This post has been a long time coming, not that I haven’t written about it or spoken about it before, but I’ve never written about it or spoken about it in this depth, to this wide of an audience. As more comes to light about Eastern Mennonite University’s response to the issues concerning Luke Hartman, particularly from survivor Lauren Shifflett, I feel like I have to offer my voice and my story. This story does not include Luke Hartman but it does involve EMU’s failure to appropriately respond to a student’s report of sexual assault. That student is me and this is my story. I echo much of what Lauren said in the beginning of her story—this is just a part of me, a part of my life; it is not all of me. There is so much to say so let’s just start at the beginning.

Low Self-EsteemI began my freshman year at Eastern Mennonite University in August 2007. It was a hard adjustment. I dealt with depression for as long as I could remember, scraping my forehead with the metal, eraserless end of my pencil in elementary school when I didn’t get a perfect grade, imagining jumping off of cliffs or slitting my wrists as a middle schooler. My self-esteem was incredibly low for most of my life and I engaged in hateful self-talk and suicidal thoughts. Derogatory words, especially from men, reinforced my low self-esteem and the negative feelings I held about myself. At the same time, attention from men and affirmation from anyone were a few of the things that actually made me feel like I was worth something, if even for a fleeting moment. I wanted college to be a new start for me, a place where I could try to be more outgoing, more likeable.

In the fall of 2007 my family helped move me to EMU. As we drove to campus that first day, my mom was with me in one car, my dad and sisters in another.  My mom suddenly started crying and pulled our car over to the side of the road. She told me she thought they were making a big mistake sending me to EMU. She had a bad feeling about it. My heart breaks now when I remember her agony. I didn’t particularly want to go either but I didn’t know what else to do with my life, and I knew college would give me more opportunities. I tried to convince her that it would be fine, that I would be fine. But I really couldn’t guarantee that.

I remember the first time I caught his eye across campus. I blushed, my heart fluttered. He was older, an upperclassman, and one of the most attractive men on campus. When he reached out to me on Facebook a few weeks into the semester my jaw dropped. I couldn’t believe he was interested in hanging out with me! We exchanged messages throughout the day, which became more flirtatious. He then invited me out to IHOP with him and his friends. Wednesdays were, after all, EMU discount night.

It was late when we went and later when we left, around 2 am I believe. He said some people were getting together at his house for a movie and asked me to come. “Old me” would have gone home and gone to bed (in high school I was the girl who would rather stay home and bake cookies than go out and play soccer with my classmates) but “new me” wanted to seem fun and adventurous so I agreed to go. I followed him in my car back to his off-campus apartment. When we arrived, no one else was there. I sat on the couch, alone, nervously glancing around the small living room. “Looks like they’re not coming,” he said, looking up from his phone. “No worries, we can just watch the movie ourselves.” He bent down to put a movie in the DVD player but soon turned around to tell me that the DVD player wasn’t working so we couldn’t watch a movie after all.

I was uncomfortable, unsure of whether or not I should go, and felt a twinge of fear. He sat down beside me on the couch and we started talking. Abruptly, he put his hand down my top and removed it while were conversing, acting like it was the most normal thing in the world. He became overly flirtatious, moving in closer, and we began making out. I will make it clear that at this point I wanted to make out with him and I did not object to it. He suddenly pulled back. “My sister is home in the next room. We should go to my room so we don’t wake her.”

I had seen no signs of anyone else in the apartment but I did see a room with a closed door and so believed him that his sister was there. I knew his sister in another capacity, and suddenly felt really uncomfortable at the thought of her seeing me with her brother, particularly because I thought the relationship could have repercussions for me elsewhere in my campus life. So I followed him to his room where we made out some more. Next thing I remember he was on top of me, putting on a condom.

I said no

I told him I didn’t want to have sex, that I wanted to stop.

              “Shut up, stop talking,” he responded, still fumbling with the condom.

The tone and the sound of his voice terrified me.

              “No, I really don’t want to have sex,” I said again.

              “Shut up bitch, stop talking. You’re talking too much,” he ordered, hovering over me.

 

The force of his words and his position over me, combined with the fact that he claimed his sister was home, silenced me. I felt absolutely powerless. If my words weren’t stopping him then I felt like there was nothing I could do in that moment. I felt immobilized. Realizing what was about to happen, I reached down to feel if he actually did have a condom on because if he did rape me I did not want to become pregnant (He later claimed that this act was me “pulling him toward me.”). He penetrated me, and I lay there.  My body then started moving with his. Why? Why is my body moving? “I’m giving in,” I thought. I wanted to cry. I’ve since learned that victims of sexual violence often feel their bodies betray them somehow.

