Student finds voice to share his experience of sexual assault
In August 2015, fall classes began at Jones County Community College, and when Kristen arrived for her first semester on campus, she was filled with excitement at the endless possibilities.
Away from home, college life offered a newfound sense of freedom. She quickly made friends. There were parties to go to. And of course, there were guys.
One particularly cute guy in her circle, Andrew, liked her. Kristen could tell Andrew took care of himself. She could tell he worked out by the way his broad shoulders and thick, muscular chest filled his shirts. Andrew was a couple years older than her, but by all accounts, he was a great guy. Gregarious and funny, he had an innate ability to connect with people, and he was smart, too.
Andrew told their mutual friend Liam he wanted to make his move before another guy came along. He put his cards on the table and asked Kristen for her number. And in short order, they were dating. Kristen and Andrew started spending all their time together.
A month into their relationship when things started to turn, their friends could tell something was off. Maybe it was because life at home wasn’t so great for Andrew. His parents were in the middle of a bitter divorce. Or maybe it was something else. Whatever was going on, Kristen and Andrew were keeping it to themselves.
Now six months later, Andrew wants to tell his story. He wants to bring light to the issue of abuse he, like countless others of every age and gender, have suffered at the hands of someone he thought he loved. Looking back, he sees the signs of abuse he had been blind to early on.
“In the time of a month, we grew from being completely strangers to like know our life’s story, because that’s all we would do,” Andrew said. “We would spend six to eight hours on the phone. And when you’re spending that much time with a person, you really get to know them — when that’s all your life really is.”
What at the time seemed to be growing intimacy in their relationship came to be in actuality the groundwork of dependence and isolation that USM health services counselor Michelle Howard said is typical of psychologically abusive relationships.
Liam said at first Kristen seemed like a sweet girl, but slowly he began to notice Andrew was acting differently and that Kristen was becoming mean and more demanding of Andrew when they were together.
“I guess I didn’t really confront Andrew about it too much because I wanted to be polite and I didn’t want to be rude and be like, ‘You’re girlfriend is kind of a terrible person sometimes,’” Liam said. “Now, I would have maybe told him that.”
Howard provides group counseling for rape survivors and individual counseling for students who have experienced rape and domestic violence. She said friends of victims may not hear all of what is going on because the person who is abused may be too scared to say anything and may protect the abuser because of that manipulation. She said if you have never been in an abusive relationship, it can be hard to identify the telltale signs.
“Most likely the person who is being abusive wants to cut out people in their [partner’s] life that are going to be encouraging and supportive because they may see what’s going on in this relationship,” Howard said.
Andrew said he remembers one of the first times Kristen put him down, focusing her insult, as she often would, on his appearance. When she called the Converse shoes he was wearing “hideous,” he was taken aback, but he shrugged it off.
“I was in that phase that I was starstruck,” he said. “I was like, I really like this girl. I get to play with boobs on a daily basis, let me not complain about it. And I just kind of let her stomp all over me. Now that I can go back and analyze it, that was the first spark of where it started to downturn. She wanted me to change into something that I was not. It spiraled from there. That was not the first nor the last thing that she ever did to me.”
Andrew describes the change between them as the flip of a switch. Andrew said though Kristen would call him names, put him down and make him feel insignificant on a daily basis, he did not want to give up on her.
“My big thing is you don’t give up on a relationship that easily,” he said. “You don’t just drop it. When something’s bad, you try to fix the problem and move on with your partner. You’re there for them with the good times and the bad.”
Andrew said he tried to change himself to become the person Kristen wanted.
“I changed how I looked,” he said. “I changed my haircut, I changed what I wore. I went and bought a brand new wardrobe just so she was happy.”
Andrew said despite his efforts, Kristen could not be appeased.
“I would come out of the house and she would see me, and I hate to use this word, but she would say, ‘You look like a f***ing faggot. You need to go back in the house and change your shirt right the f*** now.’ Just like that, for no reason,” he said.
Howard said from the outsider perspective, leaving an abusive relationship seems like the obvious choice. She said, however, abusers can be deft in their manipulations, breaking their victims through humiliation, guilt and criticism and controlling their actions through the constant threat of such emotional abuse.
