Last spring, I was approaching college graduation and trying to figure out what I would do for my First Post-College Job. I had absolutely no idea. I loved studying anthropology, but hadn’t found a prospective job I was really interested in.
I had heard about the Disney College Program from a few friends that had an amazing time working for the company and thought it would be better than nothing. Add the unlimited access to their theme parks, warm weather, and four extra months to figure out what to do with my life and it sounded pretty ideal.
I was accepted into the program and arrived in mid-August. After a few days of orientation, I started work on Main Street U.S.A. in the Magic Kingdom.
Three weeks into the program, I was raped by one of my co-workers.
I don’t feel a desire to share every detail from that night, but I’ll give you the bare bones: He and I went to a party together, we went back to his apartment later, and I said “no,” but he wouldn’t stop.
For two months I kept everything that happened that night to myself. I told my roommates that things went fine and I had a good night. I didn’t know how to feel about what happened. In the beginning, I told myself it was a misunderstanding; maybe he hadn’t heard me. I blamed myself; I should have yelled louder. I should have pushed harder. I should have punched him and ran out of the room. I always thought that if I was ever raped I would beat the guy up. Does that mean I wasn’t raped?
I tried to talk to him about that night. I thought if we could “work it out,” we could still have some great friendship and I could sweep that one bad night under the rug. I honestly thought it would be easier to befriend my rapist than to deal with everything that comes with a person admitting they were raped.
When I tried talking to him, he said he was too drunk to remember what happened that night. I didn’t believe him, but that was where our conversation ended. After that I still had to see him at work nearly every day, all while being reminded that I was working at The Happiest Place On Earth. I cried a lot in the bathroom and prayed I would get horribly injured (I specified “not fatally”) on the job so I could go home without any further question.
I finally decided to talk to someone after the first time I ran into him outside of work. He showed up at my friend’s Halloween party dressed as the Phantom of the Opera, which made seeing him that much more unnerving. I spent the rest of the night watching him hit on girls, worrying, and wondering whether or not I should tell my co-workers what happened.
I made an appointment to see one of the counselors in Disney’s Employee Assistance Program. I tried to be optimistic.Of course they’ll listen to me. It’s Disney, a company built on childhood innocence and happiness. Wouldn’t they want to fire an accused rapist immediately? (Spoiler Alert: No.)
I recounted everything that happened that night while the counselor stayed silent and seemed at least mildly sympathetic. When I told her we had been drinking, her face changed from “concerned” to “you made a mistake.” Still, I told her, I said "no" the entire time and he never listened.
The first thing she said to me was “Well, now you know not to be hanging around boys in the middle of the night. You know what they want.”
Take a few seconds and re-read that. Now let’s unpack it.
A certified counselor was insinuating that it was my fault that my coworker decided to rape me -- as if I should have known better than to interact with any man after dark. Not only that, but she was advising me to approach every interaction with a man as if he is a potential rapist, including every man that works at Disney World. If I react to a man with anything less than hostility after sundown, whatever happens is my fault.
I told her that “no” means “no” whether it’s day or night. That was apparently too radical an idea for her, as she said nothing in reply. She continued to make excuses for my rapist. She asked where he was from and I told her, “France.” She remarked that “cultural differences” were probably part of the problem, telling me that the French have a “different view of love” than we Americans do.
It was at that point that I completely let go of any hope that this woman would help me.
Still, I told her that I was worried for the girls he was hitting on and didn’t know what to do. She apparently took that to mean I was jealous that I wasn’t getting his attention, because she told me to show up at the next party looking hot and make him jealous.
“You’re a pretty girl. I’m sure you get all the boys.”
I was stunned.Why on earth would I want to make my rapist feel jealous? That sounds like it would make my rapist angry and want to assert his dominance over me and the situation in a sexual way. And if I followed that advice and he raped me again, they would probably just tell me I should have known better than to dress so sexy around him. I stayed silent and took a card with our next appointment written down. I never showed up, and instead filed a complaint against her.
Over the next few days, I had a breakdown that led to me telling my parents what happened in a frantic, panic attack-induced phone call at three in the morning. They encouraged me to tell the company what happened and said they would fly me home the moment I said I wanted to leave. I ultimately decided to stay another week to report the assault and get all my things together.
It was good that I gave myself a week to get the situation straightened out, because it was impossible to find out where to report a sexual assault within the company. There was no information about how to report a sexual assault in the college program, nor any resources for who to contact.
I tried calling every department that sounded like they might deal with sexual assault, but ended up in an endless loop of transferred calls until I finally gave up. I went to the front desk of my apartment complex in search of an answer. The look on the guy’s face when I arrived and asked “Hi, do you know where I go to report a rape?” told me he had absolutely no idea. He gave me the number for department I already called. Eventually I had to ask one of my managers, and thankfully she knew who to contact.
I made an appointment to meet with Cheri in Employee Relations. When I got to her office, I wrote down my statement recounting everything that happened the night of the assault and waited to be called in. Unfortunately, she handled the situation even worse than the counselor had.
“You were drinking?”
Yes, I’m over twenty-one. That is legal.
"Why didn't you scream? If his roommates were home, they would have heard you."
Thank you for your brilliant insight. I haven’t beaten myself up enough for that already.
"Why didn't you push him off you? You said he wasn't that big."
I froze. The rape took me a little by surprise.
"Why did it take you this long to report the assault? Are you sure you're not reporting this as a rape because you wanted him to be your boyfriend and he said no?"
… Fuck you.
"Now what I don't understand is why you didn't call the police first."
Because of literally everything you’re saying to me right now.
Those were the things I thought, because I was crying too hard to answer her in the moment. I was told they would still carry out an investigation, but I had little hope anything would come of it. I left her office and immediately booked my flight home.
About a week after I got home, I received a letter that said my complaint had been “noted” in the counselor’s file. I decided to make a follow-up call to Employee Relations and get an update on my investigation. I was told my case was closed, but that they were not able to tell me what actions they had taken. I immediately contacted one of my co-workers asking if he had recently seen my rapist at work. He told me, “I saw him yesterday. He was fine.”
I’m still floored by how unsupportive Disney was during every step of that process. This is a company with tens of thousands of people working for them just in Orlando, including thousands of college-aged adults living on their premises with very little supervision.
There is no information on how to report a sexual assault and seemingly no one competent enough to handle the situation when someone figures out how. To be honest, I feel more violated by the way Disney treated me than I feel from being raped, and I’m worried for every other person that has been in my situation.
These past nine months have been incredibly difficult; “Disney” is not an easy name to escape, along with constant reminders of the time I spent there. However after all this time, I’ve managed to turn all of the bullshit in this situation into an immense amount of self-confidence and self-love that I have never felt before.
It’s difficult to ask every person that reads this article to stop supporting a company that is so pervasive in pop culture (though be my guest, as they say). Nevertheless, I have a feeling that with enough publicity over how poorly their company handles sexual assault accusations, Disney might actually do something proactive about it. So if you would, share this article wherever your online presence may be. We’ll see what happens.