'Second Assault': A Woman's Experience With The System That Failed Her
LAUREN GILGER: During her first month of college more than a decade ago, when Jillian Corsie was a student at the University of Arizona, she was raped by a classmate in her dorm room. No one believed her — including the University of Arizona officer she reported it to. One of them told her to "not mix alcohol and beauty," she remembers. Their report concluded that her experience was consensual. For years afterward, she kept that officer's card in her wallet, with her case number on it. Until the #metoo movement happened, and she decided to write him. The interaction that followed inspired Corsie, now a documentary filmmaker, to create a short film about it. She produced "Second Assault" with friend and co-director Amy Rosner, and the result is a film that allows Corsie to confront the system that failed her. I spoke with both Corsie and Rosner more about it.
JILLIAN CORSIE: You're not really given tools to know how to handle this kind of situation. You don't know how to respond to friends or maybe a girlfriend that said this. Yeah, the boyfriend I was dating at the time did tell me years down the line that he didn't believe me. And so I just felt really unsupported.
GILGER: And this quote, right, from this officer that you reported this to, this was at a college police officer on campus, right? And he says to you, "Don't mix alcohol and beauty." At the time, do you remember what your reaction was and what you thought?
CORSIE: You know, I think in that moment, the only thing, I remember that statement and I remember looking at the calendar on the wall in front of me the whole time I was in the room. So it's, my memories of that are pretty bleak at this point. And I don't remember how I felt. I just remember that that moment stuck in my head for 10 years and it's part of the reason that I carried around that police card with the case number written down with the intention of one day getting my hands on the police report and reading it, or maybe contacting the officer myself.
GILGER: So you held onto that card with the case number there for all those years, and then this Access Hollywood video was released with now President Trump talking about sexually assaulting women. And you tweeted something, right? Author Kelly Oxford tweeted asking women to share their stories of their first assault, and you decided to share yours. Why did you decide to do it, and why in that moment?
CORSIE: There's a woman in the film with me that I talked to. Her name is Emily, and she had posted her assault story on Facebook. And for some reason, in that moment, reading her story and just seeing how unapologetic she was about her experience, I just felt compelled to share mine on Twitter, of which I do not have many followers. And I thought nothing of it and I shared my story and went to sleep. And when I woke up that next morning, my tweet had over 100,000 interactions, and I was really shocked. And People was posting my tweet, all these other online magazines were sharing it and talking about it and I was being contacted by Inside Edition and documentary filmmakers wanting to tell my story, and it was really overwhelming because I had never ... I had never spoken about it before. So that was the moment that I decided, if anyone's gonna tell the story, it should be me. And Amy and I had been friends, and we're both documentary filmmakers anyway, and we've been talking about making a film, and she just kind of seemed like the natural person to make this film with me and that's sort of what led us to start to pick up the camera and start shooting.
GILGER: Yeah. What was it like to be the subject of your own film?
CORSIE: It's really interesting because it's, I am a filmmaker, and I have made films before about difficult subject matter. So, as the filmmaker, I want to push the subject to talk about more difficult things and I want to have the best story, and I want to tell the best story and I want to go to the most dramatic places to get the best story. But, as the person that's going through that, it took me a lot longer than I thought it would to go to some of the places that we went to. So, it was an interesting line to walk because it's like, I'm thinking both of, like, this is hard and I don't want to do this and I'm feeling a lot of anxiety, and also, I really need to do this because this is gonna be really good for the film. You know? So it's like having two brains at one time.
GILGER: Yeah. Well, and Amy, that's a question I wanted to ask you as well, as her friend, but also the filmmaker in this with her. You had to walk that line a little bit. What was that like?
AMY ROSNER: One of the first things that I always say, that like, as a friend and as her collaborator, the thing that I kept repeating over and over again is, "I believe you." Because I think there has to be, with any documentary filmmaker, with their subject, there has to be a really profound amount of trust. And I think especially when it's your friend who's been through a trauma, the most important thing was that she knew over and over again: "I believe you, I believe you." And I think that is one of the most supportive things you can do. And I think, on top of that, just in the terms of the creative process, I really tried to make sure that we always knew that there was no pressure. It was like, "okay, let's keep shooting, this let's see where it goes. But if Jillian ever feels uncomfortable or triggered or anything, let's stop." Because it really was about like her journey and her healing. It's not about her being re-traumatized.
GILGER: Were there moments, Jillian, when you wanted to stop filming?
CORSIE: At one point, we were in the middle of a crowdfunding campaign and it was ... we had just released the trailer, so it was the first time the world got an inside look at what we were doing and it was hard. And I remember I called Emily, who's in the film, at like 11 o'clock at night, and I was like, "What are my options here? How can I pull out of this?" And we eventually decided not to do that, but it was just like a moment of feeling really overwhelmed.
GILGER: So let's talk about that moment in the film when you confront this officer who told you that your rape was consensual under the law, all those years ago. First of all, why did he agree to sit down with you, do you know?
CORSIE: Well I wrote him an email, and he talks about it in the film that he now has that email framed, hanging by his desk and that he read it out loud to all the officers that work underneath him. I think he's a really good person who was very moved and, for whatever reason, he trusted me enough to trust that I wasn't out to get him because ... I don't know, I have told him before, I think what he did was really brave, because he didn't know me or what my objective was and he agreed to meet with me on camera. I think he knew that he had been part of a mistake that was made, and he wanted to do everything that he could to make it right.
GILGER: It's such a strong moment and it's such a difficult thing to do. How positive was that for you, Jillian? Was it overall, you think, a good thing, to have done and did it help you move on?
CORSIE: Yeah. It was brutal in the moment. Honestly, I was so stressed out. I don't remember the conversation. I only know it because we have the footage of it. But it's been really great. The minute I got that email back from David, I felt like I had dropped ten years of anger. I don't know what I was expecting, but having his support ... he's just such a wonderful person. And it's really helped me shift my view of police officers as well, because I carried around a lot of anger towards police in general after that experience.
GILGER: So last question for you both, then. So the film is about this experience that you had, Jillian, but it's also about so much more than that. It's about this systemic failure and this moment in time as the #metoo movement took off and all of these things that are going on in our culture right now. How do you hope this contributes to that broader conversation?
ROSNER: Yeah. Contributing to this conversation is incredibly important, and I think what we want people to get from the film is that these conversations are really necessary for people to hear. I don't think we've ever seen on film a survivor confront a police officer that said her assault was consensual. Also, we haven't seen survivors talking together about their own experiences and how she speaks to Emily in the film. We want this to be a way, a personal story, to show that there is a better way to handle when survivors report sexual violence.
CORSIE: And I think one of the other things that the film touches on is what it's like to not be believed after something like this and what it's like to stay silent for 10 years about it. And making this film with Amy was life changing for me, not only because of my experience meeting with David, but also because of having this constant support person next to me for three years who kept saying, "I believe you," the whole time. It changed my life.
GILGER: Alright, that's Jillian Corsie and Amy Rosner, co-directors of the film "Second Assault". Thank you both for coming on. We appreciate it.
CORSIE: You're welcome.
ROSNER: Thank you so much.