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Trigger warning: This article discusses rape and sexual assault. Please read with caution.
My back was pressed up against plexiglass, a wall of windows facing out into the hallway. I was on display, an exhibit for other college students to peer at as they walked to their classes.
The counselor opened up a cabinet behind her -- it was stuffed with off-brand tissue boxes, and I wondered if that was all she had in those cabinets. She set a box on her desk, within my reach.
“How is the wedding planning going?”
“We’re not getting married anymore," I told her. "He called it off.”
My ex was smacking his lips, brownie crumbs on the corners of his mouth. He looked at me and told me: “I just can’t trust that you’re going to be a godly, submissive wife.” I cringed.
The counselor was trying to be empathic to my situation. She looked at me and said, “Oh, I’m so sorry. That’s horrible.”
“Yeah,” I answered.
The counselor's expression changed. She asked, “Was there, possibly, sexual sin?”
“Well, I don’t know how to talk about it,” I told her.
Cold, shivering, my back against blue shag carpet. Pain, cursing, "No, no, please, no," falling out of my mouth.
“If there was sin in your relationship with him, Samantha, you need to repent of it," she cooed. "Unrepentance can do so much damage to your heart."
“I don’t think, I don’t think I would call what happened sin, though," I stammered. "He -- he hurt me.”
“It’s important, though, that you face what you are responsible for," she continued as I sat there in disbelief. "If you don’t repent, then your relationship with God is broken and can’t be mended. You need God’s grace and forgiveness -- and you need to forgive your ex as well. If you don’t forgive him, then bitterness will take seed and that bitterness will be so much worse than anything he could have done.”
The secretary looked up from her notepad and keyboard.
“They said that if I wanted to change my chapel seat, it would have to be approved by Student Life?”
“And why do you need to change your seat assignment?”
“My ex, he -- well, he follows me around after chapel and it’s making me uncomfortable.”
The dean emerged from her office. “What do you mean?”
“He sits two rows directly behind me, and he waits for me when chapel is over, then he follows me around, trying to talk to me,” I told them.
“This sounds like a personal issue that needs to be resolved between the two of you.”
“But I’ve tried. I’ve asked him so many times to stop -- to just leave me alone. But he doesn’t. He follows me everywhere, and he says horrible things, and causes scenes.”
“From what we’ve heard, you’re the one causing scenes," the dean told me. "You could learn a little self-control. Stop antagonizing him, and he’ll eventually leave you alone.”
I graduated from Pensacola Christian College, a fundamentalist Christian school in Florida. I enrolled there because my family and I honestly believed that I would be safe there. We believed that the dangers present at secular colleges were absent from PCC’s campus -- there was no partying, no drinking, no drugs, and most especially no sex.
The reality was much different and much harsher. I wasn’t safe. At all.
Over the years that I was in a relationship with another PCC student, I was manipulated, verbally attacked, physically abused, sexually assaulted and raped. When I finally -- finally -- had the courage to tell my ex that he couldn’t call me a “goddamn f**king bitch” anymore, he broke our engagement two weeks later.
It didn’t take me long to realize that I was facing more than the end of a relationship.
Initially, the changes in the way people treated me at college were almost imperceptible -- so slight I thought I was imagining things, that I was paranoid. Friends wouldn’t look me in the eye when they passed me on the sidewalk. People who used to smile and shout my name when they saw me started going out of their way to avoid me. RAs, once friendly, withdrew and began giving me demerits for the slightest infractions.
A month later, I was summoned to appear before a dean in Student Life, the administrative body responsible for enforcing their strict morality code. When that meeting gave the dean nothing to punish me with, she forced me into “counseling” -- an experience that made me terrified of seeking professional help for years after I graduated. Not getting the help I needed means that, today, I still have panic attacks and night terrors.
My rapist stalked me until I graduated, following me around the cafeteria, to my classes, pestering me with a litany of "Please, I just want to talk to you! Why won’t you talk to me?!"
And slowly, people I had believed were my friends pulled away. I called one of them, his roommate, hoping that he might be able to get him to leave me alone after the administration refused to help me. His only response: “You weren’t the person I thought you were. I’m not going to speak to you again.”
I was an outcast.
I didn’t understand what was happening, so I tried talking about some of what I’d been through with the few people who were still speaking to me. I opened up to someone, only for her to call me a liar a few days later and tell me that my rapist had "told her what had really happened.”
One of the few friends I had left was a graduate assistant. She had an apartment with a kitchen and let me keep a few groceries there. It was my last semester, and I only had two classes every morning. I would rush to class, afraid that my rapist would be waiting for me somewhere, then head straight to the GA’s room as soon as it was over.
I hid in her room for months. He couldn’t come anywhere near me as long as I was there, and I didn’t have to deal with people avoiding me, people abruptly stopping conversations, people making sure I could hear them mocking me.
At PCC, there is no recourse for someone like me. The only way to tell anyone what had happened to me would have been to march into the hostile Student Life offices and tell someone -- which could have easily resulted in my expulsion. Even my attempt to explain to the counselor what my rapist had done only prompted her speech about repentance.
The student body, staff, and faculty are given absolutely no education whatsoever about abuse or violence or rape, and the only messages students do receive are Sunday school teachers who hold up half-eaten candy bars and torn apart roses and say, "This is what you are if you have sex."
They don’t talk about consent, or show students what resources are available to them outside of Student Life, which is primarily focused on answering questions like, “What were you wearing? Were you alone with him?”
Pensacola Christian College markets itself as “one of the friendliest college campuses in America."
In reality, it is one of the most dangerous places for abuse victims that I know.