O'TOOLE: The assault that I should have reported

When I was 19 and a sophomore at Central Michigan University, my roommate and I were sexually assaulted.
Apr 1, 2014

Tina and I met Alvin on the Friday night before Homecoming 1991. We were idly wandering Warriner Hall waiting for intermission to end and talking excitedly about the Ellen DeGeneres show we’d just seen.

A tall, dark and handsome man approached and started chatting us up. The lights flickered to signal Gilbert Gottfried was about to take the stage. Tall, Dark and Handsome slipped us a piece of paper with his name, address and phone number. “Party at my place tomorrow,” he said.

We were the first to arrive at Alvin’s apartment. After 30 minutes, I realized we would be the only ones. While Alvin fried chicken, I took Tina aside and told her I was uncomfortable and wanted to leave. She insisted the guy was harmless. She suggested I drink a fuzzy navel and lighten up.

I thought about leaving without her. Then I thought, “safety in numbers.” I ignored the red flags, the alarm bells and the seizing in my gut. I stayed.

One minute, I was cheering on Central’s quarterback on TV. The next, I was struggling to escape Alvin’s lecherous hands and mouth.

I managed to get away, and then he was all over Tina. Then he was on me again, squeezing me and saying, “Let’s dance.” Luther Vandross was on the stereo.

I don’t know how long we were in Alvin’s apartment. I don’t remember how we got back to our dorm. I just remember that, once inside our tiny little room, I didn’t want to leave again.

“We should call the police,” I told Tina.

“No.”

That was our entire discussion of the ordeal.

When evening came, I called my boyfriend, who attended another university. He reacted as if I’d told him I had a hangnail. He said I was selfish for bothering him when he had serious academic concerns. He didn’t have time for my petty problems.

Tina and my boyfriend acted as if nothing had happened. It didn’t feel like nothing to me.

I considered going to the police without Tina. But I was too afraid. I didn’t know if I could repeat what had happened to a stranger in uniform. Tina was my only witness, so she would have to talk to the police whether she wanted to or not. She so staunchly refused to talk about it that I worried she might deny it. What then?

That school year, I sank into malaise. I escaped into sleep. Any time I wasn’t in class or scrubbing dishes in the cafeteria, I slept.

I stopped my after-dinner walks around campus. I rejected invites to parties, movies, bowling. I preferred the company of my pillow. I listlessly dragged myself from class to class, occasionally nodding off during lectures. I dropped a grammar class to avoid failing it. My boyfriend cheated on me repeatedly and I didn’t have the gumption to dump him.

I was an automaton, moving through my sophomore year but never experiencing it.

Worst of all, I became afraid. Any man that remotely reminded me of Alvin caused me to panic. More than once, I left a store without finishing my shopping; or turned around and left a room because a man looked, moved, spoke or smelled like Alvin.

I wasn't just afraid of Alvin, I was afraid of myself, because I had been foolish enough to stay in a man’s apartment when my intuition told me to leave. I trusted no one, least of all me.

Junior year, I picked up the campus newspaper and Alvin’s face was on the front page. It was a police artist’s sketch, but it was definitely him. The headline above the picture informed me that he had been sentenced to several years in prison for sexual assault on several counts. A young woman braver than I had pressed charges against him. Then several other young women had come forward to say he had assaulted them, too.

I was heartsick, flooded with guilt and shame. I should have reported the assault on me. Because I hadn’t, he had assaulted other women. Those women suffered as I had.

And how many other women, like me, had been too afraid to go to the police? All that suffering might have been avoided.

I no longer feel responsible for Alvin's assaults on those women. But I agree with Albert Einstein: "The world is a dangerous place, not because of those who do evil, but because of those who look on and do nothing."

Editor’s note: April is National Sexual Assault Awareness Month.

— By Kelly O'Toole, Tribune community columnist

Comments

Vladtheimp

Although this is a sad tale, it is also a great example of obfuscation and, probably, political correctness. Can you describe Alvin a little more accurately other than "tall, dark, and handsome,"
frying chicken, with "Luther Vandross was on the stereo."? Alvin is long gone but maybe you could help this generation of young women more.

Jimvh

I applaud you for the courage to write about a very dark time in your life and unquestioningly believe your story. I personally know of others with equally horrifying stories and rarely does this type of immoral behavior see a courtroom or is made aware to the public who really needs to know.

Willylowman

profiling? dark, and handsome,"
frying chicken, with "Luther Vandross was on the stereo

cantthinkofaname

Vlad, at least you acknowledge this is a sad tale, Willy zoned in on profiling right away! What difference does it make if it is a white man or a black man? In 1991 I believe it is possible a white man was capable of playing Luther & frying chicken. Again who cares? This is her painful story she has lived with & had influence her whole life. The first assault I endured was when I was 13..not rape, but pretty brutal. I quickly developed the feelings for red flags from men, I was very careful but still had two more attempts I managed to escape. Her point is how damaging it is for a woman when a man feels he needs to prove he is more powerful than a woman. Not what he is cooking before he does it. Teach your sons to respect women. Teach your daughters to be tough & report sexual assaults.

AprilMayJune

Thank you Kelly O'Toole for writing this column that helps bring out awareness of such assaults. The lack of importance given to your assault speaks to the lack of psychological tools available to us when dealing with sexual assaults. I believe the tide is turning and part of that is this very column that you have written that brings about a dialog to bring the stories of sexual assaults into the open and how important it is to report them.

Barry Soetoro

You go to hang out at some guy's apartment and then call your boyfriend afterward. Did I miss something here?

Kelle Lynn

I admire you for telling your story here, and hope this helps others to know the best thing is not to turn inward, but to use your voice to speak up as a means of protecting yourself and others.

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