One in four women is raped or sexually assaulted before finishing college. Forty-two percent of victims keep silent about the crime.
Senior Staff Writer
Editor's Note: "Emily" and "Kelly" are pseudonyms.
On the shelf of a University-issue wardrobe, a white cardboard box sits squashed between a navy nylon sleeping bag and a four-cup Mr. Coffee maker. Shaped like an oversized cereal box, it arrived more than two years ago at Farley Hall, a care-package for a freshman from her mom. An $8 postage sticker still clings to the box's top, but the worth of its present contents far exceeds the cash spent to ship cookies cross country.
This box protects artifacts of a two-year psychological war waged by Emily, a Notre Dame junior, and initiated by a violent battle of strength and sexual violation. The box holds evidence: a pair of black khaki pants and a beige button-down shirt spotted with blood, tidily folded by the 5-foot-3, 120-pound woman who wore them on Oct. 12, 1997. It also preserves journals, letters, a statement to Student Affairs — written recollections of a terrifying night. A book of case law summaries and highlighted legal pamphlets on victims' rights line the bottom of the package.
One in four women might understand completely the contents of Emily's box because one-quarter of women are raped or sexually assaulted before finishing college, according to American Medical Association statistics. Of these crimes, 57 percent occur on dates. Twenty-five percent of men admit having behaved aggressively; 42 percent of victims tell no one about the crime.
Emily's experience belongs in all these categories.
It began, as she remembers, at Bridget McGuire's Filling Station, a notorious hang-out for students lucky enough to hold IDs with altered birth dates or the driver's licenses of generous older friends. The dingy underage bar, converted into a coffee shop after Indiana state cops busted more than 100 teens there in 1998, was hopping with glittered freshmen guzzling from 22-ounce Bud Light bottles on that Saturday night in the fall of 1997. After 2-1/2 hours of bouncing to Bruce Springsteen and DJ Kool, Emily noticed her friend Kelly's boyfriend stroll in with a friend at his side. The guys quickly filled up with lager.
Just after 2 a.m., when Bridget's employees flipped on the lights to expose dozens of recently mated couples and hundreds of empty brown glass bottles, Emily, Kelly and the two guys boarded a cab at Corby and Eddy Streets. On the three-minute ride to Main Circle, roughly 10 students crammed into the station wagon taxi. Kelly and her man nestled somewhere in the back; Emily and the other guy shared the passenger's seat in front.
After a quick walk from the Circle, Emily, her friend and the two guys sneaked into a West Quad men's dorm after parietals. Before Kelly and her boozed date retreated to privacy, they asked Emily to help their incapable buddy to his third-floor double. She obliged.
At around 3 in the morning, Emily took the guy to his room and waited nervously at the door for the moment to escape from a dorm on all-male lockdown. The man then rose, stripped to his boxers, flexed his arm muscles in the mirror and shoved a movie into the VCR. Emily remained near the door, planning how to leave the building without getting caught. She wondered if walking home alone so late at night put her in danger of being assaulted.
Then, the man invited Emily to the loveseat and kissed her gently.
Unsure of her surroundings, Emily immediately tried to evade his touch. She said no. Then tenderness became force. The man pegged Emily with his 5-foot-9, 190-pound frame and wrestled off her pants. He raped her orally and vaginally and tried to rape her anally. Afraid he'd beat her, Emily submitted. Too stunned to scream, she kept silent.
"I was dislocated from my body," Emily says. "I can picture the things happening. I couldn't have handled it, so while he was raping me, I had to treat it like I wasn't even there."
He ordered Emily — now a hollow puppet — to move to the bed. There, he raped her again. And when he rolled over on the twin-extra-long mattress, she read the digital clock — 6:12. At 8 a.m., she awoke to another series of rape. And at 10, when he finally finished, he sat on the edge of the bed, watched Emily dress herself and instructed her not to tell anyone about the night's events: He didn't want his girlfriend to know.
