Update: Colorado Sexual Assault Survivor Reads Powerful Statement In Court

Photo: Andrew Burton/Getty Images.
Update: The young woman who survived Austin James Wilkerson’s attack has come forward with a statement that recalls the one made by the Stanford assault survivor. She says that while the process was a hard one, she found it worthwhile. The woman made two statements, one to The Guardian and one to the court. “Although I did have to re-live the trauma multiple times, I would go through this process all over again. Our goal has been to have the rapist not perpetrate again, which hopefully won’t happen even with the light sentence. We get to put a face to the 1-in-4 statistics. Surprisingly, this whole ordeal has been therapeutic. I get to tell my story and not keep it bottled up,” she said in her statement to The Guardian. She continued that she hoped her story inspired others to come forward and prosecute their attacker. Below is the full statement that she read aloud in court.
“His life is ruined.” Oh yeah, and it’s not like my life isn’t ruined or anything. It’s always been about the rapist since the assault. As the victim of this sexual assault, my life has been ruined socially, psychologically, academically, and financially. To begin with, this sexual assault has ruined me socially. I don’t go to CU football games anymore. I don’t drink at parties anymore. I don’t even go out anymore. This is partially because I’m too scared to be in situations that remind me of the sexual assault. But it’s also in part because of all the victim-blaming that I have internalized. Instead of having the typical fun 21st birthday celebration, I was saying that I couldn’t go to the bars with everyone because I had too much homework. In reality, I was too scared of my friends’ friends because the rapist was a friend of a friend. Another instance of being afraid of my friends’ friends was my living situation for the 2015-2016 school year. My friend and I were going to live with our group of friends. However, during the contract negotiation, my supposed friends sprung a new roommate on us. I was fine with this for the most part, until my “friends” had the new roommate share a bathroom and floor with us girls. These were not the terms I consented to. Everyone thought I was being irrational for not wanting to share a bathroom and be on the same floor level as their friend, who was a guy I had met only twice. I feel like those dogs who become afraid or don’t like being around certain people. In my case, I’m afraid of acquaintances, since this sexual assault was an acquaintance rape. Safety is my #1 priority, even if it means jeopardizing relationships. “Oh boo hoo,” you might say. “She doesn’t get to go out and party and have fun. Big deal.” But it’s not just socially, it’s psychologically. It’s the anxiety. When I started filing this sexual assault case with CU back in the fall of 2014, I had a horrible nightmare that the rapist was going to retaliate against me. He was going to kill me with a bomb. I tried to tell the authorities, but they wouldn’t listen. I woke up from this nightmare crying. I immediately called my mom and told her I couldn’t go to class because the rapist was on campus. She reassured me that he wouldn’t retaliate against me because there would be consequences. I reluctantly agreed to go to class, but in the back of my mind I thought about how the rapist had committed this horrific crime knowing that there would be consequences. So what would stop him from retaliating? On campus I was on high alert, constantly checking over my shoulder. Keep in mind that CU didn’t have a Criminal Protection Order. All CU said was that if we crossed paths, he would have to turn and go the other way. However, this didn’t happen. After the trial conviction, the rapist was in the waiting area. Instead of him turning around and going the other way – like everyone had reassured me he would do – the rapist stayed there. I was the one who was going the other way. The flight part of my fight-or-flight instincts kicked into overdrive. I practically ran the other way so I wouldn’t have to be anywhere near him. Even with the Criminal Protection Order and the court not allowing weapons, I did not feel safe around the rapist. And I never will. When I’m not having nightmares of rape, retaliation, or retrial that goes awry, I’m having panic attacks. Like the nightmares, these started after the sexual assault. Prior to the assault, I never had a panic attack in my life. At first, I thought these panic attacks were random, but the more of them I had, the more a pattern emerged that aligned with the sexual assault: I would be peacefully sleeping when all of the sudden I would be jolted awake by this horrible thing happening to me. There wasn’t much I could do except try to breathe through it – just try to survive – and wait for the horrible thing to be over with. Just. Like. The assault. One of the most vivid panic attacks I remember was again when I was filing this sexual assault