on june 6th, 2018, someone raped me in my front yard. the details of the assault don’t matter. or, at the least they shouldn’t – but we all know that in our society, they do. I wasn’t drinking. I had never consented to any prior sexual acts. my rapist was essentially a stranger to me.
after the assault, I went into my house. I woke up my mom, and I sobbed in her arms. then, I called a friend. I asked her to come over. while I was waiting, I showered. I was determined to erase every bit of him from my body – and the unfortunate part, I succeeded. turns out that my perfectionist attitude extends to my hygiene routine as well.
I was in shock. I didn’t know what to do or say. my friend came over, but I couldn’t talk about what happened yet. I don’t think I was even sure what happened yet. I was desperately hoping that I could wish the whole situation away. that I would wake up in the morning and realize that none of it was real. this wasn’t the case.
when I woke up in the morning, I emailed my counselor. I told her everything I knew. she reminded me of my options. she gave me choices – a way to empower me to take control back. she also gave me resources. we came up with a plan together. I was going to call SARNCO and get all of the information about rape kits, and I was going to write out everything that happened before I got there so that I wouldn’t have to try and verbalize it all on the spot. it’s hard to find words after a trauma – and it’s even harder to tell a stranger all of the details.
about 36 hours after the assault, I went in for a rape kit. I was immediately taken back into a room to wait. I wasn’t given a choice. the police were called and a detective showed up. a SARNCO advocate was also present, but she was quiet and didn’t say much.
the detective took my written statement and barely asked me about it. it didn’t seem like he knew what to say or ask. he asked for all the information I knew about my rapist. I told him everything I knew – which really wasn’t much.
the nurse who performed the exam was incredibly kind. she informed me of everything that was going to happen before she did it. she made small talk with me and tried to distract me the best that she could. she answered all of my questions.
she swabbed and took pictures and took notes. she collected everything she thought they may need. I informed her that I thought that if my rapist’s DNA was going to be anywhere, it would be on my pants. she noted that and collected them. the detective ignored that note and didn’t test my pants.
after the exam, I was given more medications than I could count. antibiotics and anti-viral medications, mostly. I’m still not sure if they gave me emergency contraception or not. it’s all such a blur. I took so many medications, I couldn’t keep them all down. I vomited everything up.
in the following weeks, the detective conducted an “investigation” – if you want to call it that. he obtained my rapist’s DNA and tested my rape kit for it – but that was about it. since his DNA was not found, the detective concluded that no crime was committed and didn’t present the case to a prosecutor. to my family’s face, he claimed he believed me, but it was clear that wasn’t true. and it would become even more clear as time went on.
during this time, I also filed a report with Ohio State through the Student Conduct Office. an investigator followed up with me, and I met with him soon after. this investigator conducted a much more thorough investigation than the detective ever did. he asked me detailed questions about what happened and gathered as much information as he could. I liked this investigator. he treated me as a person, not a case number. he was kind and respectful, and despite the fact that he was a neutral investigator and could never express that he believed me, it was clear to me that he did. I always knew that he was on my side.
the investigation process was hell for me. it took 10 months for me to even get to a hearing. the entire process is voluntary, which meant that my rapist was allowed to offer up as much or as little information as he wanted to – obviously he chose to offer up very little. his only statement prior to the hearing was a statement attacking my statements and my character. he tried to use the fact that I was previously abused to attack my credibility. he also tried to say that I had an agenda with my sexual violence advocacy student organization, and therefore couldn’t be trusted.
getting to a hearing proved to be a difficult task. the board that conducts the hearing is made up of OSU faculty members. then, there is a hearing officer who acts as a mediator and works in the Student Conduct Office. the first board that they put together for me was made up entirely of men. yes, you read that correctly. there was not a single woman on the board. a panel made up entirely of men was supposed to judge whether or not they believed me over my rapist.
the next hearing that was scheduled got canceled approximately 30 hours before it was scheduled to begin. some of the board members knew my rapist, and apparently didn’t figure this out until that soon before the start of the hearing.
after that, the hearing got rescheduled for April 19th, 2019, which happened to also be Good Friday. this felt ironic and significant for me. I was hopeful that having the hearing on Good Friday would mean that I would finally be able to put evil to death and begin to resurrect the parts of me that trauma had killed. I don’t think anything could have prepared me for what actually happened at that hearing. it felt like I had walked into my own metaphorical crucifixion.
going into the hearing, I wasn’t planning on speaking. the process had been so exhausting, and I had given so many statements that I was just done. it didn’t seem like there was an end in sight, and it didn’t seem like there were going to be any good outcomes for me, regardless of what the board decided at the hearing. if I won the hearing, my rapist would most likely get expelled. but he also made it clear that if he lost, he would sue the university. I was done getting played by the system – and I thought that the best way to make a statement was to say nothing at all.
