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. 54 Comments.

  1. The argument about sexual assault is a very frustrating one, especially when being had with a man. I often hear the argument that women shouldn’t go to the authorities because what had happened isn’t bad enough to ruin the life of the perpetrator, when one could argue that the life of the perpetrator often remains unaffected. A good example is the comparison of crimes, petty theft and the thief should be punished, yet when its molestation it only happened once and the culprit’s life shouldn’t be ruined. For a world that is so unforgiving towards victims that come forward, there is a lot of attention on false accusations. It says a lot about how they treat certain victims of varying crimes, it just so happens that women aren’t the priority. Our laws and the enforcement of those laws can say a lot about how society views its people. When a crime committed predominantly by men, predominantly against women, isn’t seen as justifiable or a priority a clear picture is painted.

  2. On-campus assaults deserve investigation and corporation from the school. All college campuses should prioritize safety, yet the capitalistic reality is always profit over human decency. Having people to support a survivor in their hardest moment is heartwarming yet all the negativity they had to face to receive justice should have been faced with consequences. Threatening others for their experience and trauma shouldn’t be ignored. As stated, survivors face many moments of discouragement to speak against their abuser, therefore their school should be a part of the resistance for justice.

  3. It’s really emotional to hear these kinds of stories and its really sad to hear so many of them. Rape is a very serious problem on college campuses and very little of them actually get addressed so that the rapists face consequences. This is a very disheartening fact because it takes so much courage for victims to come forward, and to have the situation not be properly addressed sends the message that the faculty doesn’t believe and/or doesn’t care about them. This creates a vicious cycle because victims become less likely to come forward because they know that when they do, it probably won’t be taken seriously.

  4. It really upsets me when I see girls go through things like and see how most schools don’t do any thing about it especially when it happens on campus as in dorms or anywhere school property and schools don’t do anything about the situation and it leads to girls committing suicide most of the time or isolate themselves to not speak up for themselves. I hardly believe it is something we should all fight for more justice to girls in school that go through situations like this.

  5. As someone who experienced sexual assault and never came forward with their story until now, I really admire people who come forward with their stories. It is really hard to speak out about what happened to you because of the fear of people not believing you or people blaming you for what happened. I really love that you were there for your friend and fought for her justice and for many other women even though you were getting a lot of backlashes. I love the last part where you said “We as women must stick together and help promote safety, peace, and justice for all. Especially in a society that too often does not.” this is something we all should remember because when people come out with their stories, especially women we get a lot of bad comments or bad looks and we aren’t always believed therefore we should stick together and create a safe space for women and men to talk about their stories/experiences. Unfortunately, this happens way too often and many schools don’t do anything about it, most schools only care about their reputation than keeping their students safe. It is insane how many women go through this and are just scared to come forward and report it due to all the backlash. It does make it a bit easier to talk about it when someone shares their experience and it is the same person that did it to you.

    • I’m so sorry that you had to experience assault. And I hope you don’t blame yourself for not speaking out, and add any additional levels of burden onto your experience. It is difficult when you can face so much backlash or failure to act.

      Society seems to be getting a bit better but we have a long way to go.

  6. My favorite line from this post was, “We as women must stick together and help promote safety, peace and justice for all.” I think it’s highly important for us women to create an open space but not only for us but for men too. I know from experience that once one of us is able to open up about an experience, then others feel safer to discuss theirs as well. Sexual Assault/Rape is a topic that should be more talked about because it happens more often than we think. The thing that pisses me off the most about this topic is how some schools will barely provide any consequences in order to keep their “good” status going.

  7. I give deep gratitude and admiration for your undying faith in justice for women’s rights, safety and well-being even when faced with adversity. You brought up a very good point about how quick schools are to sweep things under the rug as if they didn’t happen in defense for their top team players in their most competitive game going to lengths of defense in stating there was no evidence to then adding on the excuse that it was a lengthy process. It astounded me that these schools would care more about the lengthy process then about the emotional well-being of their students and I’m grateful that you’ve fought alongside these survivors and fought for their well-being despite the emotional toll the process took on you. It astounds me that people would threaten you for defending somebody who is innocent as a result of whatever old-fashioned belief they may be plagued of as I undoubtedly believe what you did was right. It also astounds me that this was a multi-level case and that all the school proposed was “that he stay at school, but at a safe distance from the girls who had accused him.” I feel such deep emotion towards this article as I have been through something similar. The only difference is the school was willing to do something about it but I let other peoples opinions get in my head and didn’t press any charges. It has been many years since then and I still live with the remanence of it. Repressed yet still in control but reading your article made me feel safe, gave me hope, and brought me peace. In reading your passion for women rights and all that you would do to defend those who have been wronged. I especially found peace when you stated that you would be “speaking on their behalf when they weren’t emotionally ready.” Thank you for this powerful, influential article on women’s rights and for bringing hope to a fellow survivor.

