Image by Jia Sung
It took Anwen almost a year to realize that it wasn’t a just bad hookup.
A version of this story, produced by Stephanie Lepp, originally aired on Reckonings.PLAYLIST
Artist – Title – Album
Palbomen II – Wilco’s Funeral – Memories of Cindy
Richard Horowitz – Bandit Nrah Master of Rajasthan – Eros In Arabia
Visible Cloaks – Frame – Lex
Palbomen II – Carina Sayles – Palbomen II
Lucrecia Dalt – Tar – Anticlines
Tashi Wada with Yoshi Wada and Friends – Ground – FRKWYS Vol. 14
Oliver Coates – Sky With Four Moons – John Luther Adams Canticles of the Sky
E Ruscha V – Lights Passing By – Who Are You
Tashi Wada with Yoshi Wada and Friends – Niagara – FRKWYS Vol. 14
Oliver Coates – Sky With Four Suns – John Luther Adams Canticles of the Sky
Shy Layers – Midnight Marker – Midnight Marker
E Ruscha V – The Hostess – Who Are You
Nick van der Kolk: Hey there, it’s Nick. Before I start the show, I just wanted to give you a heads up, that there is one scene featuring a pretty intense description of a sexual assault. So please use your judgment before listening, but I hope you do listen because it’s an important story. Thanks.
Anwen: I think the first time I saw Sameer was at a party called the End of the World Party or something like that. First semester, freshman year, off-campus house.
Sameer: I was walking up the stairs from the basement.
Anwen: He was wearing, I think a gray shirt. I think he was wearing a black tie too. He was kind of dressed up. He might’ve had suspenders on. Very tall and pretty broad, too.
Sameer: Truthfully, it was her eyes. Anwen has these fantastic pair of eyes and just a very friendly smile.
Anwen: I think we got introduced and then he said, “Hey, do you want to dance?” I said, “Well,” something along the lines of, “Sure, as long as it’s not that bumping, grinding type of dancing. I swing dance.” I’m a dancer. I do vintage swing dancing. And so he’s like, “Okay, I know a little bit of swing dance.”
Sameer: By a little bit, I mean little to no swing. But I was willing to learn, if I could talk to this girl Anwen.
Nick: From Luminary Media, you’re listening to Love + Radio. I’m Nick van der Kolk. Today’s episode, Refraction, featuring Anwen and Sameer.
Anwen: Sameer found me on Facebook, I don’t know, a week or two after that party, and messaged me and was like, “Hey, do you want to hang out?” I wasn’t really sure if I wanted to hang out with this person or not, but I didn’t know that I didn’t want to.
He asked me if I wanted to go bowling with him, so we went out and tried to go bowling. There weren’t any lanes open, and so then we went and just got ice cream at a store and sat and chatted. I didn’t let him pay for my ice cream because I didn’t want it to be a date.
We were walking back. It was right in front of my dorm. It was like, well, that was nice and we hugged goodbye. And then, coming out of the hug, there’s a point when your faces are pretty close, and I think he kissed me then. Keeping in mind, that at this point, he was the second person I’d ever kissed.
Sameer: After that date, I was really into her, and so I would text her a lot, try to hang out with her and just not get responded.
Anwen: I either didn’t respond or I responded with one-word answers.
Sameer: Basically, I was ghosted, which is the millennial term for having somebody not respond to your text messages.
Anwen: Yeah, I just kind of faded.
Sameer: And so I was like, “Oh, okay, cool. She’s not interested. That’s it.”
Anwen: Second semester, freshman year, it’s a couple of weeks after the start of the semester. Both Sameer and I had gone through recruitment for Greek Life. He had become part of a fraternity and I’d become part of a sorority, and I think this was one of the first parties that the new recruits got to go to.
I knew that Sameer was going to be at this party. Pretty small school. You know what’s going on with other people. I think we ran into each other going opposite directions coming in to the stairs. I think I said something about how I was sorry that I had stopped talking to him suddenly.
Sameer: “Oh, it’s fine. You aren’t ready for a relationship. I get it. It’s cool.”
At some point later that night, I saw her dancing on the dance floor, and I went up and I start dancing with her. I mean, she started dancing back.
Anwen: Facing each other, doing the kind of awkward prom groove thing. I think, at some point, we flipped around, to where my back was against the wall, and I think that’s what he kissed me.
At some point, I was like, “I don’t see my friends. I want to go.” He’s like, “Okay,” and I think walked me upstairs to get my coat. At which point, we discovered that the room was locked.
Sameer: She and a bunch of her friends had put their stuff in one of the brother’s rooms. Apparently, he had taken off for the night, and so there was no access into that room.
