Jessica Smithers says no matter how often she talks about the night she was raped in October 1995, it spurs strong emotions.
“I have had to discuss it on so many instances, and it still hasn’t gotten easier,” she said.
Smithers, who transferred to GW in 1997, was a freshman at Boston University when she was raped at a fraternity house off campus. Now, more than four years later, Smithers is retelling her story in depositions for a civil suit against the university, its officials, several fraternities and her alleged attacker.
Smithers said the depositions have gotten more personal than she expected.
“I understand that’s part of the process,” she said. “I never expected civil litigation to go this far.”
Smithers said one of the hardest parts of the suit was when her mother was deposed.
“They really intruded on her personal life,” she said. “They made her feel she was on trial.”
And Smithers said she almost became physically ill when she told the story with her alleged attacker across the table from her.
“I had to sit there under the questioning of BU,” she said. “He was sitting right there, not 5 feet away.”
Smithers said the experience has made her understand why some women never come forward after a sexual assault, but she does not regret her decision.
“I stand by my decision to do this,” she said. “In some ways, I feel empowered because I am standing up for my cause.”
Smithers said she has been dealing with her assault since the day it happened. She first went through the disciplinary process at BU and is involved in civil litigation. She also has spoken with the Boston district attorney’s office about pressing criminal charges.
The attorneys for the defendants in Smithers’ case were unavailable for comment.
Away from her suit, Smithers is moving on with her life. She is a finalist for the Truman Scholarships, which provide money for graduate degrees in public service. And as she prepares for her future, she wants to help other victims of sexual assault.
“I see how difficult this process can be and I want to share what I’ve learned,” Smithers said.