On the phone I could hear quiet sobbing. I knew in an instant who it was.
Even now, the process of ‘moving on’ after our son endured a false accusation of sexual misconduct in college traps our family standing in raw emotional tracks.
One night as the clock read 3:30 a.m., my mobile phone lit up and I sat up in bed. “Honey, what’s wrong?” my husband asked. “Nothing, babe, it’s okay, go back to sleep,” I replied, knowing he had a stressful day at work ahead of him.
On the phone I could hear quiet sobbing. I knew in an instant who it was. “It’s okay, I’m here,” I told the voice on the other end.
“I’m sorry mom, I just can’t do this anymore…”
And my heart broke yet again for my son, who is struggling to rebuild a promising life derailed by a false accusation.
I’m learning with our son that life doesn’t just go on after an allegation of rape on campus. Even after clearing his name, even years later, the pain returns, staggeringly fresh.
Our son isn’t weak, he is strong; our son isn’t unstable, he is a good person with a kind heart. This experience has knocked us all to our knees, and the long fight has left us reeling and raw.
I’m learning that the healing process isn’t a straight path for survivors of trauma. I’m learning that it offends some to even equate our experience with trauma. I’m learning that the message is clear to the American people, that on campus the innocent do not matter, that their lives aren’t as important, that we should be happy and celebrate clearing his name. I’m learning it doesn’t work that way. The damage to him, our family, his reputation, has been done. Moving on is not as easy as it seems.
Later that morning, I reached out to some of my new friends, other parents who have lived through campus adjudication with their innocent student. Finding this group has been a lifeline for our family. It’s hard being a parent of someone accused on campus, you feel that instant mark of abomination. The looks of pity and utter contempt you receive when on campus. Looks of horror including from campus employees afraid to meet your gaze is something, which with I’m familiar. They know who you are: you’re the rapist’s mom, and for an instant you know exactly how your innocent child feels.
I find myself brought back to those moments, years ago but so fresh in my mind. So real, even now, that I remember feeling the warmth of the sun, the smell of fresh cut grass on the campus lawn as I leaned over to pick up my son who was in a crumble, vomiting after a meeting with the Dean of Students. I remember students walking by and they seemed to be moving in slow motion. I remember their faces, stacks of books, laughing and smiling on their way to class. I remember seeing the Dean look out the glass door window, turning and walking the other way. It was in that moment that I knew we couldn’t trust the school. It was in that moment that I knew my son would never be the same.
I think what is hardest for me now is the silencing.
The bizarre feeling in the pit of my stomach I get watching Senators, Vice Presidents, Celebrities, and Activists all shouting for a cause, and I want to speak… I want to say “yes, yes I understand, we want survivors to feel supported, we want our girls to be safe… but what you’re preaching isn’t the truth of the story, it isn’t the reality for many innocent students on campus, there is another side.” I want to beg Senators McCaskill and Gillibrand to see the destruction of an innocent life, to feel his pain, to see his trauma, to know what it’s like to pick up your child who is in a crumble on the campus lawn, to ask them why his life doesn’t matter… but the silencing continues, and the war wages on.
But one day, hopefully the tide will turn toward a reasonable fusion of compassion and common sense. And until that day arrives and changes are permanently made in law and policy toward due process and fairness, my family and I will live on to fight another day. And one day when my son’s invisible wounds are healed, he will have been stronger for the journey.
-Mother of a falsely accused son