the hearing was set up in a conference room. in this room, there was a large, rectangular table. at one head of the table sat the hearing officer. her job was essentially to mediate and ensure that the hearing ran smoothly. the other end of the table was left empty for the witnesses who came in. on one long side of the table sat my rapist, his attorney, and his mother. on the other side sat the board members – three men and one woman. all white. it’s important to note that while my rapist had an attorney present, the attorney was not allowed to speak.
for most of the hearing, I sat in a different room with my support people. there was a large TV mounted on the wall so that I could see everything that was happening in the room where the hearing was being conducted. under the TV was a camera pointed directly at my chair. on the table was a microphone I could use to speak. the people in the other room couldn’t hear me unless I pushed a button on the microphone to talk. everyone involved in the hearing was provided with something called a hearing packet. the hearing packet was a collection of evidence that the investigator had collected over the course of those 10 months. it was over 100 pages long – and for the record, only about a page and a half of it were statements from my rapist. I had given many, many statements. he gave only one. and all it was, was a statement attacking me and my statements.
once the hearing began, I was invited to give an opening statement. I asked if I could come into the room where the hearing was being conducted to make this statement. since I wasn’t planning on speaking, I had prepared a statement that I wrote out on cards. my opening statement read:
“my name is Syreeta Palackdharry. I am a second-year Honors student double-majoring in Psychology and Women’s, Gender & Sexuality Studies. I am also a rape survivor – *rapist’s name* raped me on June 6, 2018. I used to coach diving with Ohio State Diving Club, but because of the stress of this case, I had to stop. I also used to run a student organization that I created, but because of the stress of this case, I had to stop. for the past 10 months, I’ve been screaming my story – desperately trying to be heard and believed. this investigation has been hell for me – so much so that at one point I planned every detail of my funeral. I don’t want to be here; I don’t want to keep participating in this process, nor do I want to be involved in any lawsuit that may follow. and for those reasons, I’ve decided to remain silent today. I’ve given my story over and over again. my words haven’t been enough, but maybe my silence will be.”
my whole body shook as I sat in front of my rapist flipping these cards to give my statement. he didn’t read them. he wouldn’t look at me. he looked down the entire time. I finished my statement, left the room, and the hearing proceeded.
my rapist gave his opening statement. he essentially read us his resume and then told us all of the reasons why he supports women – like the fact that he brought his mom to the hearing. apparently since he loves his mom, that means he can’t be a rapist. I’m so glad we established the fact that he doesn’t rape his own mother. oh, he also mentioned that he has two nieces that he loves.
after my rapist spoke, witnesses started being brought in. the first witness was the OSU investigator. he was incredible. he shut down my rapist’s attempts at manipulation with ease and stood firm in the facts. my rapist kept trying to get him to say that I intentionally lied and misled him in order to impede the investigation – all because my timeline was off. trauma-informed individuals EXPECT a victim’s timeline to be off. this is because when someone goes through something traumatic, their brain starts operating differently. during my rape, my prefrontal cortex went ‘offline’. the prefrontal cortex is associated with executive functioning, like learning, language, and memory. memories stored in the prefrontal cortex get timestamps, so our brain knows when the events started, and more significantly, when they ended. when my prefrontal cortex shutdown, my limbic system took over. the limbic system is the part of our brain that controls our fight-or-flight responses. for me, I froze. my dorsal branch of my vagus nerve told my body to start shutting down. it moved me into dissociation and immobility. unlike the prefrontal cortex, memories stored in the limbic system don’t get timestamped. that’s why I have no sense of time around the events that happened. I can’t put together a timeline because my brain didn’t store the memories that way. traumatic memories aren’t stored like normal memories. also, because the prefrontal cortex is responsible for language, there are some memories that I can feel in my body but don’t have words for because it all happened below my language capacity. I can hear the cars. I can smell the air. I can see the trees. I can feel my rapist. but I can’t piece all of those experiences together to form a cohesive narrative.
fortunately, the investigator repeatedly stated that he didn’t believe I intentionally gave him any false information. he stated that timeframes are hard to remember and it wasn’t like I was looking at notes or anything during my conversation with him.
after the OSU investigator, the Bexley detective came in. the detective was an entirely different story. he stated that he thought it was odd that I had a written statement already prepared for him when I went into the hospital. he told the board that he would’ve expected me to have more genital tears than I did. he mentioned that he thought it was convenient that I was so involved in sexual violence advocacy. essentially, the detective believed that since there was no DNA found, there was no crime committed. it was clear to me that this detective never had any intention of presenting my case to a prosector, nor did he have any interest in investigating in the first place.
next, my friend who came over to comfort me after the assault was brought in. She did a good job and told the truth despite my rapist’s attempts to get her to admit that she is biased because she’s my friend.
my mom was the last witness, and the questions that my rapist asked her made absolutely no sense. he started asking her detailed questions about my medical history and my current medications (including my birth control). he asked about my prior abuse and things I had experienced in the past. one of the questions he asked her was literally, “was the first time that she told you the first time she told you?”. at this point, I was livid and knew that I couldn’t keep staying silent. I interrupted and asked, “how is any of this relevant to what happened to me?”. the hearing officer stepped in and stopped the inappropriate questioning.
