Student Claims She Was Sexually Assaulted By Man Who Said She Was ‘Too Cute To Be A Lesbian’

CREDIT: CURT SMITH VIA FLICKR
CREDIT: CURT SMITH VIA FLICKR

“Kenyon has betrayed my trust — a trust with the strength of 23 years. Kenyon failed my little sister in a way that I, with her permission, refuse to be silent about.”

Those lines are from an an open letter to Kenyon College that one of the school’s alums, Michael Hayes, wrote last week to raise awareness of his sister’s experience as a survivor of sexual assault.

Hayes — who is now a legal assistant and help desk specialist at Lambda Legal — writes that his sister Chelsie was sexually assaulted by a fellow student in her dorm room while she was intoxicated and taking three prescribed medications and that she was slipping in and out of consciousness at the time. According to Hayes, the man that Chelsie has since accused of sexual assault told her multiple times that she was “too cute to be a lesbian.” She filed a report with the school, but Kenyon College officials said they couldn’t find enough evidence to prove that it is more likely than not that the man violated the sexual assault policy.

Hayes’ letter, as well as the details about what he calls the college’s mishandling of the investigation into Chelsie’s accusations of sexual assault, have received widespread media coverage. But there’s one aspect of his sister’s experience that Hayes said hasn’t gotten enough attention: her sexual orientation as a lesbian.

“I believe, both as a member of the LGBTQ community myself and an employee at a gay rights legal organization, that my sister’s sexual orientation has not been adequately considered in much of this discussion,” Hayes told ThinkProgress. “As it pertains to consent in particular, I find that it defies reason to conclude that my sister would consent to heterosexual sexual activity for the first time in her life.”

“Kenyon failed my little sister in a way that I, with her permission, refuse to be silent about.”

According to Hayes and to information he provided to ThinkProgress, the college was very aware of Chelsie’s sexual orientation, and knew the man she accused of rape was persistent in his insistence that she could not be a lesbian. At one point, Chelsie even told the man about her girlfriend.

Plus, in its decision that there wasn’t enough evidence to conclude the sexual assault policy had been violated, the school noted it seemed improbable that the man would have informed people he was about to “hook up” and get a condom if he thought Chelsie was incapacitated. Nonetheless, school officials apparently found it entirely plausible that Chelsie would have consensual sex with the man despite her being very clear with him about her sexual orientation.

Chelsie’s story could be an example of corrective rape, where a person tries to “change” the sexual orientation or gender identity of a person through sexual violence — which is a particular problem for lesbian students, since people insist that they are only experimenting or going through a phase and thus don’t really understand what they want. This kind of thinking encourages sexual violence against lesbian students, experts say. An incident at Middleburg College in 2013 is a perfect example of the attitude. A female student found a note taped to her door, reading in part, “you say you’re gay but we know you’ve never fucked a guy … so we’re gonna fuck you till you’re straight … I know you want it.” Asexual students also say that some people see their orientation as a challenge.

In fact, LGBTQ students as a whole face more incidents of sexual violence and harassment than straight students, according to a survey last year from the Association of American Universities as well as a study released earlier this year by the Bureau of Justice Statistics. According to the AAU survey, 18 percent of straight women experienced unwanted sexual contact involving force compared to 19 percent of gay women and 32 percent of bi women. Students who identified as transgender, genderqueer, or otherwise non-conforming had the highest rates of sexual contact involving penetration or sexual touching as a result of physical force or incapacitation, at almost 30 percent.

A photo taken at the Kenyon College campus. CREDIT: Curt Smith/Flickr
A photo taken at the Kenyon College campus. CREDIT: Curt Smith/Flickr

As to why rates of sexual violence are higher, there isn’t enough research on the subject to pinpoint exactly why a bisexual student or a transgender female student is more likely to experience certain forms of sexual violence on campus. Some experts say that the over-sexualization of LGBTQ people or the enforcement of gender norms could contribute to violence, however, and there is ongoing research that hopes to answer that question.

Anne Hedgepeth, the government relations manager for the American Association of University Women, said campus climate surveys show the need for universities to look at how sexual harassment can be a manifestation of homophobia.

“The way that sexual harassment can be used as a form of bullying or retaliation or an extension of homophobia or other things on college campuses — it is critical to understanding experiences students are having. We know some of the harassing behavior [according to a 2006 study by AAUW] was absolutely about bullying and harassing someone because of sexual orientation, so where climate surveys are capturing that information, certainly that’s a concern … It should be treated as sexual harassment because that’s exactly what it is,” Hedgepeth said.

“It should be treated as sexual harassment because that’s exactly what it is.”

Rebby Kern, media, communications and programs manager for Campus Pride, said it’s important for colleges to do more than superficially recognize LGBTQ students as also being survivors of sexual assault. LGBTQ students may be more afraid to approach the administration and counselors because they aren’t necessarily always “out” to all of their friends or family members or worry that they will be ignored due to biases against their sexual orientation or gender.

“We definitely push for there to be a top-down level support and commitment to LGBTQ people on campus when it comes to this issue, ensuring that their counseling and mental health center and staff are completely trained on these issues across the gamut, so when students approach them with these issues, they’re not dismissed, so these professionals can address them correctly instead of, ‘This can’t happen because this can’t happen with two women,’” Kern said.

The Title IX coordinator at Kenyon College, Andrea Goldblum, told ThinkProgress that she is “very aware of the heightened risk of sexual violence that members of the LGBTQ+ community face,” and said that the school’s programming on sexual assault prevention includes this information.

“Under federal privacy law, I am not permitted to share information about specific cases without the express consent of the parties involved. However, I can share with you that we have reached out to the LGBTQ+ community in a variety of ways,” Goldblum said in an email. “We have met with student groups that represent or advocate for LGBTQ+ students, specifically to talk with the about the intersection of Title IX and gender, gender expression, gender identity, sexual orientation and gender stereotypes. I serve on the on the LGBTQ Advisory Committee.”

Update:

The post has been updated more context on climate surveys from AAUW.