I, Michele Beaulieux, am facilitating a free two-part Zoom workshop, Decision Making After Sexual Violence sponsored by the University of Chicago Resources for Sexual Violence Prevention Programming Center on May 16 and 30, 2020.
People often ask me how I came to develop the “My Choice Decision Navigator and Our Choices Solution Facilitator” that we’ll be using. In this post, I tell, in three acts, the story of my path to developing a decision tool for people impacted by sexual violence.
CONTENT WARNING: This post describes a rape and its aftermath.
A cinderblock dorm room in Upper Flint House in the now demolished Woodward Court, on the University of Chicago campus, January, 1979. I am a first year college student, and I am a virgin.
A fellow first year student, a guy who often takes me out on dates, takes me out to dinner one weekend when my roommate is away. He has pot and we get high. My next memory is in my bed in my dorm room.
The next morning, I am numb. The only thing I want to do is escape Chicago so I can sort out what just happened. He has a car and we go to his parents’ house for the rest of the weekend. Reporting to the police, or even the school, doesn’t even register on the periphery of my consciousness. I don’t consult the student handbook, but it makes no reference to sexual violence anyway.
My shame is deep, immobilizing. He says, “Everything I did I did because I loved you.” Later that year, I summon the courage to break up with him.
It takes a long time before I can acknowledge that what he did was rape me. I do not repress the memory. I talk about it in therapy. My friends know. His violation impacts my relationships, but I go on with my life.
A bedroom in an apartment on the near northside of Chicago. It is January 2004. I am 43.
I am working on my laptop on my bed in my bedroom. Out of the blue, I receive an email from him. He writes that he found me in the alumni directory and wonders how I am doing. I start shaking uncontrollably. The shaking continues intermittently for weeks. I had had no idea that I had held that trauma in my body for 25 years.
I am not surprised to learn that, in those years, he has become prominent in his field.
The same apartment on the near northside of Chicago, a year later, January 2005. I am 44.
I send him a registered letter. In it, for the first time, I name to him what he did that night “rape.”
An office in the basement of the administration building at the University of Chicago, 2012. I am 51.
I inadvertently officially report the rape to the university. Later, I learn that the University of Chicago includes the rape in that year’s federally-mandated Clery Act statistics. I am elated.
The District 2 Chicago Police Station, 5101 S. Wentworth, June 2015. I am 54.
I file a police report. I learn a lot.
An apartment in Hyde Park, May 2020. I am 59.
I don’t typically think about the rape or the steps toward healing in justice that I’ve taken in the last 15 years, but I’ve been revisiting it as I prepare for the workshop, Decision Making After Sexual Violence, which I’ll zoom from my apartment.
I plan to write more about each of the scenes in this act, so follow this blog for more in-depth installments of the story. I am not currently pursuing disciplinary action through the university, but I am aware that it is always an option. I occasionally look at his social media account and consider sharing or commenting. Sometimes, I do.
I have come to see the email that he sent me twenty-five years later as a blessing. It dislodged me from a stuck place and sent me on a journey of healing in justice. After getting the email, I took steps forward, but I agonized over each step. Victim-survivor decision making is tough. It is complex. There are innumerable variables, and they change over time. Current decisions build on previous decisions. We make decisions in one moment that forever impact our options later, sometimes knowingly, sometimes unknowingly.
I try to be gentle with myself. I did, in the many decision moments on this journey, what I thought, at the time, was best, but it wasn’t easy. I’d like to make others’ decision making easier.
My path to creating the “My Choice Decision Navigator” for people impacted by sexual violence began when I created a matrix of possible actions in response to sexual violence. The matrix got bigger and bigger, with dozens of possibilities. I began to realize that showing people so many options is overwhelming. It seemed irresponsible to open up all the possibilities without also providing a way to sort them out and decide a course of action.
I stumbled into decision science. And in a very University of Chicago moment, I found the book, Smart Choices: A Practical Guide to Making Better Decisions, in the stacks of Regenstein Library. The authors encourage starting, not with the options, as I—as is common—had done, but with our values: what we want. Their PrOACT—Problem, Objectives, Alternatives, Consequences, Tradeoffs—approach provides the structural framework for the My Choice Decision Navigator. The Decision Navigator helps victim-survivors figure out what they want, explore their options, and make better decisions.
When a headline for an article about the Decision Navigator claimed that it was helping victim-survivors “think beyond reporting to the police,” I realized that the problem isn’t so much victim-survivor visioning—victim-survivors are already thinking beyond reporting to the police—it’s that other people don’t understand why reporting often isn’t a good idea. The real problem for victim-survivors is not that we make bad choices, but we don’t have good choices. So I am also developing the “Our Choices Solution Facilitator,” for co-strugglers. It is an empathy tool. It helps others understand victim-survivor dilemmas, expand victim-survivor Alternatives, and improve the Consequences of those Alternatives. It also looks at preventing the violence in the first place.
To learn more, join me for the free two-part Zoom series. The workshops are geared toward college students, but anyone who is interested is welcome to attend and participate. Email me for registration information.
Resources for Sexual Violence Prevention (RSVP) at the University of Chicago, in partnership with Michele Beaulieux, presents a free two-part Zoom series on decision making after sexual violence, first from the perspective of those to whom it has happened and then from the perspective of those who want to be co-strugglers. For the Zoom link, contact me.
Deciding What to Do After a Sexual Assault
Saturday, May 16, 2020, 4PM-5:45PM CDT
After a sexual assault, victim-survivors often find themselves stuck, unable to figure out what to do. In this highly interactive Zoom session, we will explore together how, after a sexual assault, a college student might determine next steps that align with their values. We will use the My Choice Decision Navigator, which applies the PrOACT decision-making framework to decisions after sexual violence. The acronym, PrOACT, stands for Problem, Objectives, Alternatives, Consequences, and Tradeoffs.
Making Post-Sexual Assault Decisions Easier … or Non-Existent
Saturday, May 30, 2020, 4PM-5:45PM CDT
As a friend, family member, or colleague of someone who has experienced sexual violence, it can be tough to figure out what to do. In this zoom workshop, we will use the Our Choices Solution Facilitator to look at how people can be co-strugglers with victim-survivors, helping to expand and improve victim-survivors’ Alternatives and the Consequences of those Alternatives. We will also explore how to reduce the situational and structural factors that contribute to sexual violence. If college students don’t experience sexual violence in the first place, they won’t be stuck in the post-assault quandaries in which they unfortunately too often find themselves. We will begin by reviewing the case study developed in the first session before building on it so you need not have attended the first session to attend this one.
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© 2020-2022 Michele Beaulieux 5.12.2020 Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License. That means you are free to share and adapt as long as you attribute Michele Beaulieux, don’t use for commercial purposes, and use this same license. And if you do share, I’d love to know! I continue to revise, so to avoid sharing an outdated version, I recommend linking to this page, where I provide the date of the current iteration: 1.13.2022