Editor’s note: This story details allegations of sexual assault. It relies on in-depth reporting, including multiple interviews with the victim and alleged perpetrator; interviews with the victim’s friends; Title IX documents; emails and text messages. All names have been changed to protect the privacy of the victim. For questions about our reporting processes, please contact [email protected].
On the morning of Friday, Oct. 20, 2017, Kat (not her real name), a freshman, woke up early for an 8 a.m. class. She was groggy and tired from going out the night before, but the class had an attendance policy, and she didn’t want to be counted absent.
A good friend of hers with whom she’d been having a fling, Jason (not his real name), was asleep in the bed next to her. They both lived in Minton Hall, but Kat had decided to stay with Jason so she wouldn’t have to walk to her own room (it was pretty common for her to stay with Jason or her other friends after a night out, they would both later confirm). She and Jason had made out occasionally in the past, but never anything more. She’d been hoping their casual fling would turn into a relationship but suspected he didn’t feel the same way.
Kat gathered her belongings and tried to push off memories of the night before. The reality hadn’t set in. She left Jason still asleep in his bed, went down to her own room to change clothes and left for class.
As her professor lectured, she couldn’t shake the feeling that what had happened the night before was wrong. There was the peach vodka, the “Risky Business”-themed frat party with a few of her good friends, everyone hanging out in Jason’s dorm afterward and the vague recollection of sex with Jason. She said she knew she was too drunk to consent to it.
“I’m really drunk,” she said she remembers saying. “I don’t think I want to do this.”
He put his hand over her mouth and shushed her. He said later in an interview it was only for a second. His roommate was asleep across the room, and he said he didn’t want him to hear. Kat said the rest of the incident was foggy.
After class, Kat said she felt exhausted. The kind of exhaustion where you want to lay in bed all day. She decided to skip her next two classes and sent her good friend, Dan (not his real name), a Snapchat message and said she needed to talk.
The two met later that day in her room, and she told him she thought she had been sexually assaulted the night before. Dan said he remembers being mad after hearing her story, like he could kick Jason’s ass. He told her he was there for her, and that she should report it if she felt comfortable doing so.
Initially, she was hesitant to report the incident. She didn’t want to ruin Jason’s life. He had been her friend, one of her first in college.
“The hard thing is that we were such good friends,” she said during an interview five months later. “Even though someone does something to you, you still kind of care about them at first … I didn’t want to damage his reputation. I didn’t want to have him face consequences.”
Home on the Hill
Kat came to WKU after graduating from an all-girl Christian high school. She said her family has always been religious but doesn’t attend church frequently anymore. Her two oldest sisters identify as atheists, but Kat said she’s not sure what she believes.
Her parents are separated but still live together in a situation she describes as “complicated.” She doesn’t have a great relationship with her dad, but Kat, her sisters and their mother stay in touch. Her oldest sister works in public health, which has allowed Kat to be open about her sexual health, she said.
She’d always had a passion for social justice, and she came into college with intentions of becoming an attorney.
Kat said she was excited to start college with a few of her best friends from high school. She found a fast home in the Honors College and made friends with others in Minton Hall, the freshmen honors dorm. They went to parties together, hung out in the dorm and went out for late-night doughnuts and burgers. Sometimes they hung out in the Minton study room where they’d often have deep, late-night conversations about politics, religion, their pasts and their hopes for the future.
Sometime in her first semester, she met Jason. As friendships often go at the beginning of college, theirs was a friendship primarily of proximity. In a large university, she was grateful to find someone who shared her beliefs and interests.
She doesn’t remember exactly how they met, but she’s sure they were introduced through mutual friends in Minton. They started hanging out and began a fling that Kat hoped would burgeon into a relationship, though she suspected he didn’t feel the same. Still, he paid attention to her, and she liked that.
“If we were in the same room all together with a lot of people, and I was being quiet, he would text me and ask me what was wrong,” she said.
They’d made out a few times, but every time he initiated taking things further, she said she stopped him. She said she told him multiple times she didn’t want to have sex with him without the commitment of a relationship.
“He would get mad at me, and I would just shrug it off,” Kat said later. “But now looking back on it, that’s so toxic. No one should ever get mad at me for those kinds of decisions.”
Kat said the evening of Thursday, Oct.19, started with her and her friends taking shots of peach vodka in Jason’s room, though Jason would later say there had been no alcohol in his room at any point in the night. Kat’s friend Olivia (not her real name) said there had been drinking in Jason’s room before the party.
Kat left Minton to go to a fraternity party with two of her girlfriends. The theme of the party was “Risky Business,” with attendees dressing as Tom Cruise in a famous scene of the 1983 movie of the same name. Kat wore a button-down dress shirt she borrowed from Dan and a pair of black spandex. Kat said the party itself was uneventful, except for the fact that she drank a bit too much.