Through the hall and down the stairs, Emily flew out of the dorm. She took the long way home to North Quad — behind Welsh Family Hall, across the Circle toward Fitzpatrick, past the hanging garden on the DeBartolo quad, left toward O'Shaughnessy, past Riley, around Stepan Chemistry, by Stonehenge, to the second floor of Farley. Emily avoided the center of campus because Basilica services were in progress. She didn't want Sunday Mass-goers to see her. They were good people, and they would know she was a slut.
Her next move initiated Emily as a bad rape victim, she says. After balling up her shirt and khakis, Emily took a long, long shower, destroying physical evidence of sexual assault. For nearly five days, she pretended the rape didn't happen. She told her roommates she'd spent Saturday night in Kelly's room. She told Kelly she'd crashed on the guy's couch.
Like a typical rape victim, Emily avoided the truth, escaping to a corner of the world safer and calmer than her own life. Dr. Miguel Franco of Notre Dame's Counseling Center says Emily exhibited, in textbook fashion, symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder from the moment she left her alleged rapist's room. A victim of trauma, Emily experienced something sudden, threatening and overwhelming. An unexpected danger struck her physically and emotionally, and there was nothing she could do to stop it. Like any trauma victim, Emily retreated to a safe place, and she removed physical traces of the incident, washing them down the drain.
She suppressed memories, one of two psychological paths traversed by victims. "Part of you wants to figure out what happened, which gives you intrusive thoughts, which only makes you relive the traumatic experience," Franco explains, "versus part of you wants to avoid the situation, so you don't go outdoors or wear clothes that make you think of the incident, et cetera." For a week, Emily was better at avoiding.
The Thursday night after the rape — two days before fall vacation — Emily went again to Bridget's. Drinking and dancing, she wallowed in a world of denial built from pretense and dismissal. Soon, though, Emily was crying; her friend Vince Tricomi escorted her outside to a concrete parking curb facing a busy intersection just south of the bar.
"She was upset. It was so visible. She was so torn up that the bouncer thought I was assaulting her," Vince remembers. Between sobs, Emily choked out some details of the rape and shook uncontrollably. Immediately, Vince volunteered to transform his instant anger into violence — to deal with Emily's rapist without involving the authorities. But Emily swiftly deflated that scheme, so Vince refocused. He drew up a mental checklist: calm her down, do something, say something, anything.
"She was bawling and shaking. I wanted to hug her, and I thought that might be wrong. It was just such a delicate thing," says Vince, a freshman that October night outside Bridget's. Vince adopted a slogan — "It's not your fault." He'd heard somewhere that it was a simple phrase important to victims. For 40 minutes he repeated it. He held Emily as she cried and directed night-clubbers to search for taxis on another corner.
Vince promised to keep Emily's secret, but after October break, he told his Fisher Hall RA about the rape; Vince wanted to help but needed advice. The men concurred that Emily should take pregnancy, STD and AIDS tests. Eighteen-year-old Emily heeded their suggestion and went alone to South Bend's city/county facility.
"The whole time — all of fall break — I thought I was pregnant," Emily says. "I figured out when I was due. I knew I wouldn't go through with an abortion; I don't believe in that. But what was I going to do with this baby from rape?"
All Emily's test results were negative, but the freshman still believed she could have HIV. "When I came back from fall break, I wanted to die. I didn't want to kill myself, but I secretly hoped I had AIDS so I would die."
As the fall days dragged on, memories of rape teemed in Emily's mind, crowding out friendship, studies, people, feelings. She ate little and slept a lot. She returned to the city health department every three months for STD tests. She thought it was her fault. "I was so numb that I literally could not feel where somebody touched me. I was scared to go outside because I thought I would see him. I couldn't sleep by myself — I slept with a friend on a fold-away couch. I was hyper-vigilant about my friends: I didn't want them to go out because I thought it would happen to them."
