Seven years ago, during my junior year, a freshman girl was raped on my college campus. It happened in her dorm room, and the suspect was a guy she’d met at a popular bar down the street from the school. Her building was across the quad from my own, and I saw the cop cars pull up the next morning, though no one knew what had happened. It wasn’t until a local news station mentioned the rape during an early newscast a day or so later that we found out. As the news editor of my college paper, St. John’s University’s The Torch, it was my job to get the story. In the process, I was followed around by a reporter from the New York Post who didn’t feel like doing any of her own work, got some assistance from a very kind New York Daily News reporter, and worked with the most helpful assistant district attorney known to man (he called me, the day after Christmas, to give me an update on the case, because he knew I’d be waiting).
Seven years later, this remains the hardest thing I’ve ever had to write. The girl who was raped, she was smart and funny and sweet, and what happened destroyed her. It was heartbreaking to watch. Even more heartbreaking was the fact that the suspect got off scot-free.
But as difficult as it was to write this story (and the several follow-ups), there were some bright spots. Like making the victim laugh instead of cry during our hours-long interview. To see her smile, to hear her laugh, it was a victory. After the article came out, she thanked me for telling her story, or more accurately, for letting her tell her own story. She hoped that other girls would learn from her situation and find ways to keep themselves from becoming victims. That was my hope, too.
My exclusive interview with her, which ran in the October 5, 2005, issue of The Torch, can be read below.
There is possibly nothing worse than hearing stories about yourself that are not true. These stories, typically called rumors, tend to spread like wildfire on college campuses. Rumors, however, can also hurt people.
This is especially true in the case of the young woman, an 18-year-old freshman at St. John’s University, who was allegedly raped in her dorm room in DaSilva Hall on Sept. 29.
After a request for an interview, she contacted The Torch and agreed to an exclusive interview only after the reporter agreed to grant her request for anonymity.
The victim first heard the rumors as she was leaving her building not long after information of the alleged rape had been released. She was in the elevator with a friend when several girls began talking about the incident.
“I heard that I was coked up and puking,” she said. “Just that [some] girl was like, ‘She probably deserved it.’ I had my sunglasses on. I started crying. I wanted to be like, ‘You’ve got to watch what you’re saying,’ [but] I’m not looking to make a big thing about this.”
The victim’s suitemate said: “There was a whole group of girls by the elevator [when we were leaving] who were like, ‘Oh, it was a drug bust.’”
The victim added that other rumors began as well.
In the hours following the first official University press release on Friday, the New York media swarmed the St. John’s Queens campus. Stories were released throughout the day by various news sources, with Eyewitness News, Fox 5, the New York Daily News, and the New York Post all having stories out within hours.
According to the victim, information released early Friday was at times inaccurate. Especially, she said, the information released by the New York Post.
“The stories run in the Post were ridiculous,” the victim said. “They both contradict each other and they’re both by two writers. I was like, ‘Where are they getting this from.’ The police department actually spoke to the editor in chief there because they said in the first [story] ‘she told police,’ and I did not tell the police [that] I invited three guys to my room. That (the false information) is what has people talking.”
Three stories ran in the New York Post over a period of three days. Each story, according to the victim, contained at least one incorrect statement of facts.
The first story, published on Sept. 30, stated that the victim had returned to her room with “a man she’d been dating and two of his friends, police said.”
The second story, published on Oct. 1, stated that the student was an English major. It also stated that the rape occurred at approximately 1 a.m. Both of these statements, according to the victim, are false.
The third and final story, published on Oct. 2, once again incorrectly stated that the victim was an English major. The article also stated that the victim had invited three men back to her room after a night of drinking, an assertion which the young woman claims is not entirely accurate.
She went on to say that the Post was looking to interview her after the incident, but she opted not to oblige based on the paper’s factual inaccuracies.
“My dad always tells me never read the Post,” the victim said. “When I read [the stories published about the rape] I was like ‘I’m never reading the Post. I’m not doing an interview with the Post. I don’t trust the Post.’”
The victim agreed to speak to The Torch in hopes of setting the record straight. It was her way of responding to the many rumors surrounding the incident.
According to the victim, she had gone out with friends, as she usually did on Wednesday nights, and had plans of her own for later.
“We went out, as a suite, to B&T’s bar and we were drinking,” the 18-year-old victim, who is not an English major, said. “I had previous plans, and so did my roommate, for two guys to come back to our room after. At the time I was told wrong information about the guy. That he graduated, this and that. [It] turns out he didn’t graduate, got kicked out and all this [other] stuff.”
The victim and her roommate left the bar early that evening, as the roommate was not feeling well. The two men remained at the bar, claiming they would see the young women later.
According to the victim, she went back to her room and was hanging out with her roommate for about a half an hour when there was a knock at her door. The man who she had invited over earlier, a former St. John’s student, was there, along with three friends.