“A lot of times there’s this misconception that [someone] goes into an abusive relationship when they see someone being mean or cruel,” Howard said. “A lot of times that’s not how they meet the person. There’s a cycle of abuse that goes on, a manipulation of power where I’m going to show you what I want to show you in the beginning. And then once you’re vulnerable, that’s when the other person feels comfortable with being who they truly are.”
As the abuse continued, Andrew began to believe he was as worthless as Kristen said he was, unwanted by anyone but herself. Andrew fell deep into a depression that, to his friends, appeared to be the result of his parents’ ongoing divorce proceedings. He said that while the divorce of his parents, who were married for 34 years, affected him deeply, he did not find solace from his girlfriend. Instead, Kristen exerted more and more control over his life.
“Like if you’ve gone through your parents divorce, when you’re that emotional and you have somebody every day of your life telling you how ugly you are or that they’re the only one that will ever have you, it can really destroy you,” he said. “It takes a toll on you, yet they expect you to be in charge of them. They expect you to […] go wherever they want to go and do whatever they want to do.”
Andrew reached his breaking point the day after Christmas, but not before Kristen committed her final act of violence against him. On Dec. 28, 2015, Kristen raped Andrew.
“My mom and her boyfriend went out of town for Christmas,” he said. “I was at home alone, and Kristen came over. I was sick and I had taken [Benadryl] — It’s like being drunk [….] We went into [my room], and she’s like ‘I want to have sex.’”
Andrew said he told her wasn’t in the mood, but when he rebuffed Kristen, she was persistent. She told him she wanted to act out a “rape fantasy.” Andrew said what happened next was far from fantasy.
“She throws me down, gets me erect and I tried to tell her, ‘No,’ — I tried to tell her ‘No’ so many times, but when I pushed my arms up trying to push her off, and she took them and threw them back,” he said. “I had bruises on my arms she threw me so hard and she said, ‘Sit there and f***ing take it.’”
Andrew said that moment was the lowest point in his life.
“There was something in me at that moment … I could have killed her, I could have watched the life drain out of her eyes because she took something from me that I can never get back,” he said.
Liam said when Andrew told him the next day, he was in disbelief.
“It was crazy because you hear about things like that but you don’t imagine it happening to one of your best friends,” he said. “It really kind of hit home.”
Andrew is among the 3 percent of men that have experienced an attempted or completed rape in their lifetime, according to a report by the National Institute of Justice and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Howard said despite what people think, female on male survivors of emotional abuse are not unlike their female counterparts. She said that is true also of rape.
“Honestly, rape doesn’t discriminate,” she said.
Though he has spoken to his therapist about the abuse, Andrew said experience has taught him not to talk about his trauma with many others.
“A lot of people that I’ve talked to about this, they laugh about it,” he said. “When I stand up, I’m 6 foot 1 inch. It would have been easy for me to hurt Kristen, but you can’t do that to someone. If they’re hurting you emotionally or psychologically, you can’t just punch them. That’s not something that’s OK to do. And a lot of people don’t realize that. They say, ‘Oh, you’re a man. You’re tough. You’re not going to get abused.’ It happens.”
Andrew said now he just wants to move past his trauma and find closure.
“At the end of the day, I want to be able to forgive her,” he said. “I want to be able to look her in the face and say, ‘You are a troubled human being and I love you very much and care for you even though you never cared for me.’”
Andrew said his life has been a work in progress, but he has made progress. The night of Dec. 26, he tried to commit suicide, but therapy and time has helped him deal with his trauma.
According to the World Health Organization, sexual assault victims are 13 percent more likely to abuse alcohol, and though he once turned to alcohol to cope, he said he has developed more positive methods.
“One of the many things my therapist taught me is if you can get up and do one nice thing for a person and help somebody out that day, you’re better than the person you were the day before,” Andrew said. “No matter what happens to you, if you can be nice and be a good human being and care for people, you can overcome. And that is something I live by.”
Andrew said he hopes his story will help others spot signs of abuse in their friends’ relationships. And he said he wants others that experience what he has to know that there is hope.
Howard said members of the USM community who see signs of abuse can report them through the Campus Action Referral and Evaluation System.
For more information on CARES, visit www.usm.edu/student- counseling-services/report- critical-incidents-southern- miss-cares.
- About 1 in 33 American men have experienced an attempted or completed rape in their lifetime.
- About 4 of 5 Assaults are committed by someone known to the victim.
Disclaimer: Names and identifying details have been changed to protect the privacy of the individuals involved.