Emily's roommates recognized this extreme alertness. One Friday night soon after the rape, she and six friends had trekked the rocky path between Vaness Street and Juniper Road — the route between Turtle Creek Apartments and campus, heavily trafficked on weekend nights. With Loftus to the right and a practice baseball diamond to the left, the group paused on the dim trail so a girl could use the bushes behind tennis courts as a makeshift bathroom. A male friend accompanied her to keep a lookout.
"Emily went nuts," says Sarah Springer, one of Emily's three freshman-year roommates, who was at the scene. "She was screaming. She kept saying, `Keep talking to me. Don't stop talking to me.' She really thought something would happen to her. Then Emily turned to me and said, `Last weekend I got raped.' And I was stunned."
For the rest of the first semester of their freshman year, Sarah and another roommate lived for Emily. They traded sleep for trips to the Grotto and studying for cradling a sobbing friend. They supported Emily's silence but urged her to report the crime to Student Affairs. These roommates watched, without support or advice from professional counselors, as dreams jolted their friend of just three months from her sleep.
"She would wake up and cry because she wasn't a virgin anymore. She would have nightmares that she couldn't wear a white dress at her wedding," Sarah says. "Halloween was ridiculous. We went to a party in Alumni [Hall], and Emily did 13 shots that night. But the smell of alcohol would bring it back for her. She would go up to people and tell them she got raped … She ended up crying herself to sleep."
Emily stayed at Notre Dame, despite constant fear that she'd see her alleged attacker in the dining hall or on the way class. Just as she agonized over her friends' fate as they went on dates or to bars, she worried about women who met him daily, women oblivious to his violent past. That unperceived danger looming over Notre Dame students finally motivated Emily to take her case to Residence Life. Before Thanksgiving, she composed a six-page, single-spaced recollection of the early morning of Oct. 12, 1997. On Dec. 11, she met her alleged assaulter face-to-face.
A Student Affairs hearing is not like court. No judge presides, no lawyers argue, nobody takes an oath. Federal law keeps statements given inside meeting rooms confidential. Victims and defendants can bring student advocates: friends, student government volunteers, RAs. Parents, rectors and other adults rarely advocate, and in most cases, their direct involvement is discouraged. In the end, a panel of three Residence Life administrators reviews evidence, statements and witness accounts. It decides whether to discipline the accused.
In sexual assault cases, victims drive the process. They can contact Student Affairs anonymously, drop a case at any time or demand a hearing no matter how little evidence exists. Unlike in other hearings, sexual assault victims learn the panel's decision and the fate of the accused, whatever that might be.
Emily's hearing took place on the fifth floor of Grace Hall, Student Affairs' temporary home during Main Building renovation. Emily chose Tiana Checcia, a freshman in her section, as her student advocate. On the morning of the hearing, about a dozen section mates joined Emily and her mom, who'd flown to South Bend to support her daughter, for breakfast.
"As we were heading down the ramp [of North Dining Hall], [the guy who allegedly raped Emily] and [his roommate] were walking toward Grace," recalls Sarah. "You could just see her getting all sick to her stomach, and everyone just reached out to grab her."
That nauseating encounter actually broke some of the day's tension, explains Tiana. "The initial `seeing him' was over." Emily and Tiana walked alone to Grace Hall, and a short, anxious wait in a sitting area ended as the women, Emily's accused rapist, his rector, three Residence Life officials and Emily's assistant rector entered a sterile-looking conference room. Emily sat two seats away from her alleged attacker on the same side of the table.
Emily was composed. She spoke clearly as she explained her terror on the night of the rape. "He was much bigger than me. He was strong. I had tears streaming down my face the entire time. I couldn't think logically," Tiana recalls Emily saying. Then the defendant spoke, fumbling over his words. Tiana remembers his statement: "She said no, and I just thought she didn't mean it."
Emily and her advocate didn't have to stay for the whole hearing. They left the conference after the defendant finished his statement. Dignified and strong, Emily met her friends and mom in Farley after the hearing. Later that night, she cried to Tiana. She believed the Student Affairs process might be a long shot, that her rapist might be merely admonished.