When her group got back to Minton later that night sometime after midnight, she hung out with a few of her friends in Jason’s room. Dan was there, as were a few of her other friends who wandered in and out throughout the night.
Kat said she was too drunk to remember much of the night, but Dan said he remembers holding a trash can for her when she got sick. Around 3 or 4 a.m., Dan volunteered to carry Kat to her dorm room on another floor, but she said she felt too sick and just wanted to stay there. Dan said he thought Kat would be safe in Jason’s room.
“He’d never done anything before like that that would make any of us think he’d do that,” Dan said. “He was just a nice, genuine guy.”
Kat said she remembers waking up at some point to Jason having sex with her. She said she doesn’t remember much of the encounter because she was groggy and still drunk.
During a phone interview in May, Jason said he was initially shocked by Kat’s allegations against him because he cared a lot about her. He confirmed the two had sex but said he thought the sex was consensual.
“I honestly cared a lot about [Kat], and I never really meant to make her feel like I did that,” Jason said
Jason said the two had talked about having sex before but decided against it so as not to confuse each other or make their friendship awkward.
“We never really tried to push that boundary anymore until that night,” Jason said.
He said he did not drink at all the night of the incident. He also said Kat was acting different — more flirty — that night because she was drunk.
“She was drunk, so she’s obviously gonna be acting different,” Jason said.
However, Jason also said he thought Kat was sober when they had sex.
“I thought she was sober, but she was not, so…” Jason said, trailing off.
Jason said that though his relationship with Kat often went beyond friendship, he said he considered her a best friend, and it upset him to lose her as a friend.
“Obviously losing a best friend is something a lot of people never want to happen,” Jason said.
An American epidemic
According to a 2014 report by the U.S. Department of Justice, college women aged 18-24 are three times more likely to be a victim of sexual violence than the overall female population. According to the CDC’s 2017 sexual violence fact sheet, nearly one in five women in the U.S. will be raped at some point in their lives.
However, the fact sheet notes these numbers underestimate the true reality of sexual violence. WKU’s crime statistics show a lesser frequency, with only two reported rapes and one reported instance of fondling in 2016. The number of sexual assaults reported in Title IX complaints may also differ from these numbers since Title IX investigations are separate from police investigations. The WKU Office of Student Conduct did not respond to requests for this information in time for publication.
Crimes of sexual violence are under-reported for many reasons, including fear of not being believed, shame and fear or threat of further harm from their perpetrator, said Elizabeth Madariaga, sexual assault services coordinator and staff counselor at the WKU Counseling and Testing Center.
“People are afraid to report what happened because they’re going to be blamed,” Madariaga said. “’Why’d you do this? Why’d you wear this? Why’d you go there?’ Society, our rape culture, puts that responsibility on the victims not to get raped.”
Many victims also wait to report because they haven’t processed what happened or want to explore their options, Madariaga said. This can make the crime difficult to prove and sometimes intensify doubt of their stories. However, she said, this hesitation reflects the natural pattern of how humans tend to deal with trauma.
“Victims deal with trauma in different ways,” Madariaga said. “Just like when you get a cut on your hand, people heal differently. People get different cuts; it affects them in different ways.”
Madariaga said there is very little incentive for falsely reporting rape because of this social stigma. It is difficult to assess the prevalence of false accusations because of discrepancies in how such an accusation is defined in various jurisdictions. However, a 2009 University of Massachusetts study of over 2,000 cases of sexual assault found a 7.1 percent rate of false reports, consistent with other estimates ranging from 2 to 8 percent.
Madariaga said there is also a misconception that perpetrators of sexual violence are often “strangers in bushes.” In reality, seven out of 10 rapes are committed by someone known to the victim, according to the 2015 national crime victimization survey conducted by the Bureau of Justice Statistics.
Madariaga said she thinks the #MeToo movement is changing this culture of stigma, shame and blame by allowing survivors to talk about their experiences without fear.
As Kat started telling more of her friends about her experience, she started to accept it: She’d been raped.
One of her friends, Sara (not her real name), also a freshman, was a member of Kappa Delta sorority. At the previous week’s chapter meeting, a member of the sorority gave a presentation about local sexual trauma and recovery center Hope Harbor, where she was a volunteer. She told the sisters what to do if they or a friend is sexually assaulted and gave them business cards and resources about how to contact the center.
The following Monday when Kat told Sara what happened to her, Sara passed along the pamphlets she’d received about Hope Harbor and helped her make an appointment. The next day, Tuesday, Oct. 24, Sara drove Kat to Hope Harbor where a counselor interviewed her in a small room with three chairs and a desk and told her about their services and her reporting options.
Jason texted Kat that night, Tuesday, Oct. 24 at 9:01 p.m. saying he’d noticed that she’d been avoiding him.
