Her Face Filled Her Hands — and Her Words Filled Me With Grief 

By Madeline Gerhart

The victim sat down in the middle of the college quad on October 5 at 11 PM.

Her face filled her hands and her words filled my soul with grief. She slowly opened up about the trauma of the rape she had experienced.

She gave few details but her anguish told the story. I listened and held her hand for as long as she needed.

At the time I was involved with school government. But I was also a friend and I believe that is why she felt safe enough to confide in me.

I knew I now had a responsibility to make sure she received the necessary aid and justice. About one in five young women are harmed by on-campus assault, yet only 5% are reported and I did not want my dear friend to be another statistic.

The victim, herself, was not yet ready to come forward, so the next day I sat down with the Dean of Students and explained the situation. The school initially pushed back, saying there was no solid evidence. I did not accept this and made it clear that we needed to pursue this case to make our school a safer place. The school went on to explain how lengthy the process could be, but that did not intimidate me. My friend’s emotional well-being was the first priority and I wanted to make sure the truth came out.

I received threats and lost friends, but others thanked me

As the case proceeded I attended every meeting and every hearing.

I received threats, insults, and even lost some friends. When I went to parties, especially at a frat house or sports team, the men looked at me in disgust.

Yet some men pulled me aside to say that they agreed with what I was doing.

Women began pulling me aside, too. Some knocked at my dorm room late at night or sent text messages. They had all been victims of sexual assault or harassment. And some had been victims of the assailant I was pursuing. I spent countless hours helping the women write personal statements, collecting evidence, and speaking on their behalf when they weren’t emotionally ready.

Even with all the evidence the process took most of the school year, and the school’s resistance was evident. The assailant was one of the colleges top lacrosse players, and lacrosse was our most competitive sport. The school proposed that he stay at school, but at a safe distance from the girls who had accused him. This wasn’t good enough. We insisted that his behavior demonstrated that he was a repeat offender and that our school was not a safe place with him there.

The arduous process revealed why women rarely step forward. Even though I was not a victim myself, the process took an emotional toll on me.

But finally, justice was served. The young man had to leave the school and the victims were left with a little more peace. But unfortunately, many of his victims had already left the school because of their trauma.

My passion for women’s rights took off

It became clear to me that my work could not end after this case. This is when my passion for women’s rights really took off.

I may never know why I was entrusted as aid to these victims and leader of this case but I am forever honored. This journey allowed me to see the dark reality of this issue and because of this experience I hope to serve many more victims.

We as women must stick together and help promote safety, peace and justice for all. Especially in a society that too often does not.

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About BroadBlogs

I have a Ph.D. from UCLA in sociology (emphasis: gender, social psych). I currently teach sociology and women's studies at Foothill College in Los Altos Hills, CA. I have also lectured at San Jose State. And I have blogged for Feminispire, Ms. Magazine, The Good Men Project and Daily Kos. Also been picked up by The Alternet.

Posted on November 2, 2021, in violence against women and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink. 22 Comments.

  1. ive always been there for anyone who needs it. I’ve been through a similar situation like this but it involved a family member, not mine but of the person who confined in me. I remember how hard it was because this family member was the type that everyone said “but they would never do that” “they’re too much of a sweet heart to do something like that” ETC.. always denying that fact that someone that they love would ever do such thing. it was so hard on my friend because no one would believe her, many family members were even hating me for supporting her and helping her build a case on this person. the saddest thing is that this happens every where whether you’re at school, work, at a concert, in a bathroom, even in your own home.

    • Thank you for sharing about your experience with this difficult situation.

      • That’s the sad thing and perhaps why it’s so hard to get support for rape victims and people to blame the rapists. Because it seems some guys hide their true colors very well? 2 faced. They show the happy go lucky side, maybe charming to people, maybe outgoing. Maybe do things to help people. But there’s sinister side, but keep hidden. It makes me think of why some people don’t want to believe or hard for some people to blame abusers in relationships. You’ll hear some say “he wouldn’t hit a woman, he’s so nice, I don’t believe it”. And it’s because the guys shows or turns on a switch to be likeable to people he sees

      • Your point about abusers is right on. It’s very common for domestic abusers to be very charming to everyone, including their “beloved” early on. It’s a game they play both to catch the woman and to throw everyone off.

        One of my professors wrote a book called “addictions of crime“ which I want to read sometime. One of the chapters has to do with how Violent offenders can purposely act so nice before victimizing.

  2. Cecilia Gallegos

    It is very heartbreaking to see how many women go through similar things everyday. I personally feel like society has normalized many things when it comes to sexual assault or harassment by men. What truly blows my mind is how so many schools have similar situations like this, yet no one Is aware because of the fear women have about coming forward. It also blows my mind how often these things tend to happen at schools. To me school should be a place where we feel safe and comfortable enough to not worry about situations like this. It is incredibly sad to see how women are not even safe in school. 