case with CU in the fall of 2014. I was peacefully sleeping. Then I woke up to the horrible feeling that I was dying. I was so scared and confused that it felt like I was going crazy; it didn’t feel real. When I could actually sit up and move – not frozen lying down – I asked my roommate to take me to the hospital. Of course once I got to the hospital they told me everything was fine. After going to the hospital another time, my parents told me that I had to stop going to the hospital. If something was wrong, I was to call my mom because she is a medical doctor and would be able to help. In the spring of 2015 I had yet another panic attack. I was peacefully sleeping when I was jolted awake. This time it felt like I was having a heart attack. It was a sharp, jabbing attack on my heart. About half an hour later it passed but I was still shaken. Instead of going to the hospital, I called my mom at four or five in the morning crying. Between uncontrollable sobs I told her that I had just had a heart attack. I told her my symptoms and she told me that the symptoms were not that of a heart attack. Even after her reassurance, I couldn’t fall back asleep; I was too afraid to wake up to the horrible thing again. It’s the depression. About a month after the assault, I tried to kill myself because of the impact of the sexual assault. Some days I can’t even get out of bed, let alone do four readings, projects, and study for tests. And no wonder. The rapist made pleasurable things of sex, sleep, and going out traumatic. So it’s no surprise that less pleasurable things like studying are 100 times more difficult. It really was a snowball effect: the rape affected me socially and psychologically, which in turn affected me academically. Every time I would try to put this trauma out of my mind, I would be reminded of it again and again with new updates, hearing dates, and trial dates. Like, “Hey, remember that traumatic thing that happened to you? Yeah you’re gonna have to relive that in your retelling to CU-Boulder investigators; the DA’s office; a detective; your therapist; your psychologist; your psychiatrist; your Office of Victim Assistance counselor; a judge; a jury; the rapist’s family, affiliates, and legal team; your loved ones; and many others! Hope that doesn’t put a damper on your school thing!” Everything is a reminder. I can’t escape the rapist figuratively or literally. For example, earlier this year my team and I went to New Mexico for a tournament. Back in Colorado, I returned to the unsettling news that the rapist was going to New Mexico the weekend after I went. What if he was there when I was? Would he supposedly turn around and go the other way? We’ve seen how well that has worked… Finally, financially. $250,000. $127,582 lost of future wages because I’ll still be in school instead of working. Lower starting income because I’ll only have an undergraduate degree instead of a master’s degree: $14,698. Hospital bills from panic attacks: $5,000. Bills for antidepressants: $100. MESA trauma class: $90. Money spent on textbooks and material for failed and withdrawn classes: $10,000. Money lost on failed and withdrawn classes: $15,000. Money lost on having to do extra undergraduate years (which includes housing and living expenses): $20,000. Bills from suicide attempt resulting in MIP, hospitalization, and BASICS classes: $4,000. $52,900 for my parents’ time, my time, and gas spent for meetings and trial. The $250,000 doesn’t even include a lifetime of future expenses of therapy, antidepressants, etc. as a result of this sexual assault. But it’s only the rapist’s life that has been ruined, right? It’s not like I had hopes and dreams or academic and career goals. But worst of all is the victim-blaming. Freshman year, one of my roommates, who you met at trial, was victim-blaming. At the end of April 2014, our floor was talking about how we saw this girl throwing up outside of our Williams Village dorm, Darley North. A few days after that, we received an email saying that a girl had reported a rape to the police. The rape was perpetrated after a party in a WillVill dorm by someone she knew. Some people on our floor speculated that maybe the girl we saw throwing up outside our dorm was the one who was raped. My roommate chimed in, “Well, if she was that drunk, then she deserved to get raped.” I was livid and vehemently defended the victim, and this was before I had even processed the sexual assault perpetrated against me. But my roommate wasn’t the only one who was victim-blaming; it was a person (or persons) in the jury. Following my breaking down and crying and getting ridiculed about the sexual assault, someone in the jury had the audacity to ask me why I didn’t say, “No.” The real question is, “Why didn’t the rapist get my consent?!” It would be like if someone robbed you and they said, “Well you didn’t say no!” Does a lack of a “no” make the robbery okay? Of course not! Even my own mother was victim-blaming. She told me that if I hadn’t been