Exactly three months after the reported rape, Emily met with a Student Affairs administrator: Her assaulter would be dismissed from Notre Dame in accordance with du Lac, the student handbook. He would be forbidden from campus grounds. The conversation happened just days after Emily had glanced across a DeBartolo lecture hall and spotted her alleged rapist preparing to take philosophy notes. He glared at her. She lost her voice. She became nauseated. She left class.
Since she was raped, Emily has overheard her story distorted by strangers. She assumes her alleged assaulter concocted tales to explain his expulsion or the fall night he spent locked in his room. Those rumors, Emily says, multiply and fly. "I got called everything. They said I was a slut, a good Catholic girl with regrets. They said my dad was a rich lawyer and that's how I got out of it. My mom and dad own a produce business. I didn't ask for this."
Without physical evidence, police reports or a legally binding admission by the accused rapist, Emily has nearly dismissed the idea of pressing civil or criminal charges. No prosecutor would pick up her case after 2-1/2 years, she's convinced. But the desire to inform and protect other women has driven Emily to become a rape advocate at Notre Dame. She speaks with relative anonymity to crowds of students at Freshman Orientation. She, Sarah, Tiana, Vince and another friend have made an informational video for the University. And through her work at the Counseling Center, she's met a dozen women who, like herself, fell victim to acquaintance rape at Notre Dame.
"I wouldn't feel right if I left this place without doing something to try to help other people or to right this situation. I was so disappointed. They make this out to be the Notre Dame family, that you can trust everybody, that everybody cares about you. Everybody here is not perfect. There's a lot of bad things going on here."
In fact, after supporting a handful of other rape and sexual assault victims through the disciplinary process, Emily believes Student Affairs might not be the best avenue to justice. While she believes her attacker's confession gave administrators ample reason to expel a dangerous man from campus and that her hearing was fair, she is not sure the panel is qualified to make judgments when evidence or a confession are unavailable.
Emily believes defendants' crimes have gone unpunished by Student Affairs in several cases she's seen since her own. "Student Affairs is totally subjective. There's usually no physical evidence, and it's choosing one person's word over another's. Maybe [rape] is something the University shouldn't touch. The University portrays [the hearing] as a conflict-resolution session, a counseling-type thing. This is a felony, for God's sake. The University is in way over their head."
Dr. Franco says rape victims carry emotional, psychological and sometimes physical scars for their entire lives. Those who seek emergency medical attention after rape face a humiliating investigation as doctors and officers photograph genitalia, swab semen from inside the vagina and take samples of pubic hair. The few victims who take their accused rapists to court suffer a public airing of private horrors and often are victimized again, as defense attorneys attempt to undermine women's credibility. Overall, those who survive rape must edit their world view, explains Franco. They must understand that bad things happen to good people. That justice doesn't always prevail.
Emily's friends believe she is so strong. As they lived every hellish moment beside her, her roommates thought they would succumb to rape's oppressive atmosphere. Barely able to face their own fears about rape, they cannot fathom how Emily survived. But she did.
"She's come so far with this so quickly. She tries to use it as a tool to help other people," Sarah says. "She was cute little Emily, very outgoing, very trusting of people. Even after all this, she is so understanding, so forgiving. This happened to Emily for a reason; because I know other people, and they couldn't have handled it. I couldn't have handled it."
Emily's box sits unsuspectingly on the shelf above black formal dresses and worn running shoes. She opens it about once a month, usually before giving a talk about rape or while sharing her experience with a friend or stranger. She adds items occasionally — notes from discussions she leads, posters advertising dorm rape symposiums, letters from other victims she's met. The stuff jogs memories of anger, pain, regret, but Emily opens the container anyway. Rape is part of her life.
statistics in the subhead according to the American Medical Association
If you would like to discuss this story further with "Emily," please contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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