Anwen: So, I couldn’t get my coat that had my dorm keys, my phone, everything in it. All of my friends had left. I saw a couple of guys who I knew were from my dorm. They weren’t on my same floor, but I could at least get into the building. They were walking back. They were just leaving the frat house. So I said, “Hey, I’m just going to follow those guys home.”
At that point, Sameer said, “You can’t just leave after kissing me like that.” I know that I was like, “I don’t want to be in a relationship with you. I don’t want to really be with you.” But I was probably also trying to be nice and was like, “But you’re a great guy. I’ve really enjoyed talking to you.”
This question arose, “Well, I don’t know where I’m staying tonight. I can’t get back into my dorm.” He offered that I could spend the night in his room.
I didn’t want to spend the night in his room because I didn’t want to have sex with him and I didn’t want to keep making out with him, but I didn’t know where else to go.
We went back to his dorm room, and as soon as we were inside, he pushed me against the inside of the door and started kissing me. My control, my emotional control, just went. I remember his arm being around me, and it was just like, it was too big and he was too heavy, and it was just too much physical contact. I couldn’t figure out how to get out of the situation. It was like I had fog in my head.
We ended up in his bed, and he kept kissing me. I was underneath him. He started to put his hand at my crotch and rubbed me hard, and I was just panicking. My heart rate had sped up a lot, and I’m too hot and too fluttery and too nervous. It’s just like a need to get out feeling.
I remember he said, “Oh, fuck. It would feel so good to fuck you.” I said, “I don’t want to have sex.” He laughed, and his response was, “I know. I don’t have a condom anyway,” and went back to kissing me.
He said, “Take it off,” and I said, “What?” He says, “Your shirt.” I started to pull up my shirt, and as soon as he put his hand on my breast, it was just absolute revulsion in my body, and I said no, and I pulled my shirt back down.
I curled up on his bed, at that point, holding back tears. I hated the way his hand had felt on my breast. I didn’t feel like I could do anything. So, there was panic, a lot of fear and anger too, a lot of anger, but an impotent anger. I couldn’t do anything with it.
He reached down and took my hand. He still had his pants on, but he put my hand there and started moving my hand. And then, he pulled down his pants and said, “He doesn’t bite,” and physically moved my hand up and down, grasping him, and said something like, “Wow, you haven’t done this before.”
He was huge compared to me. He has his hand around mine, wrapped around his cock, making me give him a hand job. And then he said, “Your mouth would feel even better.”
He moved me and had his hand on the back of my head, and started pushing my head down on him, down and down and down. I can remember feeling like I was gagging, like I was choking. I think I started crying. This was both something I’d never experienced before and didn’t want to be experiencing. He said, “It’s okay. I’m hard to please. Let me just go finish up.”
He left and he went to the bathroom. I can remember lying in his bed, just curled up, thinking, “I didn’t fucking want to please you.”
He came back into the room. He got back on the bed. He put his arm over me. He pulled the covers up and he laid holding me. I didn’t feel like I could move. I remember looking across the room to the other bed, and just wishing I could be on that bed instead, and holding back tears. Eventually, I fell asleep.
For a couple days after that, I just was in a blur. I felt really disgusted. I hurt between my legs, where he’d been rubbing me. I felt dirty and I didn’t know what to do.
Sophomore fall, that was the worst semester of my entire college experience. I dropped one of my classes early on, because I knew if I didn’t drop it, I was going to fail it. I didn’t want to see him. I didn’t want to have to think about him, because whenever I saw him, it just brought all of this back up, and this icky, panicky tightness in my stomach.
I started avoided him, figuring out what times of day, on certain days, he walked certain places. I wouldn’t walk there. I’d check before I walk into the college coffee shop, to see if he’s there. If he’s there, I don’t go in.
Sameer: She had stopped responding to my text messages and didn’t talk to me anymore. So I was like, “Okay. It was just a somewhat awkward first time hookup thing.” Sometimes, when you hook up with somebody, you become really awkward around them afterwards.
We were both fairly sexually inexperienced and it doesn’t always come out like it does in the movies, or in the porn for that matter. So basically, I went about my day, things like that. The next time I would see Anwen would be …
Anwen: I had gone through training to be an orientation leader, and part of the training to be an orientation leader, was that we went through Green Dot Bystander training, and that is …
Sameer: It taught people how to be at parties and recognize problematic behaviors, and emphasize checking in with people who are going home with each other. During the full-on training, where I was an orientation leader, the prompter said it’s assault when someone uses emotional manipulation, putting somebody in a situation where they feel like they can’t say no.
Anwen: I think, through those trainings, it was like, “Oh my God. This wasn’t just an awkward hookup. This wasn’t right. This was assault.”
