By Amel Ali, Vice Chair of the Iowa City Truth & Reconciliation Commission
The women who started the “Abolish FIJI” movement at the University of Iowa really had a lot going for them. They received thousands of signatures on a change.org campaign, almost 2,000 followers on the Abolish FIJI page and so many people were following developments on social media. The movement made me feel heard, understood and empowered. I’ve been thinking of the right time to speak about my own situation, worried I would just be another Black voice misheard or misinterpreted by the broader public. But when news regarding this sexual assault case came out, I was able to see just how powerful one voice could really be for thousands, if not millions, of other women.
The man who raped me has been arrested, over a year after the warrant was issued, on a probation violation. I wasn’t even notified. I only know because a family friend saw in the court docket that my name had been listed in a no-contact order. Iowa City now has a civilian victim services coordinator, and yet to this day no one has contacted me to see how I am doing or to help me deal with the trauma I’ve had to endure: not the city, not the police, not the coordinator. (When the defendant pleaded not guilty I was notified by Victim Advocates in the Johnson County prosecutor’s office and then in early September I spoke publicly at my commission meetings, then was approached by Chief Liston of the ICPD.)
The man who assaulted me was a complete stranger, and I don’t think city officials appreciate how terrifying that is. Last fall, I spoke at a domestic violence and community safety hearing at Wetherby Park attended by Mayor Bruce Teague, City Councilmember Laura Bergus and City Manager Geoff Fruin. Local nonprofit organizations DVIP and NISSA had their say, then I got up and told the story of how frustrating it is to know that your assailant lives a few blocks away from you, but there has been zero effort to arrest him. The young woman assaulted at the FIJI house even had to go to classes with her assailant!
Compare that to the efforts our local police have put into infiltrating protests, cultivating informants in group chats where medics are being outed, and arresting protestors on ridiculous charges. I received many statements of “we’re sorry, we’ll definitely get on this and keep you posted” from the officers who were there that night. But now it’s a year later and none of those sentiments have panned out.
I consider myself oddly lucky. Most women don’t even get their rape kits read, much less their assailants caught. I have a support system to help me: a therapist, a psychiatrist and a physician’s assistant in psychiatry, all of whom I trust immensely. I can text my therapist for coaching in moments of crisis and have the tools learned from therapy to stop me from undereating, self-harming or committing suicide.
But as a Black woman, I know I am the exception. If abandoned by local officials the way I was, most Black women wouldn’t have the means to keep from being traumatized over and over again. You’d almost think officials care more about the perpetrator than the victims, who are always left to fend for themselves.
Meanwhile, the city has been talking about hiring 15 new positions in the Iowa City Police Department, and the county on a $230,000 armored vehicle called a BearCat. Wouldn’t that money be better spent on the women who have nowhere else to turn? Why can’t we give them the same access to mental health resources that I have? Why do their needs have to take a back seat to the pretense of “solving crimes”? After all, ICPD hasn’t done anything for me.
Which brings me to my final point. I don’t want the man who harmed me to be tortured, because that’s what prison is. I’m at a place now where I don’t need vengeance. I want to hold the man who hurt me accountable, but that also means finding healing for whatever is going on in his life that made him do such a horrible thing to a random woman. The moral weight of what happens to him falls on me too now, and I don’t want to repay one act of violence with another. Hurting him wouldn’t make me whole.
If you are a survivor of sexual assault and/or domestic violence and seeking support, there are a number of local, state and national organizations ready to help. National Sexual Assault Hotline: 1-800-656-4673 (or chat online here.)