Rape through the lens of a survivor

Justin Lanier

Trigger warning: rape, sexual assault, suicide, self-harm, PTSD

Justin Lanier
Justin Lanier

Ashley Sweeney looked down at her hands for a couple of seconds before looking back up.

“You know, everyone is a completely new person every few years. All the cells in your body are different,” she said. “I feel like it happened so much faster for me. I am completely unrecognizable from the person I was on Sept. 12 of last year.”

Sept. 12, 2013, was shortly after Sweeney arrived at the then-Polytechnic Institute of NYU, now-NYU Polytechnic School of Engineering, from Missouri. She quickly made friends with fellow freshmen during the university’s Welcome Week, including then-freshman Brandon Olsen. Sweeney said Olsen was funny and likeable, and it did not take long for them to get close. Within a week, they had kissed.


“A day later, he asked me out,” Sweeney said.

She turned him down. Though she liked him, having just moved away and started college she did not feel ready for a relationship.

On Sept. 13, the two, along with other friends, traveled to a mutual friend’s house in Neptune City, New Jersey. After having a few drinks, they chatted outside the house. Olsen again brought up his desire for a relationship. Sweeney said she felt uncomfortable with his persistence. Rebuffing his advances, she wandered through the house, eventually ending up in the basement. Olsen followed her there. They kissed, and Olsen started taking off her clothes.

Initially, she was passive. But as his intentions became clear, she resisted. As he pulled her on top of him, she told him to stop and tried to pull away. He did not budge, deaf to her pleas.

“His eyes had glazed over,” she remembered.

As Sweeney struggled to free herself, a friend came downstairs and witnessed the assault in progress. Sweeney called out to him, asking him to intervene, but he turned around and headed back up the stairs.

After it was over, Sweeney got dressed and made her way upstairs to the others. She broke down, sobbing. For the rest of the night, her friends kept Olsen away from her as she tried to sleep.

Five months later, Sweeney found herself reliving this night. With the help of a friend, she had filed an incident report with NYU. An investigation ensued into the allegations, which culminated in a University Judicial Panel hearing held on March 25, 2014.

The four-member judiciary panel weighed the evidence, which included Facebook messages between Olsen and Sweeney in which Olsen admitted to raping her.

“I have no idea what possibly possessed me to rape you. Whether I meant/wanted to or not, I did,” his Facebook message read.

For the allegation that Olsen had “engaged in non-consensual sexual intercourse with her in an off-campus location by ignoring her requests and efforts to get him to stop,” the panel found him responsible.

Olsen was suspended for the remainder of the spring semester, effective April 6, 2014, and the entirety of the fall 2014 semester, and was banned from housing.

According to the hearing’s decision, Olsen is eligible to return to NYU as a student in the spring 2015 semester, provided he undergoes counseling to “address whatever issues may have contributed to, or precipitated, his behavioral choices,” performs community service and does not communicate with Sweeney.

No notation of the disciplinary action was placed on his university transcript. He lost all credits for which he was eligible in the spring 2014 semester.

Olsen declined to comment through his lawyer and did not confirm whether or not he is returning.



  1. Kristin,

    This story is about me.

    I did go to the police.

    They vaguely looked into it, but nothing happened.

    The precinct where the initial rape occurred literally never once got back to me when I gave them piles of evidence & when they were supposedly “one of the best precincts in the country for handling sexual assault & domestic violence” according to the officer that heard my case. I tried calling them & emailing them for months & nothing happened. The precinct was somewhere near Neptune, New Jersey.

    The Brooklyn DA’s office did get back to me, but they basically threw out the case, saying such gems as telling me that since I let my rapist onto my couch (which really was something I was coerced into doing), it wasn’t trespassing for him to enter my bed. My rapist claim of the night is that I can’t know I didn’t invite him since I was asleep, which is some peak gaslighting.

    So, yeah, I did go to the police. The police didn’t fucking care.


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