only one victim, the sentence was appropriate. But this is one victim too many. By not holding perpetrators accountable, our laws tell us that sexual assault is not taken seriously and that everything the victim endures is for nothing.

Someone special once told me, “Writing about sexual assault is hard, but it’s people like you who can bring light to solve it.” I would not wish what happened to me on my worst enemy. All I can do now is bring more awareness to a problem that has affected so many people. To all those who are also survivors, know this: It was not your fault. You are not what happened to you. You are not your pain. You are worth everything good in this world, and you deserve better.

I am neither what was done to me nor the mental and physical anguish I felt because of it. I am more than that. Everyone who has survived such a horrific experience is worth more than that. We are all humans with thoughts, beliefs and accomplishments. No one can take that away from us.

Nina Petrovic is a local college student and freelance writer for Westword.

Westword occasionally publishes essays and op-eds on issues of interest to the Denver community. If you'd like to submit one, send it to editorial@westword.com.

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