Sameer: That night was the first thing that popped into my head. “Wait, did I do this? Did this happen? If it did happen, is that how Anwen feels about this? She would have reported something, but she hasn’t. Maybe she doesn’t see it that way. Maybe she just also views it like I did, where it was like a bad hookup.”
I was terrified that I assaulted her. I was terrified of myself, because if this was true and I did assault her, then what did that make me? I was terrified of being found out. I was terrified of being sent to jail. I was terrified of all the consequences that come with sexual assault and rape.
I didn’t have anybody that I was like … who I could tell. Because how do I say, “Hi. I think I assaulted and raped somebody, but I’m not entirely sure”?
Anwen: I was an orientation leader and I was a wilderness leader, so I did the backpacking trips. Sameer was a base camp leader, so he did two sessions of something in the boys’ camp he was a leader for. Between those two sessions, the leaders have one night off, essentially, at this camp. The leaders all have a group hangout at night.
Speaker 4: Okay. How did you realize he was there?
Anwen: Because I was aware of him at any point. This just came from knowing when not to walk certain places on campus. So I knew he was an orientation leader. I knew where he was.
I think I kind of had put myself in a corner, just watching and waiting for when he came came by. And then, when he walked by, I said his name.
Sameer: I knew it was her, but I was terrified to turn around, but I did. This is the first time she and I had spoken since freshman year. She asked if we could talk and I said, “Yes, of course.”
Anwen: I said, “I want to talk about that night.” He said something along the lines of, “Let me make sure we’re talking about the same thing. Let me make sure we’re on the same page. The night you came home with me.” I said, “Yes,” and then I said, “Name that night.”
Sameer: I stuttered. I told her that I raped her.
Anwen: Whoa. It was a powerful feeling, to feel that I was not just crazy, and that he also knew that it had been wrong.
Sameer: Yes, I knew it in my head. Yes, I knew it to myself, but admitting it to the person I did it, it’s just … Yeah. I mean, I hated myself. I wanted to kill myself. I asked her, “Hey, do you want me to kill myself? Do you want me to turn myself into the police? What do you want? What can I do? I know I can’t fix this, but what can I do?” That’s when she offered to … asked if we could talk more. I said, “Okay.”
Anwen: The first semester of junior year, we’d started talking. It was good. It was good to get to talk about this, but there was also still a lot of anger. I didn’t know if I should just keep avoiding him or if I needed to talk more to him.
I think I was just … I wanted to tell my story more. I wanted to tell people. I was just holding something in, that had become integral to who I was and who I’d become as a person, and nobody else knew, other than a few friends. And so then, I started feeling this massive need to have other people know, and to have other people know that it was him that did it.
Speaker 4: Was there a moment when you remember thinking, “Okay, I need to do something more about this now”?
Anwen: Take Back the Night.
Sameer: Take Back the Night, that was one of the weirdest nights of my college career.
Anwen: Take Back the Night happened fall of my senior year. I went. I marched around and people had signs. I don’t know that I had a sign. And then we ended in one of the campus buildings and there was a microphone set up.
I mean, unrehearsed, I walked up to the mike and started speaking pretty much. I kind of went through the story a little bit, and more just like the emotions afterwards, but I didn’t say his name. He was sitting in the audience, right in front of me.
Sameer: About 10 feet away from her. I tried really hard to keep myself together. I couldn’t look her in the eye. Felt like such a hypocrite.
Anwen: I wanted to call him out. I really wanted to call him out, but I wanted him to be able to come forward on his own. I wanted him to be able to be standing up there with me and speaking the story with me, and be able to have the story be exposed in a way that didn’t just write us into the categories of angelic, pure survivor, horrible, evil assaulter.
I think I actually said, “If this person comes forward and tells his story, I hope that you’ll listen to him.” And then I went to Frank.
Frank was a … I don’t know what his official title was. He dealt with conduct proceedings for the university. I started talking with him, I think, about what I wanted. I didn’t want a formal proceeding. I didn’t want a verdict handed down. I wanted it to be a discussion, and I wanted to decide with Sameer, what the results were going to be. Frank took that and listened to me, and said something like, “Well, that sounds like restorative justice.”
Sameer: Anwen and I would meet with Frank, individually, express our both sides of the story. After going through my interview, he showed me Anwen’s response. I read her perspective, and so many things.
I thought, in my brain, I had asked her to take her shirt off. I didn’t, I told her. I thought, from my perspective, I was being a potential teacher when it came to oral sex. Turns out, I was basically coercing her into doing this, even though she wasn’t comfortable. I could feel the fear and intimidation, and I felt awful.
