And What Should I Have Done?

Some people commenting on the alleged rape at the University of Virginia are angry at "Jackie" for either making up the story or, if the story is true, not reporting it. Why wouldn't Jackie, or any victim of sexual assault, go to the police? They must be cowards. Shame on them.

Really? I don't pretend to equate my story with the incident described in the Rolling Stone article. I wasn't raped. But I once found myself in a situation where I was forced to make a decision to tell the truth or keep a secret.

After graduating from UVa (yes, UVa ), I was back home preparing for the obligatory summer trip to Europe. My parents were at work and my 16-year-old brother was asleep upstairs. A friend and co-worker of my father knocked on the back door. I'll call him Bob Smith. Bob was in his 30s (old to me), single, and very handsome. A frequent guest, he sometimes used our basement library and my mother's collection of old newspapers for work-related research. I invited Bob inside.

The light in the basement was tricky to find -- a single bulb with a pull chain and someone would usually accompany Bob downstairs. This morning when Bob arrived, I was wearing what I had slept in -- a man's long-sleeve shirt, huge on me. The front and back hung long in the front and back, but shorter on the sides. Bob and I went down to the basement where he found an article he was looking for and we started back up the stairs, me leading the way.

At first it felt like wind on my butt. And then I realized Bob's fingers were lightly brushing the fabric of the shirt. The fingers lingered, starting to squeeze -- I turned around and looked at Bob. "You're making me nervous, Mr. Smith," I said.

"You're making me nervous," he said and he put his hands to his crotch to touch his erection.

I ran up the stairs and told him to leave. He did. After I locked the door, scared and shaken, I went upstairs and woke up my brother. "You won't believe what happened," I told him. He comforted me -- as best as a 16-year-old could do and we debated -- should we tell our parents? My father had to work with Bob. What would happen if I told him what Bob had done? Would Bob lose his job? Would my father? And they were friends -- did I want to ruin their friendship? Suppose my parents went to the police, what would that do to our family?

I blamed myself. Wearing only a shirt. Why didn't I put on pants? Obviously I had encouraged Bob. So if I didn't say anything, who would ever know? I was leaving the next day for Europe. My brother and I decided to keep the secret.

And we did. My parents are dead now and they never knew about Bob touching me on the basement stairs. After Europe I left Virginia for California. Bob worked in my hometown another year and moved away. He married and later divorced. Kept in touch with my father. Not with me though. I don't think I ever saw him again.

I was 21. Book smart, sexually naïve. I'm glad I told my brother and how we discussed the pros and cons of telling our parents. In some ways it was the right decision, but I wonder... did Bob do the same thing to other women? If I had called him out, would that have stopped his behavior?

When I look back, I regret feeling guilty for thinking by wearing a man's shirt, I was responsible for Bob's actions. As the mother of an 18-year-old daughter, I know if she came to me and told me a similar story, I would either call the police or kick the guy in the balls.

That's what I wish I'd done to Bob. When Bob said, "You're making me nervous," I should have kicked him in the dangly bits and knocked him down the stairs. And when the EMTs showed up I'd say, "He must have slipped. Why don't you tell them what happened, Mr. Smith?"

I don't know the true story of Jackie, but I hope the publicity can help combat a rape culture that does exist on college campuses. There's no easy solution -- young kids away from home, alcohol, hormones, peer pressure. But being able to talk to someone -- an agency not representing the interests of a university, a safe place to provide proper support and compassion -- that would be a step in the right direction. Shame belongs to the Bobs of the world. Not the victims.