  8. One of the first thoughts that came to mind after reading this post is how so many people dismiss sexual assault. It is despicable that many people lose friends after advocating for justice. Those in power often prevail because of money, influence, or status. Unfortunately this is the way that our world works. Since the process often dismisses women coming forward, many are deteered from every saying anything. If universities and institutions start standing up against sexual violence they can create an image that supports justice and doing the right thing. I know many women who have been sexually assaulted but because of the backlash in the system they would not speak up. We all have a responsibility to uphold justice and allow the victim to tell their story.

  9. It is incredibly traumatic to have this type of experience. It is truly saddening that colleges want to sweep this issue under the rug just because it is “time consuming” to write a report and they do not want a bad image for their school. This type of behavior emboldens the assaulter and others that what they did or what they intend to do is okay which is not. The colleges should encourage victims to speak up and reassure them that their feelings are valid. Colleges should not make excuses for this type of behavior rather make those people pay for what they did. The victims deserve justice and to be respected especially by the school in which they should feel safe. a

  10. Many years ago, I was the victim of sexual harassment by a teacher at my university. Because I was afraid that no one would believe me or judge me, I never said anything until now. Maybe if I were braver and had spoken, that man would have stopped harassing students. Now I think of all the women who have suffered sexual attacks and raised their voices and have been able to do justice, and I applaud them. I feel happy that there are cases in which, despite adversity, they manage to be heard and achieve justice. This case is an example for many women who have never been able to say anything. it is an example to follow for those who do not have the strength to speak.

    • Thank you for sharing about your experience with this problem. I’m so sorry that that happened to you. I think a lot of us have had experiences that we were too fearful to report. All we can do is live and learn, rather than add to our trauma by second-guessing ourselves.

  11. Christopher R.

    Stories of sexual assault and rape on college campuses are always difficult to hear/read because of how these institutions tend to hide or downplay the severity of the situation. This is especially true, I feel, when the accused happens to be a student-athlete (mainly male) on the campus team. Unfortunately, the story of this article is a mirrored image of other similar. I see their handling of these crimes as a representation of how they view their students and potentially how they view their female students. Thankfully, there are people like Madeline Gerhart who are willing to be a voice for the victims; however, it is extremely heartbreaking and confusing to hear that she lost friends and received death threats for her efforts.

  12. It’s very sad how little institutions do to protect victims within their schools. It seems that the institutions would rather sweep it under the rug than take action because they don’t want to deal with the process and they don’t want their school associated with rape. But, the unfortunate truth is that rape and sexual assault exists at every big school. We need to make it a point to make sure victims feel safe and welcomed and make it so that the rapists are unwelcome. I know many women who have had their cases swept under the rug by their school and had to continue their education at the same place as their rapist and it’s obvious the effect it has on them everyday. Sexual assault is something that will effect the victims for the rest of their life and the added trauma of seeing your rapist often at the place you are supposed to feel safe and supposed to learn at is unacceptable.

  13. Sexual assault and rape are way too common especially on college campuses or associated fraternities. It’s devastating to hear about the emotional turmoil young women are put through especially when their voices are shut out or ignored by people who are supposed to be protecting them. It’s a shame how often schools care more about protecting their image rather than protecting their students. You would think that their own students shouldn’t have to beg and campaign for safety programs and for their voices to be heard, but nonetheless it is very empowering and brave if these students to step up and do so in an environment where it’s not necessarily easy to.

  14. The issue of rape cases being swept under the bus is increasingly being a norm and girls are being so scared to come forward and speak on the experiences. I’ve never personally had a rape case so I can’t say I exactly understand how they feel and why they won’t come out. However, I do understand that they deserve justice and deserve to feel safe and protected. I know the trauma of rape can be very destructive and I see no reason why anyone would oppose getting justice for the victim except they themselves have been involved in such incidents at one point or the other and are scared of being found guilty.

  15. Ashley Bashinger

    It is so sad to see that when a friend tries to help someone in a situation of rape no one believes them. This is why so many victims are so afraid to come forward because of this humiliation. It takes a lot for someone to help someone out and for others to push them down and say their lying is just wrong in so many ways. Instead of humiliating that person we need to be able to help that person and make sure that they get the justice that they deserve.

  16. Thank you for sharing this. Was this your experience or are you reposting? Either, way, I honor the courage and for standing up to make the school a safer place. Also being a good friend too. This is a topic close to my heart, I’ve also taken off on my journey in women’s rights and delivering sexual education too. I’ve known and have worked with too many women who’ve experienced sexual trauma (a rape as this, or violence from a family member). It breaks my heart. Indeed many women do not report their incident (as the men who assaulted them, were often people they knew/trusted). There is a phenomenal movie called “Promising Young Woman” (2020) I’d recommend to anyone interested… A provocative, but too true story about how the Universities and academic institutions haven’t helped the victims in the past. There’s also another documentary called “The Hunting Ground” (2015).