I’ve only felt in once before in my life, and that was when something really traumatic happened to me, but my hands had this almost like a electric ache. My heart felt crushed. I felt like I was going to throw up. It didn’t sound like me. It sounded like a monster. That was the hardest part, was that this guy, who forced himself onto this girl, is me.
She’s had to think about it every single day, and I’m not sure if the wounds are all the way healed. I doubt they are.
It’s a pain that I can’t take away, no matter what I do. Yeah. I can’t take that away. And I know I’ve said it a thousand times, but I am sorry.
After I was done reliving and contemplating, and frankly hating myself, Frank asked me if there’s anything in my testimony I would like to change. I immediately say yes, and then I started going line-by-line through Anwen’s testimony and saying, “Can I please add this to my testimony? Can I please add this to my testimony?” Filling in my testimony, with lots of details that I could not remember, that I did remember now, because I got to read it and got to relive it.
Anwen: We started talking, at that point, about what I would like from him. Also, if he had any ideas of what he could do, like how he could speak his story, how he could do something to prevent more of this happening in the future. And we started making a list.
Sameer: I had already started trying to institutionalize, going to full-on Green Dot Bystander trainings for the fraternity that I was, at that point, no longer a part of. Being an advocate against sexual violence and sexual assaults, advocating for consent in all ways, to as many of my friends as possible. I was published in my university’s publication, in order to inspire others who are in similar situations to me to try to seek restorative action.
A lot of people that I spoke to have had very similar, if not the same kind of experiences, and so I wanted that story to be like, “Hey, there might be to put some potential stuff you need to figure out, or look up, or check out for yourself.”
Speaker 4: Anwen …
Anwen: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Speaker 4: Yes, you’ve had a lot of time to … Not just a lot of time, but have put in a lot of effort to working through this. You speak about it from a place that feels very empowered, and also a place that feels kind of matter-of-fact, a little bit.
Do you ever feel like you need to act more like a victim, or act more dramatic, or act more in any way, because that’s kind of what the cultural expectation of you is?
Anwen: I actually had this thought, this morning, before this, where I was like, “Should I be upset? Do I start crying?” Totally, totally, I have those thoughts of, “Am I not representing this appropriately?” Screw that.
I’ve done a lot of work with this. The only reactions I’ve had, to me speaking about it very matter-of-factly, is like, “Wow, you’re so brave,” or, “That’s amazing.” And that’s actually a really hard response for me to deal with. Because I mean, I guess it was brave, but there wasn’t any other option for me. It’s a weird thing, to be praised for doing something that I felt was necessary.
I want to provide an example of an instance of rape, from which you can really see that both people are human, and both people are more than their actions, and can grow.
Sameer: Throughout this entire ordeal, process, whatever word you want to give it, Anwen has shown a tremendous amount of strength. Not only can she go to the person, the perpetrator, the person who affected her life in such a negative way, but be able to find, I guess forgiveness and a willingness to extend compassion towards that person, and ask them to be better and to be a part of this process and to work with that person.
Every time that I’ve wanted to punish myself beyond all belief, she always steadied my hand and said, “No, I want you to do better. Don’t just take the easy route and lock yourself up, or get yourself kicked off campus or kill yourself, because that’s not going to help anybody.” I will always be in awe of that.
Anwen: Originally, when I first confronted Sameer, and then we kept talking every so often, honestly for me, it was like a keeping tabs thing. Now, it’s more of just a, “Hey, what are you up to in your life? Hey, did you see this thing, that’s similar to what we did?” Occasionally, it’s FaceTime and just catch up.
Sameer: Yeah, I mean-
Sameer: … just kind of check in every once in awhile. I don’t know. It’s a fairly casual conversation, relationship, word interaction thing. I don’t know.
Anwen: Yeah. Yeah. It’s also funny, because one of the things I realized, actually, I think during and after the restorative justice process, is that Sameer’s honestly one of the people that knows me best. We know each other’s deepest, horrible moment, basically.
Anwen: And so, there’s not a lot that can’t be said.
Sameer: Yeah. No, you’re pretty spot on about that.
Anwen: I don’t think I’ll ever lose contact entirely with Sameer.
Nick: That’s it for Love + Radio. A version of this story originally aired on the excellent podcast, Reckonings with Stephanie Lepp. You can listen to the original, as well as loads of other stories of people having fundamental shifts in their perspectives, at reckonings.show. We’ll also have a link to it up on our website, loveandradio.org. You can find playlists of all the music we use in the show up on our website. Again, that’s loveandradio.org.
Love + Radio is produced by Steven Jackson and Julia DeWitt. Our managing producer is Phil Dmochowski. We are brought to you by Luminary Media. Thanks for listening.