“[Kat]… idk what’s going on… but whatever it is I’m sorry, I’m so sorry …” the text said.
Kat said she decided not to respond. It was the last time the two had contact with one another.
Kat said she was initially hesitant to report because she didn’t want to relive the event over again and was worried she wouldn’t get the outcome she wanted. Kat said friends like Sara encouraged her to report the incident anyway when Kat expressed feeling unsafe in Minton. She said she decided to file a Title IX complaint but not a police report because she felt like it would be a lengthy and time-consuming process that she didn’t want to face.
“This wasn’t something I wanted to have to deal with continually for a year,” Kat said.
On Oct. 26, the Thursday after the incident, she went to WKU’s Office of Student Conduct to report it. They took an initial statement about what happened in Kat’s own words, and the following day, allowed her to file a “no-contact order” against Jason, which prohibited him from contacting her in any way, including third-party communication through a friend.
As part of the agreement, Kat was asked not to reach out to Jason in turn. According to the webpage for WKU’s Office of Student Conduct, any violation of a no-contact order is a violation of the student code of conduct and could result in removal from WKU.
The no-contact order was reassuring, but it didn’t solve her problems. For nearly a month as the office investigated her complaint, Kat lived in constant anxiety of running into her perpetrator in Minton.
“I couldn’t be where I lived comfortably or feel safe,” Kat said. “I stopped using the elevator because I was afraid of getting on the elevator and being on it with him.”
On Nov. 20, Kat was notified by an email from Melanie Evans, coordinator of sexual assault services and student conduct, that Jason had been removed from Minton.
Jason confirmed he was also accused of allegedly sexually assaulting another Minton resident in late October 2017 after the incident involving Kat. The alleged victim, who is no longer a student at WKU, confirmed she had been sexually assaulted but did not respond for further comment.
Kat continued to attend regular counseling sessions at Hope Harbor, where she learned skills on coping with her trauma and managing her relationships. Still, she said she felt isolated from a lot of the people around her.
Most of her friends believed and supported her, she said, but she still felt like no one completely understood how she felt. These feelings of isolation were exacerbated by the fact that many of her friends — even Dan, who served as a witness in her Title IX case — stayed in contact with Jason despite knowing what he’d done to her.
Kat said this isolation has been the hardest part of her recovery.
“No one really understands because at first they were all very sympathetic, and they hated to see me go through it, but the fact of the matter is a lot of them continued to stay friends with him,” Kat said. “It’s still something that affects me every day, and it’s changed the way I have relationships with people.”
Dan said he spoke with Jason about a week after the incident — a few days after Kat filed the Title IX report. Dan said Jason told him he thought Kat was sobering up at that point in the night and that he’d used a condom. Dan said hearing Jason’s side of the story made him more sympathetic because he believed Jason hadn’t meant to do anything wrong, but it didn’t excuse what Jason had done.
“I don’t know if it was malicious or not or if he was just trying to make me think it wasn’t malicious, but it sounded like it wasn’t his intention to do anything bad, but he actually had,” Dan said.
For Kat’s female friends, though, the choice to cut Jason off was one of both loyalty and personal experience, Sara said. She said it was frustrating to see their male friends remain close with Jason.
“They’re guys,” she said. “They don’t feel unsafe like girls have to feel unsafe, so I feel like they don’t understand it as much.”
Sara said many of them excused Jason’s behavior because they said he went to church and repented, but Sara said she doesn’t think he changed. She continued to worry when she saw other girls around him.
“When we’d see drunk girls with him, it was scary, because that happened with Kat,” she said. “We don’t want it to happen with other people.”
On Dec. 9, the Saturday after finals week of the fall 2017 semester, Michael Crowe, director of student conduct, notified Kat via email that Jason would be “trespassed” from campus and would no longer be allowed on any property owned or operated by the university. Jason confirmed that he was told by Crowe his dismissal from WKU was a result of the findings of both Title IX investigations related to the incidents with Kat and the other woman. The no-contact order between Kat and Jason would remain in place. Jason transferred to the University of Louisville.
Kat said she was very pleased and kind of surprised at the results of the Title IX investigation. However, the process took two months, and it wasn’t until almost four weeks later that Jason was removed from Minton. Kat said at the time, it felt like the process didn’t happen quickly enough.
“To them maybe it didn’t feel like a long time, because they had to process it,” Kat said, “But for me, everyday living with him in my building and the constant anxiety, it took a long time.”
Jason said that though he has moved on from this incident, he still does not agree with the outcome of the Title IX investigation. He said he felt the investigation was fair and that he felt both sides had an adequate opportunity to express their side of the story as well as witness testimonies. Overall, he said he’s learned to “be careful” and that he’s sorry for how last October’s incidents affected his friends and family.
