Sexual assault survivor turns ‘deepest secret’ into documentary ‘Second Assault’

PHOTO: The film "Second Assault" will debut at the Sarasota Film Festival on April 17.Solidarity Films
The film "Second Assault" will debut at the Sarasota Film Festival on April 17.

Jillian Corsie is a sexual assault survivor and documentary filmmaker who turned her experience confronting the painful incident into a documentary called "Second Assault," entitled after the “second assault” that survivors often experience when they are not believed.

Corsie, 30, was sexually assaulted on her college campus in 2005 in her college dorm room, but the police officer whom she reported it to deemed the assault consensual. Twelve years later, she went public with her story and decided to turn her journey, confronting the police officer, into a documentary film with her co-director. The film will debut at the Sarasota Film Festival on April 17.

Now, she opens up about her journey with "Good Morning America" to mark Sexual Assault Awareness Month.

PHOTO: The film Second Assault will debut at the Sarasota Film Festival on April 17.Solidarity Films
The film "Second Assault" will debut at the Sarasota Film Festival on April 17.

I’ll start with the facts. Thirteen years ago, I was raped in my dorm room during my first month of college by someone I knew. I had just turned 18, moved to another state where I knew no one, and was trying to navigate growing into an adult while simultaneously grappling with the aftermath of my assault. My roommate and other young women in the dorm didn’t believe me. My boyfriend didn’t believe me. I was on my own. When I reported it to the police, the officer told me that under the law, my assault was consensual and his advice to me was “don’t mix alcohol and beauty.” With that, he handed me his business card with my case number written on it, and I didn’t speak about what happened for another twelve years.

In October 2016, "Access Hollywood" tapes were released in which Donald Trump bragged about "grabbing women by the p**sy." As a result, author Kelly Oxford tweeted, "Women, tweet me your first assaults. They aren’t just stats. I’ll go first...." The result was hundreds of thousands of women tweeting their stories with the hashtag #notokay. There were 50 responses per minute to Kelly’s tweet for 14 hours straight, and I was one of them.

After reading those tweets, and drawing strength from other women sharing their stories, I found the courage to tweet my own story. Within 12 hours, my tweet had gone viral. It was reposted on dozens of blogs and news sites, including People.com, and soon after, I was contacted by documentary filmmakers and news outlets wanting to tell my story. As a documentary filmmaker myself, I felt that if this story was to be told, I was going to be the one to tell it.

If you asked me a year ago if I would have done any of this, I would definitely have told you no. I never wanted to speak about this, never wanted to go back to my campus, and beyond anything else, I never wanted to voluntarily tell the world my deepest secret and let strangers witness my most intimate fears. But I believe that good things are on the other side of fear, that pushing through our discomfort is the only way to grow. So, taking baby steps, I decided to contact the very same police officer who deemed my assault consensual, and go back to the city that I vowed never to return to.

Confronting my past in this way gave me back the power

But I couldn’t do it alone. I asked my close friend and fellow documentary filmmaker, Amy Rosner, to make the film with me, and the two of us set off on a journey to confront my past, and more specifically, the broken system that often fails assault survivors. I’m not sure Amy will ever understand the gift she gave me by making this film alongside me -- she gave me the validation that I’ve desperately needed for twelve years. She believed me when no one else did. And she was dedicated to making this film.

PHOTO: In the film, Jillian Corsie confronts the police officer who deemed the assault consensual in a documentary film, Second Assault.Solidarity Films
In the film, Jillian Corsie confronts the police officer who deemed the assault consensual in a documentary film, "Second Assault."

I was surprised when the police officer graciously agreed to speak to me on camera. The two of us sat down and had a conversation that most assault survivors likely will never get to have. After twelve years of vilifying this person, I was able to see the humanity in him. Confronting my past in this way gave me back the power that was taken from me that night when I was just 18. And making this film gave me the chance to take control of my own narrative... for the first time.

What happened to me is unfortunately very common, and it’s part of a larger systemic problem that invalidates assault survivors and their experiences. But when assault survivors act in solidarity with one another, and raise our collective voices, we find the strength to keep moving forward, day by day -- even if it's slow, it's progress.

PHOTO: Jillian Corsie, who was sexually assaulted on her college campus in 2005, turned her journey confronting the police officer who deemed the assault consensual in a documentary film, Second Assault.Vitor Bonates
Jillian Corsie, who was sexually assaulted on her college campus in 2005, turned her journey confronting the police officer who deemed the assault consensual in a documentary film, "Second Assault."

Long overdue and necessary conversations between women and men about consent, rape culture, and the importance of believing survivors

After a year and a half of filmmaking, Amy and I are deeply honored and excited to have our film premiere at the Sarasota Film Festival on April 17. The premiere will be the first time we’ve watched the film with a real audience. While we look forward to this moment, I must admit that the idea of sitting in a room full of strangers watching a film about the most intimate and frightening experience of my life is going to be incredibly challenging. I’m not sure how I’ll react, or how it will feel.

What I do know is that this film has the potential to start long overdue and necessary conversations between women and men about consent, rape culture, and the importance of believing survivors.

Because when we aren’t believed, that “second assault” can sometimes be far more traumatic than the assault itself.

"Second Assault" will world premiere at the Sarasota Film Festival on April 17 and 18. It will also be screening at the Julien Dubuque Film Festival on April 16 and 29, as well as the Maryland International Film Festival on April 27. For more information about Jillian and Amy, visit their website wearesolidarityfilms.com.

You can seek help by calling the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 800-656-HOPE(4673) to be connected with a trained staff member from a sexual assault service provider in your area.

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