at this point in the hearing, we were about four hours in, and I had essentially decided that remaining silent was becoming more inconvenient to me than it was helping. the hearing officer came into my room and asked me if I planned on giving a middle statement. I told her no, I probably would not do that – but I might answer questions from the board if they had any. so the hearing proceeded, and I verbally stated that I didn’t have a statement I wanted to give. the board did end up asking me a few questions – none of which seemed incredibly significant. I answered them without a problem.
now, comes the real trouble. the hearing officer turned to rapist and asked him if he had any questions for me. his first question to me was, “what is your address?” (he raped me in my front yard; of course he knew the answer to that already). my only response was, “I will not answer any questions from the respondent”. the hearing officer nodded and said “okay”. she was about to proceed with the hearing when my rapist and his attorney flipped out.
the best way that I can describe what happened next is that my rapist threw a temper tantrum. the two of them pulled the hearing officer out of the room and told her that they have the right to cross-examine me and it’s not a fair hearing if they can’t do it. let me remind everyone now that this entire process is voluntary, and that is made clear to all parties from the start. they wanted her to dismiss the case entirely if I continued to refuse to answer his questions. the hearing officer reminded them over and over again that the process is voluntary, but they argued about this for over a full hour. during this time, they even made her call her boss (the Director of Student Conduct) and have her confirm that the process is voluntary and I am allowed to refuse to answer questions.
after a super long break, my rapist and his attorney came back into the room and the hearing resumed. the hearing officer allowed my rapist to read all of the questions he would have asked me had I chosen to answer them. he had so many questions prepared that it took him over 15 minutes just to read the questions aloud. the questions were terrible and demeaning. I am so, so glad that I didn’t agree to answer them. they were not even about my rape – they were about my medical history, all of my prior abuse, my character, my blog and social media, my student organization… literally everything in my life OTHER than the rape. he then proceeded to say that because he could not cross-examine me, he “objected to the hearing going forward”. and that is the only phrase that he said for the rest of the hearing.
I went through a 10 month investigation in order for my rapist to never even say a word about what happened that night. he refused to answer any questions about what happened. and the one written statement that he did gave ultimately didn’t make sense because he was simultaneously claiming that nothing happened without my consent AND nothing happened because there was no DNA. if he didn’t engage in any sexual acts with me, then the consent argument is irrelevant, and if it was all consensual, then the DNA argument is irrelevant. after seeing how angry he became when he realized that I would not subject myself to further manipulation by him, I was terrified.
as of right now, the board still hasn’t made a decision about whether they believe my rapist violated the code of student conduct or not. if they find him not in violation, I will have to endure being on campus with him for another full year. I am genuinely scared for my safety on campus knowing that he’s still around – so much so that I met with my academic advisor to come up with a plan for if my rapist is allowed to stay at the university and I need to take a leave of absence until he graduates for my own safety.
this is the Title IX process – an overwhelming waste of my time.
to ask me how this experience impacted me would feel a lot like asking me what happens when you drop a vase of flowers. how could I possibly convey how much each broken piece hurts me? when my rapist raped me, my whole world shattered. he made my body feel like an unsafe place to live, and I desperately wanted to get out of it – but there was nowhere else to go. for the past 11 months, my brain has been at war with my body – constantly telling me that I’ m in danger just because I’m living in a body that went through something truly terrible and experienced unspeakable pain. some moments I know that I’m safe. other moments I feel like I’m drowning in fear and pain. most of the time, though – it’s both. my body tells me that I am where I am and my brain screams at me that I’m in danger and need to run.
the Title IX process was supposed to bring me justice, but I just feel humiliated. OSU let my rapist use my advocacy and prior abuse against me. I had to stop leading the student organization that I poured my heart and soul into. we were just starting to get off the ground when I relinquished my role as president. how could I run an advocacy student organization when my rapist was trying to use all of my advocacy against me? I was a representative of an international organization, and I had my rapist suggesting that I lied about sexual assault to further my advocacy agenda. that was not just an attack against my integrity, but an attack against the integrity of the entire organization. and how could I even begin to revive it after losing it all so painfully?
I feel sick knowing that my rapist could do what he did to me to other women – and statistically speaking, it seems likely that he has. I don’t believe that it’s my responsibility to keep that from happening. he is in charge of his own choices. but I do think that it is my responsibility to continue speaking up and sharing the truth. I can’t prove that he raped me. I can’t present all of the tears I’ve cried. I can’t let you feel the way my body felt during and after the assault. I can’t magically make his DNA appear after I tried so hard to erase it. I can’t make my brain remember things in a neat and organized timeline when trauma memories don’t work that way. but I can continue to tell the truth, and that’s exactly what I plan on doing.