When he finished, I was so confused. I laid next to him with my head on his chest and asked, “So what happens now? Are we a couple?” My mind was a mess. I felt so much shame. I didn’t want this but it happened anyway, so what did that mean? I don’t remember his response, only that shortly after that I gathered my things and drove home. I felt sick. I didn’t even put my heels back on but threw them in the back of the car where they stayed for weeks. I remember I couldn’t even think about getting them and wearing them again.  I cried as I tried to fall asleep that night.

rape-is-rape

The next few days were a blur. I can’t remember who texted who first. We exchanged a few messages and I asked him how he felt about that night. I told him I felt uncomfortable with what happened and was not sure I consented to it. He laughed at me. When I finally told a few friends about the incident, their jaws dropped. “Oh (M.G.), that was rape!” one of them gasped. “You need to tell someone about this!”

But who was I to tell? I was a little over a month into my first semester of college, struggling with being away from home for the first time and still trying to make friends. I didn’t recall EMU providing any information or resources for what to do or who to talk to if you are sexually assaulted. I figured going to the campus health center might be a place to start. It had been several days so I thought there was no use in doing a rape kit. At the time I didn’t have the right information but I’ve since looked into more details about when and how to get a forensic exam. The Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network’s (RAINN) website says that, “in most cases, DNA evidence needs to be collected within 72 hours in order to be analyzed by a crime lab—but a sexual assault forensic exam can reveal other forms of evidence beyond this time frame that can be useful if you decide to report. If you have questions about the timeframe, you can call the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 800.656.HOPE (4673) or talk to your local sexual assault service provider.”

national-sexual-assault-hotline

I didn’t know anything about forensic exams or what to do after a rape at the time so I went to the EMU health center to have a pap smear. I had never had a pap smear before and hated that this had to be my first experience getting one. I felt like I wanted to cry. I was really uncomfortable, really nervous. I just hoped that there was something supportive this nurse could do or say for me. Instead, she chided me in a way that felt like slut shaming—which is an act of criticizing a woman for her real or presumed sexual activity. Her examination did not produce any “evidence” that could be used. But what it did provide was the relief that I was not pregnant and did not contract an STD.

I also went to the EMU Student Life office, although I can’t remember why. Perhaps someone suggested that I talk to them or perhaps I didn’t know where else to go and thought they may be helpful. Either way, I met with the Director of Student Life and told him what happened.

on trialI explained to him my fear of going to the police and that I thought it wasn’t worth it to put myself through that process if there was no physical evidence. He agreed with me. The only option I remember him presenting to me was that there could be a “trial” of sorts at EMU where basically the assailant and I would “tell our sides of the story” in front of a board of administrators from EMU. That option terrified me. It felt like it gave me no power at all. It would be my word against his and he was older than me and already intimidated me. I decided I definitely did not want to pursue this option. How did this become a trial? I wondered. Why was I on trial?

The director encouraged me to give him the name of the man who raped me. I remember not giving the name initially because I was scared of him—he had become very threatening and frightening to me—but eventually I did. The director said his name had already been “flagged,” but not for “something like this.” I got the impression that he was not surprised to hear this name. He said he would put his name on file in case someone else reported him. “But by the time someone else reported him, it would be too late”, I thought.

The rest of the details of the meeting are fuzzy now but I recall leaving the meeting feeling completely helpless and unsupported. (Incidentally, the assailant was later hired by EMU despite my report. Was he ever questioned by the institution? Why was so little done to keep others safe or to make me feel safe?)

After my discouraging meeting with the Director of Student Life, I decided to take matters into my own hands. I began Facebook messaging the assailant, calling him out for raping me. His responses were unlike anything I had ever heard before: “You fucking bitch. You cunt. Can you honestly say that I raped you? I didn’t even cum! How could I have raped you if I didn’t even finish? You fucking liar. Piece of shit.” The more I tried to get him to admit what he did, the angrier, more aggressive, and more vulgar his responses became. I was terrified to leave my dorm, exiting through the back door so he wouldn’t see me. I asked my friends to keep a lookout and text me if they saw him around campus. The few times I did cross his path he stared me down. He never explicitly threatened me but I was still terrified.

His FB messages were getting more and more hateful and repetitive. Finally, he said he was tired of the messaging on FB and suggested we meet again in person. I agreed to meet but only if we met at my brother’s on-campus apartment. My goal was to get a confession from him and I brought a small recorder that I hid in my pocket. He insisted that since I would have my brother present he needed to bring a friend for support. So the four of us met one evening. Looking back I can’t believe I agreed to do this, that I thought I could actually get a confession, or that this was going to benefit or help me in any way.  

words hurtAnd indeed it was more of the same name calling and cursing and continuing to deny with such rage as I had never seen before. His friend was surprisingly calm and neutral and showed respect to me. My brother eventually asked them to leave and I curled up in my brother’s arms, sobbing. I couldn’t believe how poorly it went. I felt spent. I felt completely hopeless. I felt like I had exhausted all my options. I later found out that, in the days following the rape, the rapist told his friends that I was “an easy lay” and that he was going to try to “have me” again.