drunk, this wouldn’t have happened. Yet, it was excusable for him to rape me because he was drunk. After all I’ve endured emotionally, physically, psychologically, and financially, the burden of the blame still crashes down on my shoulders. Therefore, it’s my contention that the maximum sentence would be the most suitable. I wouldn’t have to worry about running into the rapist at CU football games or on campus or even in New Mexico. The best reassurance – not CU’s, “Oh he’ll just go the other way!” – would be to know that the rapist cannot physically get to me. Please don’t be like CU’s director of student conduct, who had total disregard for my safety and the safety of others by allowing the rapist to go to an on-campus comedy show after he was found guilty of multiple counts of sexual assault. Please don’t be like CU’s director of student conduct, who suspended the rapist from CU for just over a year, meaning that he would be allowed back on campus while I was still attending. Basically, please don’t be like CU’s director of student conduct, who sacrificed the safety of the community in favor of the rapist’s pleasure. Knowing that the rapist cannot physically get to anyone would give the community and me a peace of mind – well, at least for a little while out of my lifelong suffering. Have as much mercy for the rapist as he did for me the night of the sexual assault, which was none. In conclusion, the rapist CHOSE to ruin his life. But like the sexual assault itself, my life has been ruined without my consent.
This article was originally published on August 11, 2016.
A college student convicted of sexually assaulting a semi-conscious woman while she was drunk will receive no prison time, The Guardian reported on Thursday. The lenient sentence is already being compared to this summer's Stanford rape case, which caused outrage after a convicted rapist was sentenced to only six months in jail. The unidentified woman had asked for former University of Colorado student Austin Wilkerson, 22, to be sentenced to prison time for his felony sexual assault conviction. “Have as much mercy for the rapist as he did for me that night," she said at the hearing, according to local news source The Daily Camera. “When I’m not having nightmares about the rape, retaliation, or a retrial gone awry, I’m having panic attacks,” she said. "Some days I can’t even get out of bed."
Prosecutors accused Wilkerson of isolating the intoxicated woman, a fellow student, after a St. Patrick’s Day celebration in 2014. He told friends that he was going to take care of her, but instead, prosecutors alleged, he took her back to his room where he made sure that his roommate saw him checking her pulse and temperature, and giving her water, before he sexually assaulted her. Wilkerson eventually admitted to digital and oral penetration, though he said he “wasn’t getting much of a response” from the woman. Though the felony conviction carried a possible sentence of four to 12 years in state prison, Wilkerson was sentenced Wednesday to two years of work release, plus 20 years to life on probation. Under the terms of his work release, he will be free to work or attend school by day and must report to county jail at night. Wilkerson's attorney did not respond to The Guardian's request for comment on the outcome.
The case parallels that of Brock Turner, the former Stanford University athlete who was sentenced to only six months in jail for raping an unconscious woman behind a Dumpster. The survivor's powerful statement about the impact that the assault — and the subsequent trial — had on her went viral, causing outrage and dismay at the light sentence. The judge in that case has since faced a recall attempt over the lenient punishment. In his sentencing in the University of Colorado case, Judge Patrick Butler said that he “struggled” with the idea of putting Wilkerson in prison, The Huffington Post reported. “I don’t know that there is any great result for anybody. Mr. Wilkerson deserves to be punished, but I think we all need to find out whether he truly can or cannot be rehabilitated,” Butler said. The defense had asked for leniency for Wilkerson, saying that he was remorseful for his actions. The prosecution refuted that, saying that the fact that Wilkerson's story had changed meant he was insincere. Wilkerson had told a university investigator that he had previously tried to make sexual advances to the woman, but she had rejected him. He said he was "pissed off" and called the woman a "fucking bitch," according to The Guardian. Wilkerson also alleged at trial that the encounter was consensual. The unidentified woman told the judge that she felt the blame had been put on her for the assault — from friends, the jury, and even her own mother. "'If I hadn't been drunk, this wouldn't have happened. If I hadn't gotten separated, this wouldn't have happened,'" she said according to The Daily Camera. "Yet it was excusable for him to rape me because he was drunk?"

More from US News

R29 Original Series