  3. mehreen chauhan

    It’s incredible that you took that responsibility in your hands and decided to do what you believed was right. It’s extremely brave to advocate for these women in front of opposition like the school government and some of your peers. I think it speaks on how far people are willing to go in order to protect the reputation of men over women. Women will always be seen as having a majority of the responsibility for the incident like how they dress, or how provocative or inviting their behavior seems. The responsibility seems like it is never placed upon the people who went out of their way to make someone uncomfortable and take away someone’s choice to the point of giving them trauma.

  4. My friend’s now ex-boyfriend was assaulting multiple victims as they were blacked out at parties. My friend asked the boys in the exes frat and his roommates if that was true and they all covered for him and lied, saying that they didn’t see or hear of him doing anything like that. Under these circumstances, it’s not enough for the victims to come forward, but the people closest to the predator; whether they are friends or family members; need to step up and confront them on their actions. Maybe it’s a sense of loyalty to the predator and it seems that’s why they ignore or disregard or even defend them when accused of assault. Another reason why victims don’t come forward is because they know their abuser has people on their side to back them up and protect them.

  5. There are so many stories such as this one, all equally heart breaking. I’m lucky enough to be able to say that I have not been in a situation that seems as bad as what happens on many campuses, but a few people I know aren’t as lucky. It’s always shocking to hear that it happens, I honestly never know what to say. It’s hard to tell what’s right and what’s not right to say when someone is hurting because of the awful things that happen so often. I can’t begin to comprehend why schools favor the way they’re perceived over students safety.

    • It is hard to comprehend. It seems that they care more about their reputation as a school thing about protecting their students. But they can come back to haunt them if we’re gets out that they are covering up.

      • I can comprehend it unfortunately because universities with $ that comes in can have a business mindset unfortunately. And reputation of the school or shield matters more than bad PR right? I mean look at Michigan State and US olympics for the female gymnasts right? MSU knew of women complaining about the doctor, but shut it down or weren’t following through. Top officials knew, but they didn’t do anything for so long, because they rather have the troubles be pushed under the rug. They cared more about it being swept under the rug and women being quiet so it doesn’t make MSU look bad.

      • Yes, I can understand the business perspective. I’m hoping that as information gets out that universities and other institutions will realize that it just backfires. Here’s hoping!

  6. I feel like this tends to happen a lot, and as the author stated “the assailant” was the top lacrosse team member, which is why they were not doing anything, probably the school had other people who said something but they never follow thru, I am happy to hear that the author did and she helped so many women, the trauma might still be there and fresh all the time but at least he was kicked out and some kind of justice was executed. This is similar to the case of the girl who was drunk and raped behind a dumpster and left there. Same situation, a rich, popular guy and they did nothing. I believe he was in jail for a few days and then he got out. What about the girl? did they ever ask her how was she doing, or if she needed help? they always think girls are the ones who attract this type of man.

  7. It’s honestly very heart breaking to hear that this happens to so many women, and that too very often. Women really can’t step outside of their house and not fear the possibility of being taken advantage of or sexually assaulted or harassed by other men. It’s very frustrating to see that this is the society that we live in, how it’s so normalized that men are able to do this to women. I believe that more women like this are needed in this world, to stand up for themselves and other women who have been harassed by men. I also think that stricter laws or punishments must be enforced to ensure that this doesn’t happen to women on a daily basis. 

  8. Justice….the Byzantine course towards gaining access to it unfortunately encourages crime instead of deterring it. That was a laudable initiative of yours to travel the distance and clinch it.

  9. You were exactly right to be your friend’s emotional supporter and advocate for justice. The school is ridiculous for even considering that an assault, a sexual assault at that, should not be a priority. I wonder if the college was conservative and traditional, worried about a scandal that might tarnish their reputation? Possibly the Dean and members of the school board were much older and from a generation when rape wasn’t considered a major crime? Did the campus have police or security officers on patrol? Even so, there is absolutely no excuse that her story and experience should be silenced. It is no wonder that many women do not report rape, due to being hushed and considered insignificant. The emotional, physical, and psychological trauma of such an attack could adversely affect the student’s ability to continue academically at that and other schools, or even later in life. It is not fair at all to the victims to live with shame, guilt, and fear due to unpunished perpetrators who will continue their unsavory behaviors.

  10. Sadly, it seems to be yet another instance in which the school prioritizes protecting its reputation over protecting its students.

  11. This is so true how schools brush off things like this to maintain a good reputation and especially when a well known student is involved. There was a situation like this at my job back in 2016 or 2017 ( Stanford ), and the boy who assaulted the girl was let off very easy. I don’t believe the girl in the article would have got her justice if other girls hadn’t of spoken up about their stories. Its upsetting how they needed multiple girls with the same story about the boy for him to receive any punishment.

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