I eventually disposed of the messages and tape recording because they felt too toxic to hold on to, and I didn’t think they would be useful anyway. If I kept them I feared I might keep going back to read or listen to them to reinforce just how badly I felt about myself. (Due to my own deep insecurities, I often played hateful or painful things people said about me over and over again in my head as a form of self-abuse. It was a self-fulfilling prophecy– people said negative things about me and I would internalize and believe them and then act in ways that devalued myself).

I went to the counseling department and they made me an appointment with the head of EMU counseling. In one of the early sessions after hearing my story about the rape, she asked, “Now what do you want me to do for you?” Ummmm I don’t know, help me?! I just told you I was fucking raped and you ask what I want from you?! I want to fucking be free from this agony! I just wanted to get everything out of my body that I was holding in. Her question may have been a perfectly legitimate counselor question in a general counseling setting, but to me, in the state I was in, it sounded like she was asking me why I was still there. Having only been to counseling once in my life where I was forced to go by my parents, I had no idea what counseling was supposed to be like and she never told me. Her words made me feel stupid for even being there. I never went back and she never reached out to find out why.

Based on my experiences and my friends’ reported experiences, EMU’s counseling department was not equipped to deal with types of trauma more severe than just those of adjusting to college or being away from home for the first time. While those are legitimate and valid issues for counseling, a university counseling department needs to be trained in providing more comprehensive mental health services as well, including assisting people who experience sexual assault or suffer from major depression.

The only true support I received was from my family, friends, and a 24-hour rape hotline. The person who counseled me over the phone was incredible. She listened to me and, most important of all, she believed me. So did my family. The day after I told them, they were on their way to EMU. My mom told me there was no shame in dropping out and that she would help me pack my things right then and there. I cannot tell you how incredibly supportive and wonderful my mom was during all this. I owe her a world of gratitude. I called her crying so many nights. I later found out she lost over 30 pounds that year due to the stress of it all. She was so worried about me. I decided, however, to remain at EMU because even though it had only been six weeks, the thought of adjusting to another college when this adjustment had been so difficult was unimaginable. I didn’t have the strength. There was no reason for me to go home because there was no future for me there. I felt like if I went home I would just curl up and die. So I decided to just tough it out.  And, there was no reason why I should have to go home because of what someone else had done.  

I was talking to a sophomore at EMU at the time, let’s call him RJ, who I thought I might date. When I told RJ about the rape he accused me of cheating on him, even though we weren’t dating. Even though it was rape!?  He made me feel like it was my fault and I had to convince him that I had not consented. It made me second guess myself and my account. I was in such a low state at the time that I felt like a worthless piece of shit: EMU had failed to help me in every regard, the rapist was still running free around campus, and a piece of me felt like I was to blame for it. Since I felt worthless already, it was easy for me to let RJ confirm that worthlessness and we began to date.  

suicidalHe treated me poorly for the next six months, only agreeing to see me at night, making me feel like a cheater for even talking to other guys, and having such “rules” for me as not sitting on his bed in sweatpants. When I tried to get him to put on Facebook that he was in a relationship with me he angrily told me to “not try that shit again.” I was so broken and depressed. I invested all my emotional energy in him and the more I did, the more he pulled away. I became obsessive, texting him all the time, craving his attention and approval. When he broke up with me that March I was blindsided and heartbroken in a way I had never felt before. I was now forced to deal with all the consequences of an emotionally dysfunctional relationship, a deep and untreated depression, incredibly low self-esteem, and unaddressed trauma from rape all at once. It was too much for me. I attempted suicide.

I don’t remember if I really wanted to die, I just wanted help. I wanted someone to notice me, to tell me it would all be ok, that I was worth something. My roommate was away for the weekend so I took a bottle of her Motrin pills, dumped a pile in my hand, went out to the water fountain, and swallowed them all. Then I lay in bed, waiting. I texted a friend to tell her what I had done but not to worry and that I was headed to the gym to work out. My friend demanded I go to the hospital, and, after a fight, I reluctantly went.

My friends told me later they could tell by my eyes that I was not ok, something about the glaze on them. The woman at the hospital intake desk kept asking me if I had tried to kill myself and I didn’t know how to answer her. They made me call my parents; my mom was livid at me for what I had done. The doctors had me drink some sort of tar/paint-like substance to make me vomit. I asked for a Starbucks chaser to go with it and my friends took photos of my black teeth. The humor was a desperate way to avoid the pain I felt and the tragedy of that night. It helped relieve the tension but the nurse did not find any of this funny. While the doctors talked in hushed tones about whether or not to overnight me, my brother came in, tears in his eyes. And, in that moment, I realized how fucked up my life was.

