First of all, it’s very important to me to share my story about my assault experiences at Wheaton before I graduate, with the hope that we can learn together and become closer as a community. We can prevent some assaults and support survivors as a community if we become better listeners, better advocates, and better friends.
I was assaulted by two people during my time on this campus. The first was a Wheaton student during my freshman year who changed the dynamic of my entire life. When we started dating, he began emotionally abusing me, then physically assaulting and raping me. What was initially coercion rapidly became more violent and less inconspicuous, especially when I was regularly returning to Fischer at late hours covered in bruises.
To some people, it’s confusing that I didn’t immediately report him. Why didn’t I just say something? To be honest, I really didn’t know how to get away from it. Despite the trauma, I was enthralled by his attention and wanted to please him. My abuser knew the influence that the purity culture had on me, and carefully manipulated my feelings of shame for being “too tempting.” What still deeply hurts and confuses me is the fact that many of my friends and his friends at Wheaton knew what was happening because I told them, and they chose to avoid the situation. Their embarrassment caused a lot of confusion for me, about whether or not I was the dirty, worthless person that he had told me I was.
My other assault was during my sophomore year, when I was roofied and raped by a non-Wheaton acquaintance. That day, my friends found out what happened, and immediately took me to a Res Life official. In the context of my assault, Res Life and Student Care decided to call a hotline, since they did not know what should be done with me. The Chicago Rape Crisis Hotline sent us to the hospital where one of their advocates from the YWCA was waiting to help. To my surprise, the advocate was prepared and knowledgeable about the medical and legal procedures that would happen, and was comforting and supportive of my choices. Additionally, she also offered training and resources to the Wheaton faculty member who brought me. Looking back, I believe that the school failed me by not having prepared for situations like mine, and many others. It’s disappointing, because we pay for our education, sign the Community Covenant and contribute to the campus environment intentionally and personally as students. In turn, I believe Wheaton College needs to mutually uphold their side of the relationship with us in regards to assistance and support.
The police came to the hospital and I chose to share my story in order to have them move forward with the investigation. I had no idea how excruciating the process would be to get enough evidence to have him arrested. He was held in jail for 24 hours, while my friends and I each gave statements to a state’s attorney. Devastatingly, I found out after an hour that the state chose not to press charges, despite the amount of evidence provided. I walked out of the police station with the realization that justice will not come soon for me, and I fell to the ground and wept.
I can never escape my past, ignore it, or get over it. It will always be there. Some days it will make me sad or angry, and other days I will reflect on how God has grown and changed me through this to be stronger and wiser. I still grieve the loss of my innocence and the college experience that I had hoped to have when I initially arrived at Wheaton. In the moment that I was assaulted, the importance of my feelings, my voice, and my right to make choices were stripped from me. Part of the healing process has been realizing that I can choose how I want to discuss it. The friends who asked questions and empathized with me after my second assault, even when it was uncomfortable or disturbing, gave validity to my story and helped me experience God’s love and my value as a member of the Wheaton community. They understood that I might need to share a particularly graphic detail that keeps replaying in my head, to cry, or to just sit in silence. I’m so thankful for the support, prayer and care that I did get from friends–the ones who literally held my hand during particularly painful moments.
After my first trauma, I was asked over and over if it was “actual rape”, or if I was still a virgin. I was mortified to admit that I was not a virgin anymore, and I thought that I was “damaged goods.” This is a problem. How we talk about sexual assault has a major impact on how victims think about themselves, and my recovery process was strongly affected by what I heard and felt from the people around me. At certain points, I realized that some people did not and were not going to believe me. Even if they did, I was often told to filter my story, or that it was too uncomfortable or shocking for people to hear. One time someone commented, “You only hear about this stuff on TV.”
It’s not okay that TV is the only place where we hear these kinds of stories, if they are happening so frequently around us. When someone is diagnosed with a chronic illness or loses a loved one, we respect and empathize with the person suffering and don’t hide their pain. This does not match with the way sexual violence narratives are often covered up. The Wheaton administration did the best they could for me, but there is still so much more for all of us to be aware of and learn to do as a community. Specifically, I think we can learn more practical tips for talking to each other and to survivors. We can build support and prayer groups to weep with those who weep, we can continue to take action to prevent sexual violence, and further develop how college campuses and the justice system handles assault cases.
For people who have experienced sexual assault or abuse, you should know that nothing can actually damage you enough to make you less valuable or worthy of love. You don’t need to be fixed because there is nothing wrong with you, but you probably do need to be cared for and supported while you heal. It’s very okay to not be okay. There really are people at Wheaton like me who will wade through the messy parts of recovery with you, and although we won’t do it perfectly, we promise to be there along the way as an advocate and friend.
If you are interested in learning more about the issue of sexual assault at colleges, I highly recommend the documentary “The Hunting Room,” which highlights the issues of how college campuses and the legal system handle sexual assault cases. The organization sponsoring the movie is called Title IX, and you can actually get involved in trying to fix our broken system at http://www.titleix.info. Let’s ask questions, listen and then do something about the issue of sexual assault. If you think someone has been or is being abused or assaulted, there are things you can do to help. Talk to them with gentleness and honesty, approach Student Care, and think about how you specifically can offer support and assistance.
RAINN.com (the Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network) has resources for general help, legal support or counseling if you are a victim, even if you don’t go to Wheaton College. Their website also has a lot of helpful information and statistics about taking action against sexual assault and raising awareness. This is a great place for both learning and for seeking connections.