According to the young woman, the men had gained entry to the residence hall when a friend of both the victim and the attacker, whom she referred to only as “D”, allowed them to come in through his window.
“Specifically I didn’t want to come on campus with them,” she said. “It was basically ‘if you can get in, we’ll hang out.’ I didn’t go around asking people to sign them in. I didn’t go, ‘leave your window open.’”
The victim also added that she was not expecting four men to arrive at her door. When she asked her friend what the other men were doing there, she was told that they were there to see some of her fellow suitemates. When they then proceeded to enter the other young woman’s room, she claims to have thought nothing of it.
The woman said that she went into her room with the man she had originally made plans with and the two eventually had consensual sex.
“Me and the kid went to my room and we did what we did and then one of the guys came in the room,” she said.
The young woman admits that she was drinking that night, probably more than she should have.
“I drank,” she said. “I drank a lot. I drink, but I don’t drink heavy, like I was [that night].”
The victim was sleeping alone in bed when she was awakened. At approximately 3:30 a.m., she felt a man on top of her. He began forcing her to have sex with him, and she began to scream.
According to the victim, she screamed “NO!” at the top of her lungs. At this point, her friends had returned from the bar and upon hearing their suitemate’s screams, they immediately responded. They attempted to help the victim, but were confronted by the alleged attacker’s friends.
“I was outside in the common room and one of the other friends [of the alleged attacker] was blocking the door,” the suitemate said. “[Another] suitemate of mine had tried to get in and [the other men] wouldn’t let her get in the door. That’s when she started banging on the door. Finally, when we got in, the guy who had been in the room slipped out without us even noticing because we were so focused on her. We all just ran in the room to her, the guy slipped out, and then we all started kicking people out of the dorm.”
Following the attack, the victim went to sleep.
“I was kind of like in shock,” she said. “I was crying. I just fell asleep.”
The next morning she went to her Resident Advisor to discuss what had happened.
“I was worried about them coming back,” she said.
However, the victim does not believe that she clearly explained the situation. Her RA, after hearing the story, told her to go to Public Safety to file a report.
The victim and a roommate went to Public Safety and filed a complaint about people sneaking into the residence hall. Later, Public Safety officials met with the student, telling her they had heard stories about a possible attack and were tipped off by her shaken demeanor.
“I told them the whole thing and [then] they’re calling ambulances, they’re calling cops,” she said.
She went to the hospital where a rape kit was administered and according to her she was put on approximately eight different medications following the attack.
Upon returning to her dorm room, she found that a full investigation was underway by the New York Police Department.
“After I went back to my room there were crime scene people there,” she said. “They went through my room and they took stuffed animals, sheets, pillow cases, my comforter. They took every pair of clothes I had out and I’d just done laundry and you know college, you do laundry and leave it out. They took it.”
She stayed in close contact with the police and learned on Friday that the alleged attacker had been arrested.
“I have a restraining order against him and the cops are keeping me posted,” she said.
The victim was extremely open about the actual event and her condition.
“If I wasn’t drinking, I probably could’ve been more responsible,” she said. “They probably knew I was drinking because two of the guys were at the bar. I don’t know if the other guy was, who actually did it. If I didn’t invite that one guy, the rest of them wouldn’t have come.”
As with any other violent crime, the victim still blames herself at least in part for what happened. She chose to be so open because she hopes that she can keep others from making any choices that could put them in a similar situation.
Along with her own feelings, the victim expressed that her parents were also upset. According to her, they are angry because of the questionable security on campus which allowed for something like this to happen.
“[Public Safety] had caught these guys sneaking on campus and they did nothing about it,” she said. “When I asked Public Safety, ‘How can people just get on campus again,’ they said ‘Oh, there’s many ways,’” she said. “‘You can jump the fence, you can go over the fence, you can sneak in through the gate, be in a car.’”
The victim hopes that through this incident, the University will tighten security so that no one else will have to go through what she did.
“People have it in their head that [at a] private Catholic school the security is so good,” she said. “A lot of people here don’t think this could happen.”
But it can. Things like this can happen anywhere.
The victim’s suitemate agreed and stated a need for greater campus security.
“An actual first gate. That’s where it needs to happen,” she said. “If you can stop it there, then you don’t have to worry about the inside because who you want inside is inside.”
As the investigation continues, this woman has to live with what happened for the rest of her life.
“I feel like everyone knows it’s me,” the victim said. “I know they don’t, [but] if someone just looks at you it’s like ‘they know it’s me.’”
The fear of constant talk about her situation in the Residence Village troubles her.
“I know that people are going to be talking about it for a while. Just do it when you’re with people you know, and do it in your room,” she advised.
According to the victim, however, the most important thing to her right now is preventing this from happening again to someone else.
“You’ve got to be aware and you’ve just got to know who you’re talking to,” she continued. “Know that stuff like this does happen here and girls have to be careful.”