When I returned to my EMU dorm, I found the resident director searching our room and confiscating my roommate’s medications. “Those aren’t even mine!” I exclaimed. I was pissed, they had no right! The RD was clearly uncomfortable with having a “suicidal student” and had absolutely no idea what to do with me. He hurriedly made me sign some document stating I would not kill myself while under his watch and left the room. There was no conversation, nor did I sense concern, about my emotional or mental well-being. It all felt like something just to protect him and EMU from liability. The RD seemed to avoid me from that day forward.

Over the course of that summer, I began to pull myself out of the pit I was in. I swore off men for a while. At the end of the summer, I began a relationship with the first man who ever treated me with respect, which helped me in so many ways. I also heard from a friend about how counseling had benefited her, and decided to give it another reluctant try. This time I met with an EMU graduate counseling student who was incredible. Her sessions literally saved my life. She explained to me that counseling was about me and the direction I wanted it to go. It was a space where I could talk as much as I wanted and have someone listen in confidence and ask important questions without judgment. I cannot tell you how liberating this felt! She listened compassionately to my concerns, fears, rage, and questions, even those about counseling itself and my poor past experiences with it.

I continued to have passing conversations with the Director of Student Life on and off throughout the rest of my time at EMU.  I let him know I was not going to be silent. I became involved with Take Back the Night Week on campus and even told my story there. By the end of my senior year, the Student Life director told me he was sorry for how EMU had handled things. I was shocked, and thanked him but told him it was too little too late for me and that now they needed to do better for the next students.

woman-making-heart-shape-with-handsning2So much has happened between now and then. I’ve seen many therapists, gotten on depression medication, experienced more suicidal thoughts, spoken out against sexual assault, cried and shook from triggers, all of it. There’s too much to talk about here but I want you all to know that, somehow, I survived. No thanks to EMU, I survived. And not only that, I’m thriving. This past summer I married the most incredible human being I have ever known and he is the most supportive and loving partner I could have ever prayed for. I was not sure I would find someone who loves me like he does and I am so blessed to have him in my life.

After I read Lauren’s story on Our Stories Untold, I sent her an email of support through her advocate, Barbra Graber who reached out to me. We spoke on the phone and, for the first time, someone in an official capacity to deal with sexual violence affirmed me, believed me, and said she would advocate for me. After nearly nine years, you have no idea how incredible that felt!

To this day I still wrestle with confusion and guilt over the rape. Did I give in? My body moved, did that mean I wanted it? I didn’t physically fight him off, does that mean I consented? Am I to blame? Am I crazy? Did I misremember something? In my head I know the answer to all these is “NO,” but there are days when my heart is burdened by unbelief, doubt, and shame.

And despite the fear that comes with sharing my story with so many more people, the potential for more personal healing and greater admittance and accountability from EMU outweigh the apprehensions. But, even more than that, if my story can resonate with even one survivor who has felt alone, ashamed, guilty, conflicted, silenced, defeated, then telling my story will be worth any repercussions that may come my way.

I’ve been asked if I want justice and what justice would look like for me now. I honestly believe that, deep down, the rapist knows what he did. I think his anger and hate reveal his guilt. So, at this point, my self-growth and healing from this trauma is not dependent on him. When I was still a student at EMU, justice would have been the rapist no longer running free on campus. Justice would have been EMU not hiring him after he graduated. Justice would have been EMU warning others about him so he wouldn’t hurt anyone else. Justice would have been supporting and walking beside me.

Justice for me now looks like EMU owning up to its failings and shortcomings when it comes to how it handles sexual assault. Justice for me now looks like transparency, honesty, and accountability from our institutions that are supposed to protect us. Justice for me now looks like an institution that is proactive instead of reactive, an institution that cares for the wellbeing of its students just as much, if not more so, than the wellbeing of its name.  We can do better. EMU can do better. EMU needs a campus counseling department trained to handle trauma, including sexual assault and suicide. EMU needs a program and individuals devoted to sexual assault prevention and support. EMU needs to do better so they don’t keep having stories like mine or Lauren’s or yours that needs to be told.

we can do better

 

M.G. requests that anyone who would like to send her words of support or otherwise contact her regarding what she has shared here do so through OSU Director and SNAP advocate Hilary J. Scarsella: hilary.scarsella@gmail.com (phone number available upon request). Outside of leaving comments below, please do NOT attempt to contact M.G. directly.