Surviving sexual assault: Beth’s story

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — In high school, Beth* was the “good girl, the goody two-shoes, the prude.” She experimented with alcohol but didn’t get drunk, and she never violated her curfew. So, on her first night of college, far away from the confines of a strict upbringing, she participated in a rite of passage for many college freshman, the obligatory dorm party.

That night is forever etched in her memory for all the wrong reasons.

She remembers going from dorm to dorm, partying. She remembers everyone drinking heavily, doing shots and beer bongs.

“I didn’t know my limits,” said Beth, who now lives in Steamboat Springs. “I’d never been drunk before, never passed out. And all of a sudden, I was just out of it. I remember having to be semi-carried with one person on each side of me, helping me to walk.”

One of those people who helped her back to her dorm room was a boy named Mike. Beth said he started to kiss her and somehow, they ended up on the bed in her dorm room.

“There were huge gaps in my memory because I was blackout drunk, but I do remember him asking me, ‘Do you want to have sex?’ and I remember saying, ‘no, no, I have a boyfriend,’” Beth said. “I remember saying ‘no’ at least four times, and I remember him saying, ‘you’re really starting to piss me off.’”

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The rest of Beth’s memory is blank.

She woke up the next morning, and Mike was gone. She was naked and there was a used condom in the trash can.

“That is the only way I knew we had sex,” Beth said. “I was devastated. I felt so guilty because of my boyfriend and that I’d lost control like that. I felt really, really ashamed, and I was scared.”

Beth, a young college freshman at 17, didn’t tell a soul about what had happened, but Mike told a lot of people.

“I was labeled the slut of the floor,” Beth said. “I went inward and became really depressed.”

Her depression led to a suicide attempt, and it wasn’t until about four months later when her dorm hosted a discussion about sexual assault that Beth finally realized what had happened to her.

“The light bulb went off in my head, and I thought, ‘Oh my God, I was raped.’”

Beth eventually told her boyfriend what had happened, and he encouraged her to go the college counseling service.

“It was the early ’90s, and the counselor asked me why I drank so much, and the blame came to rest squarely on my shoulders,” Beth said.

From there, her life spiraled out of control. She became promiscuous and drank too much, and one semester, Beth, a former straight-A student, got all F’s.

“When we bottle things up, self-destructive behaviors can emerge,” Beth said. “That first night defined much of my college career. It led me to believe I was a certain person, and I began acting like the person I thought I was. But that’s not really who I am.”

It wasn’t until she was in her early 20s that Beth finally found a therapist who helped her process what happened and helped her realize the rape wasn’t something she caused and wasn’t something she should be ashamed of.

Through intense counseling, Beth has rediscovered who she is, and she now uses her experiences from that one awful night to help others.

“I see it as part of my story,” Beth said. “It’s helped me counsel others who have similar life experiences, and because I’ve now processed it and come out stronger on the other side, I can be a resource to those who are still struggling.”

Beth, now a wife and mother, also has learned what it’s like to have loving, healthy relationships.

“I’ve been fortunate to have some people come into my life who believed in me when I didn’t believe in myself and pulled me out of this. I started allowing myself to open up sexually again with a safe person who was very patient and kind and understanding, who has shown me what sex is supposed to be like.”

*Beth is not this survivor’s real name. She has chosen to remain anonymous to protect herself and members of her family.

To reach Lisa Schlichtman, call 970-871-4221, email or follow her on Twitter @lschlichtman.

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