“My life is ruined because of this. I don’t trust anyone; I honestly feel as if I can’t be a normal college student anymore. There are days I don’t want to get out of bed. I’ve never had that before in my life.”
These are the words of a University of Wisconsin student allegedly drugged and raped last fall at the Sigma Chi fraternity house on Langdon Street.
Describing her life as forever changed by the assault, the victim contacted The Badger Herald nearly five months later with the hopes of conveying her experience to the rest of campus.
The following is her story:
“This cannot be possible”
It was Oct. 4, and the UW football team had just lost to the Ohio State Buckeyes in one of the two night games played in the 2008 season. The victim was walking home from the game when she, a pledge from her sorority and two members of Sigma Chi decided to go to State Street Brats.
After a few drinks, the four decided to move on to a crowded Johnny O’s Restaurant and Bar.
On the rooftop deck of Johnny O’s, the victim bought her friends pineapple vodkas and handed them back from the bar until she received her own.
“The last thing I remember was saying to [my friend], ‘Wow, this pineapple vodka is really good.’ I don’t remember one thing after that,” the victim said.
Around 2:30 a.m., the victim awoke in a room on the first floor of the Sigma Chi house with no recollection of how she had arrived there.
“I wake up, and this person comes into his room and says, ‘What the fuck, why are you passed out in my room? Why are your pants off? This is not OK — you cannot pass out in someone’s room. What the fuck are you doing here?’ And just yelling at me. And I said, ‘Sorry, I don’t know why I’m here,'” the victim said.
After texting someone that she felt embarrassed about the encounter, the victim found her way home and fell back to sleep.
When she woke up the next morning, she went to the bathroom and found she was sore and bleeding profusely. Crying, she called her mother and said she believed she was raped.
“At first it was like, ‘No this cannot be possible — this cannot happen,'” the victim said. “I put two and two together, and I just started bawling. A whole part of my soul was just immediately taken. No words people say were what [could] have comforted me on that day. I cried, and then it was over and then I was numb.”
By 11 a.m., she arrived with her roommate at Meriter Hospital. Health officials collected DNA, took pictures and performed other procedures necessary to collect evidence.
The doctors then confirmed she was raped, most likely by more than one person.
“[The doctor] said I was one of the worst cases she’s seen with how violent it was,” the victim said. “The next day I had a fat lip, I couldn’t move my jaw and I had a bruise on my face. I had bruises up and down my legs and by my vagina, so it wasn’t consensual or anything — it was really violent.”
To this day, the victim has no idea who her assaulters were.
“If I did, they would be going to jail,” the victim said. “I’d press charges. I have a police investigation going on. If I knew who they were, I would be putting those fuckers in jail.”
According to the Madison Police Department, there are still no suspects in the victim’s case.
A long road to recovery
Five months later, the victim is still fighting to regain pieces of herself she fears have been taken away forever.
While the victim has had the support of friends, family and weekly visits to a therapist, she said she struggles every day with the reality that most people do not understand the full impact the assault has had on her life.
Every day of the week, she faces issues concerning trust and security. Visiting the doctor has become a terrifying experience, and simply being in the same room with a male is stressful.
“Now, I’m very wary of all men in general, and that was taken from me — I used to be very good friends with guys. … It’s just something that I will never in my life get back. Like, I still take showers and still try to scrub myself off because I still feel dirty,” the victim said.
The victim went on to say she now has an entirely different view of going out. She is vigilant about watching her drinks, carries roofie testers and above all else is aware of who is looking out for her safety.
The pledge and two members of Sigma Chi she went out with that night were not close friends, she added.
The three left her playing beer pong with several men in Sigma Chi, though the victim only knows this from speaking with eyewitnesses.
“The girl just left me; she was like, ‘I gotta go home,’ and she left,” the victim said. “And honestly, that’s fine, but looking back, I’m never going to do that to someone, because something could happen. I’m sure she thought, ‘Oh, you’re safe here, you’re fine, we know people here.’ But you really just don’t know everybody.”
The university reacts
After the assault, the victim went home for a week to begin her recovery.
“I didn’t go to school,” she said. “I was really depressed and felt violated, and I couldn’t believe that something like this happened to me.”
Soon after arriving at home, the victim was contacted by Yolanda Garza, an assistant dean at the Offices of the Dean of Students.
When MPD or Meriter alerts the ODOS of a sexual assault, the university’s policy is to extend options for action to the victim and aid him or her with support and assistance, according to Dean of Students Lori Berquam.
However, the victim alleges Garza and the university were of no help to her in the months following her assault.
She said she was never asked if she wished to pursue an investigation through the university, adding Garza was not empathetic to her situation.
“[Garza] knew full well I was having a private investigator,” the victim said. “Doesn’t that say you want to do something? I feel like it should have been asked, too. I was never asked, “Do you want them to get in trouble at all?'”
According to Berquam, the university contacts professors on behalf of crime victims to allow extensions on academic material.
However, the victim said she was forced to personally e-mail her professors and explain she had been a victim of rape to receive increased extensions.
Berquam responded the university’s actions are a result of very intentional efforts to help the victim regain control of his or her life.
“If someone doesn’t act like they need [help] or articulate what they need, it’s again one of those things where we don’t want to force ourselves on it. That’s one of the last things you want to do when someone’s been a victim — it’s a re-victimization,” Berquam said.
She said if a student is unhappy with how their assigned dean is handling things, they are invited to contact the ODOS to request a switch.
“I would like to think I hold my staff to very high standards, and I believe strongly in my staff and I believe strongly in terms of their advocacy and support of students,” Berquam said.
Berquam went on to defend Garza as a well-respected and decorated sexual assault counselor, adding she has helped countless victims in her time at UW.
“It happens all the time”
In the end, the victim urged students to be careful when going out and to think about the possible consequences of risky behavior.
This means limiting drinking and always having a close friend to keep an eye on you.
“[Rape is] not just stuff you see in movies. It happens all the time, and most of it’s shushed up because that’s what as a society we’re taught to feel. You never think it will happen to you and it will,” the victim said.
Berquam said she hopes more victims come forward.
“I know, I absolutely know, this is an underreported crime,” Berquam said. “If more victims come forward, I hope we have open arms to accept them [at ODOS] to provide them the support that they need. This is a critical college issue, a critical issue on our campus.”
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