Updated: Feb 6
Sometimes I wish my sexual assault was one of the three out of four that go unreported. I thought being molested by a teacher at my school was unbearable, but nothing could have prepared me for the aftermath of reporting.
I was a new freshman at high school, 13 years old and ready to embark on a new journey, with new kids, from different schools and backgrounds. It was only a month or so into my freshman year that I met a substitute teacher in one of my classes. To say he was laid back, would be an understatement. He had kids that were supposed to be in other classes standing around his desk, joking and laughing with him. When the class filled up he gave the directive to treat the class like a study hall. I got to to work, but I couldn't help but eaves drop on the conversation he was having with the upperclassman. I overheard them talking about a party on the weekend and I was intrigued by this totally inappropriate, but kinda cool conversation. One of the upperclassman that knew my brother invited me over and asked a question about a party that weekend. I didn't know it then, but that was where it started. I was now in a proximity to this guy that would prove to be dangerous.
A couple days later I see this teacher in a smaller room with a bunch of kids. When I enter they're all laughing and have the room covered with blown up condoms. The teacher smiled and handed me one that was still in the package. I looked around the room, giggled and then blew that condom into a balloon. I get how inappropriate this sounds now, but he was just seen as a cool guy, and there were lots of other kids around. I thought it was funny and maybe this is just how high school is.
I had English class next, and guess who was covering the class? Cam, the substitute. He didn't do much work, telling us to treat this class like a study hall too. When the bell rang, I was supposed to head to lunch, but Cam asked me to hold on for a second. He said he needed help with something on the computer, and as I worked to fix the computer, I realized he was shutting the blinds, and locking the classroom door. I finished what I was doing, "alright, you should be all set," I said. He gave me a preoccupied smile,that was trying to imply something I was too naive to understand. As I walked toward the door, he stopped me at a podium. He swiftly lifted my small body on top of it and wrapped my legs around his torso. I pushed back, but he had me pinned. He kissed me, like full tongue. I remember his tongue wildly trying to gain entry through my clenched teeth. He felt me all over, and I could feel his erection push up against my body with every thrust. He dry humped me, until he finished. And then he just smiled, and as he walked over to the door to let me out, he said "don't worry, I'll take it slow with you."
I went to lunch like nothing had happened. What did happen? I was confused and I distinctly remember thinking....well, it wasn't rape. I told one friend on the bus home that day. "Cam kissed me." I admitted softly. "Ewe, that is so gross, if you do that again, I will not be your friend." she responded. Okay, so this is my fault and don't tell anyone.....got it.
The next day at school I showed up to Spanish class. My Spanish teacher, said I needed to report to the computer lab. "For what?" I asked. "There is a note here from Cam saying you need to resolve conflict in the computer lab. C'mon grab your things and come back before you miss too much class." I was nervous to go, but I also wondered if maybe he was going to apologize, or things would be back to normal.
I entered the computer lab...."resolve conflict?" I asked. Cam looked up with a big smile, "I had to get you out of class somehow." he responded. He asked if he could show me his new office. I didn't feel like I had much choice, so I followed him. He brought me to a dark room. I immediately smelled the old odor of beer. There were no lights and this wasn't an office. It was a storage closet, one that the sports teams used to pile the cans they had retrieved from their bottle drives. Before I knew it, I was shoved against the wall. My shirt was pushed up and he began biting my bra hard. "Ouch," I said as I pushed him back. Anytime I pushed him away he smiled and said I'm sorry as he went in for more. He put his hands down my pants and I pulled them back out. He said "Okay, okay, I'll take it slow." It was at that time that he said he would be right back and left me in the closet. I cried for a minute and then went to leave, but the door was locked. I started banging and yelling for someone to let me out, but nobody came. Two hours later he returned. He said sorry it took so long and tried to touch me again, but I blew past him and straight to math class. I was shaking, and livid and I couldn't concentrate on school, so I went to the guidance counselors office and told them what had been happening. This was the first mistake I made in choosing to report.
The school sent me home for a week, but did not suspend the teacher nor report it to the police for days, allowing them to spare themselves any bad press or liability. The school told the teacher, long before police were notified so he could get his story together. Eventually, the police removed him from the school. This is where my three years of hell started, and the high school years, I was so excited for, destroyed.
I first learned that I was wrong in telling the school. Had I told the police, they would have set up a call between me and the teacher. They would have tested my bra and other clothing for DNA. Because it had been so long and he had already been notified, my case was a he said she said.
The friends and peers closest to me were questioned by police at their homes, in front of their families. I'm not sure why, but I was never allowed to hang out with those friends after that. I guess people would rather have their kids hang out with the untainted. I experienced first hand the victim blaming that happens in this country. I heard adult after adult say "I think she liked him. Didn't she kind of ask for it?" Let's be VERY clear here. They were saying this about a 13 year old girl and a 43 year old man. I pray they never had to deal with a similar circumstance. From the day I reported I was a piece of shit. I was "that girl." I would even meet new kids coming from different schools and they would ask, "are you the girl who had sex with a teacher?" The school eventually paid for me to go to private school, they wanted to erase the problem, and that was me.
Three Years. Three years of depositions that stacked two feet high. Three years of being badgered by his attorney (which was paid for by his church). Finally, when the trial was here, I was ready to take the stand, speak my truth and see justice prevail. I was 16 now, and spent 6 straight hours on the stand reliving everything while he looked on. In the end, he was found Not Guilty. I knew nothing about burden of proof or circumstantial evidence. I thought you told the truth and that justice would be served. The assault messed up my freshman year, but reporting it ruined my life.
So I have struggled with this a lot. I am a social worker and these perpetrators need to be stopped, their actions must be reported......but it isn't necessarily the advice I would give a young girl in my similar situation. Had I avoided him and kept it moving, I would have been much better off. I wouldn't have lost all my friends. I wouldn't have been the tainted girl in my community. I wouldn't have engaged in self harm behaviors and contemplated suicide.
The assault is just the beginning, but the report, the media, the trial, that is a whole different ball game, and nobody writes a manual for that. So here is my attempt.
This is what I would tell someone to consider before you report.
1. Is there evidence? Do you have clothing, phone calls, pictures, anything that will help your case?
2. Report to the police. Not the company, or the school, or the university, or the owner of the place it happened. THEY WILL PROTECT THEMSELVES. Go to the police first.
3. Are you ready for a drawn out trial, news coverage, newspaper articles?
4. Are you ready to face your abuser in court?
5. Will you be okay with a not guilty verdict?
They say you MUST report to save others, but I reported and still no others were saved. He was arrested in Ohio for the same thing later. And still, must a 13 year old child be a hero to others? That is a big burden to bare. A burden that almost killed me.
I believe that rather than encouraging more people to come forward, more victims to report, we should all actively pursue a culture where reporting is taken seriously. Where families, schools, companies and other entities don't try to protect themselves over the innocent. A society where victims aren't blamed. Where specific steps to take are taught, so that cases are able to be tried and perpatrators are convicted. We must fight for a system that sentences sex crimes more harshly than simple drug offenses, so victims don't have to live in fear of their perpatrators release. When things get murky and uncomfortable, are you willing to stand up for what is right? Are you willing to sit with someone in pain and let them know they're not alone? That is what will foster the increase in reports we say need to happen.