“From the bottom of my heart, I would like to apologize for how this not only affected these two girls, but also want to apologize to all my friends and family that were highly disappointed in me in this situation,” Jason said.
Sara said she was so happy when she found out Jason wouldn’t be allowed to continue attending WKU.
“He deserves to rot in a cell,” Sara said. “It’s not OK to do that to someone — make her feel so unsafe and so uncomfortable.”
“I’m just afraid of not knowing how they will react. Family is forever, and I don’t want them to associate me with this forever.”
Kat, WKU student and sexual assault survivor
Kat continued to experience generalized anxiety, even in situations that weren’t related to the incident.
“It triggered a lot of anxiety in me,” Kat said in March. “Now I get anxious over things that are completely unrelated, but they’re just problems I didn’t deal with before.”
Still, Kat did not tell her family. Each time she went home for a holiday or a weekend visit, she told herself she would tell her mom or sisters but couldn’t make herself do it. Even when she spent her six-week-long winter break at home, she kept her trauma to herself.
“I’m just afraid of not knowing how they will react,” she said. “Family is forever, and I don’t want them to associate me with this forever.”
A phone call home
The same day of the Talisman’s first interview with Kat in mid-March, Kat decided to tell her mom about her assault. After five months of keeping her pain away from her family, she picked up the phone and called her mom.
Kat’s mother, Dana (not her real name), is a mother of five girls and works in human resources. She said raising five daughters was wonderful, but challenging — an experience she wouldn’t trade for the world. Kat is her middle daughter and she describes her as mature, responsible and loving. She said Kat was always wise from the time she was very young.
“Kat has been more mature than me since the day she was born,” she said.
Dana said when Kat told her about the incident, she felt heartbroken, but it didn’t take her long to ask how she could help Kat find a therapist to help her.
“I went into task mode, which is my way of coping with a lot of things — fixing things,” Dana said.
More than anything, Dana said she was filled with anger and sadness at the prevalence of sexual assault on college campuses and in culture as a whole.
“You hear about it all the time and how it’s rampant on college campuses, but you don’t send your kid away believing something is going to happen to them,” Dana said.
And though Dana said the #MeToo movement has given her a bit of hope for improvement, she doesn’t think it’s enough. Change, she said, will be slow and need to start in how boys are raised.
“I don’t have any sons, but if I did, I would be using these instances … to teach them how to treat women,” Dana said. “I don’t think people are inherently bad. They just don’t understand how bad it really is.”
#MeToo and beyond
Now at the end of her second semester at WKU, Kat has drifted apart from many of her friends from last semester, but she said it’s mostly because everyone has begun to find their own groups and interests. She said she no longer wants to attend law school but wants to be involved in direct, grassroots activism and work at nonprofits like Hope Harbor. Someday, she said, she might like to work at a university as a faculty or staff member.
“I think education is the best way to change society, which is something I want to do,” she said.
She said it’s good the #MeToo movement is holding perpetrators accountable but wants to see more efforts to prevent sexual assault from happening in the first place. She expressed similar statements as her mother and said these efforts toward change start from birth.
“The problem starts from the way people are raised and the culture around it,” she said. “Anything like that is going to take a long time to change because it’s the way girls and boys are both socialized as they’re growing up.”
Though she has no way of knowing if Jason has learned his lesson, Kat said she feels it’s important to focus on both prevention and rehabilitation.
“I feel like if there was more focus on rehabilitating the perpetrators, we’d have less serial offenses because that’s a really big problem,” Kat said.
Lately, she’s been trying to channel her experience into action, like attending the Take Back the Night march hosted by Hope Harbor on April 26 to raise awareness for sexual assault. She also said she’s been working to forge healthy relationships in spite of her trauma.
“I think it’s really caused me to feel a divide between myself and other people, and I’d like to break down that feeling,” she said. “Even if people don’t understand me, that shouldn’t matter. That shouldn’t change the way I go about things.”
Kat said she wanted to come forward about her experience so students can know that sexual assault does happen at WKU. She said she knew sexual assault was prevalent when she came to college but didn’t know it was happening in her own dorm building — and she definitely didn’t think it would happen to her.
“I feel like there are people in my dorm who are totally unaware that this kind of thing happens right next door or above or below them,” Kat said.
WKU Talisman + SGA SAVES
“It Happens Here” is a collaboration between the Talisman and the Student Government Association’s SAVES Committee, which aims to end sexual assault, suicide and self-harm on campus and expand mental health resources at WKU. “It Happens Here” is a project that exclusively focuses on telling the stories of sexual violence survivors at WKU to localize the national #MeToo movement. The Talisman is committed to telling these stories with complexity, nuance and above all, truth, in order to put human faces on this difficult issue.
If you’d like to contribute to the series, please email us at [email protected]. The incident did not have to occur on campus or while you were a student.