    • One of my students wrote this and I posted it on my blog with her permission. And I sent her an email that it had been published so I’m sure she appreciates the comments.

  17. Sexual assault reports should always be taken seriously no matter who is reporting it, but the main issue is that some people submit fake reports against others and it diminishes the purpose of reporting. This is where schools use the excuse “no solid evidence” to dismiss these reports. It is unfortunate that many things have to be done to serve justice to sexual assault victims, but the least we can do is spread awareness and provide safe spaces for them.

    • Very few reports are false but the fact that they happen at all hurts the whole process.

      And then the false reporting can actually be a tool because the main concern seems to be that people don’t want their own institutions to look bad and so they will cover up things like sexual assault when they happen in their institution.

  18. This is just a sliver of how often this happens in a school and nothing is ever done to the offender through schools or the law. Since the offenders are never prosecuted women feel as there is no need to speak up and announce that they are a victim, as they know nothing good will come from it. For the small percentage that do speak up, are so emotional attacked and are usually called liars and are threatened as you were just for trying to find some justice on actions that were never consented. Yes, schools try their best to sign the policies that if a case of harassment is to arise that there will be x, y, and z punishments but when have we ever hear of this cases. Do they not get reported or are they kept under the radar? I am sure they have happened, so if it was kept under the radar, why? Hearing about an offender being prosecuted or charged would being so much courage to numerous other victims that are still in pain from their offender.

    • The main motivation for keeping these things under the radar is that things like sexual assault are seen is making the school (Or other institution) look bad. If you have high rates of sexual assault people might not want go to your school, the Administration will get in trouble, etc. So these people looking out for themselves instead of looking out for the victims.

  19. I don’t like it when schools try to hide things under the rug, and if the person is a big thing at the school or has a big role they tend to really work hard to hide it just so it doesn’t ruin the reputation of the school. And the assaulter know this so they take advantage of this situation and they sometimes don’t get the punishment they deserve because the victim is not ready to speak out because they are afraid are just not done healing, or in the other case they do report it but the school doesn’t put in the effort to help them. And when the school doesn’t take this seriously this can lead to other victims and that’s is not right.

  20. This is very wrong for school surroundings and society. Reading this article feeling bad.

  21. I’m always horrified, and yet never surprised, at the lengths institutions will resort to in covering up and dismissing sexual assault. The values of reputation and capitalism are strong in elite schools especially. I am so proud of the strength all of the survivors and advocators took in this case. Even silent supporters against any form of sexual harassment go a long way in partaking and creating open discussions on the subject. I hope the systematic and cyclical pressures and protections for these criminals disappear so survivors can speak their truths freely. Having any form of supportive and safe spaces to protect survivors are the beginning steps for active change.

  22. Especially in a school setting, coming out and saying that you were assaulted is scary, especially like in this case where the school would act in the best interest of the lacrosse team and not the bell being of the female student body, especially when he had shown a pattern of abuse. Situations like these give men a sense that they can get away with anything if they are popular or have influence in their setting and scare women into not talking as to avoid facing the repercussions of doing the right thing when they were assaulted because the man’s reputation could be harmed despite being the consequence of his actions.

  23. This story is so true in so many woman’s lives. And often times the first response we get is “but did it really happen?” Or “were you just too drunk?” I feel like there is always a response or an excuse for the one accused. There is no excuse for a person to sexually assault another person, none. Often times there are not enough allies for women to come forward, or the legal process is too daunting or humiliating so a lot people just let these crimes slide. It takes a really strong person to come forward and proceed to the end with the legal proceedings. As the author said, even though she was not victimized the whole process took an emotional toll on her as well. It is so difficult, because it could be any of us. I am so thankful that some people can stand up for not only themselves but the the people who have a hard time standing up for themselves.

  24. As a survivor of sexual assault seeing this tittle I instantly knew what it meant. I was young at the time it happened to me and I did not know what it meant until I got older and I wanna say sophomore year of high school, I realized what happened was wrong but at this point it was 9 years ago and there never was any evidence. Only a select few know, not even my mom, and it was hard for me to tell my boyfriend but he understood. It breaks my heart to read that only 5% of campus cases get reported and how many women actually go through this. It is also incredibly hard to even read that this writer lost friends and was threatened, I always believe the victim until proof stating otherwise but that is not the case in sexual assault. There are some cases of women saying this happened when it never did just because they want attention but it is very rare. Loosing friendships in the end would be way worth it to get justice for a terrible thing that happened and not talking to someone because they reported one of your guy friends for sexual assault is not women sticking together or supporting each other.

  25. 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.

  26. 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. 

  27. 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.

  28. 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.

  29. 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!

  30. 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.

  31. 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. 

  32. 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.

  33. 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.

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

  35. 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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