Episode 37: Gabrielle, Dating Violence and Sexual Assault Survivor
In this episode, Gabrielle, a survivor of dating violence and sexual assault, shares her story with Karen.
Intro Voices 0:05
Where do I go? It only happened once. I think I was singled out. The phone calls began about one month ago. What is hazing? Something happened to me when I was younger. I'm worried about my safety. He said he was sorry. Can someone help me? Where can I get help? Can someone help me?
Intro Voices 0:31
This is “You Matter”, a podcast for the NYU community developed by the Department of Public Safety.
Karen Ortman 00:36
Hi everyone and welcome back to You Matter!, a podcast created to teach, inspire and motivate members of the NYU community who have been victimized in some form or fashion, and to identify resources both on and off campus that can help. I am your host Karen Ortman, Associate Vice President of Campus Safety Operations at the Department of Public Safety and a retired law enforcement professional. Today I welcome Gabrielle, a dating violence and sexual assault survivor who is here to share her story in the hopes that it will inspire someone else to do the same. Whether it is reporting to law enforcement, a medical professional, or a trusted friend or family member. Gabrielle, welcome to You Matter.
Thank you so much for having me.
Karen Ortman 01:21
It's my pleasure.So, Gabrielle, if you could begin by sharing with our listeners, where your story begins.
Sure, um, so the relationship in which I experienced dating violence started when I was a sophomore in high school, so about in 2010. I was 15. I turned 16 pretty soon after we started dating, and it was my first-ever romantic relationship. So I sort of had no blueprint on what a romantic relationship looked like for me. We dated officially for about five months, and then at the end of the summer before I started junior year, we broke up. And within that first part of the relationship, there wasn't any abuse. There was definitely some anger and some like ways that he acted that I didn't like, but I wouldn't call any of that part, abusive. The abuse sort of started when we got back to school. You know, we decided that we wanted to try to continue to be friends, so we were still hanging out with one another. And eventually, our relationship kind of got a little physical. Again, we weren't dating, but we would still like hang out and kiss and all that kind of stuff. You know, and this was all happening at school. We went to a small private school in New Jersey, and it was a boarding school. And neither one of us lived there, but we were on campus a lot. So this was all happening on campus. So we were usually hanging out and like study rooms, so not super private places, but also not places where there was like a lot of foot traffic or people walking by.
Karen Ortman 02:59
Not heavily populated?
Karen Ortman 03:03
So let me ask you this. So at the end of the relationship, the first time, I think you said that there were no there were no signs of abuse during that that first round that first five months, I guess it was. Were there any other behaviors? Looking back that perhaps you ignored prior to ending the relationship and and sort of refocused on when you resumed the relationship a second time?
Sure. So I think I mean, he definitely had a bit of a temper. He was sort of, I would say he was an angry person. I think he was not very well-liked at school to my, to my knowledge? And I think, yeah, I think he just had a lot of anger. And so sometimes that would come out when we were when we were fighting and, and you know, I think some of it was that it was it was both of our first kind of real relationships and so we, we didn't know how to fight, we didn't know like, what that what what conflict looked like in a relationship. Um, but I definitely sometimes didn't like the way that I was being treated. He would definitely, you know, raise his voice sometimes, you know, say kind of offhand things that were hurtful, um, but it was never, I mean, maybe looking back that those should have been red flags. And in the time, I didn't sort of, I didn't view them as red flags. Because I just sort of thought like, oh, this is you know, this is a person he's a person, I'm a person we all have flaws, right.
Karen Ortman 04:56
So you spent time with him at this point. boarding school. Did you ever bring him home and introduce him to your family? Did you ever go see his family?
Um, yeah. So the summer that we were dating, he, he did me my family, I met his family. That was mostly over that summer that was mostly where we were spending time together was at each other's respective family homes. And, yeah, I mean, it was a pretty normal felt like a pretty normal dating relationship in in high school, you know, hanging out at each other's houses.You know, our parents would drive us back and forth. We couldn't drive yet. So we were Yeah, we didn't know each other's families. And his siblings also went to school with me. So like I was with us, so I knew his his family. And both of our families were pretty involved in campus activities. So we were definitely familiar with so there's family.
Karen Ortman 05:53
So tell us about the relationship once you picked it up a second time.
Sure. So like I said, we, we sort of started hanging out again. And you know, initially, we're trying to just be friends. And then it was sort of if we were hanging out alone, it would sort of devolve into, you know, kissing or whatever. And at a certain point, it sort of started to amp up maybe into some sexual pressuring, like just things that I expressed that I wasn't comfortable with that he would want to do. But it started really small, and I think it sort of built up gradually to become violent. And then when it became violent, I was like, already so deep in it that I didn't feel like I had anywhere to go or anywhere to turn.
Karen Ortman 06:55
Mm hmm. No Way Out, essentially.
Karen Ortman 06:59
Were you so it turned physically violent at some point. Can you speak to what happened?
Sure. Um, so, yeah, to be honest, I think in the beginning, the kind of sexual pressure and coercion that was happening was like, is, unfortunately, something that happens to a lot of women. So, you know, when it started, he would try to initiate certain intimate activities like kissing or putting his hands under my shirt or things like that. And, you know, or in places where I expressed that I was uncomfortable, or he would try to convince me or coerce me. You know, and then it started to be if I didn't consent to what he wanted me to do, he would accuse me of toying with him and being a tease, and then he started to get very loud and verbally aggressive, so he would yell at me he would curse at me call me names. And then that's then that sort of escalated into physical aggression where, you know, if things like where if we were kissing, he would kind of corner me or push me into a corner so that if I tried to stop or get away, he could trap me there. He was a lot physically larger than I was, you know, he would force me to perform sexual activities on him by physically holding me down, or, you know, be able to hold me into a position where he could perform sexual activities on me. You know, even if I was crying or saying no, it was, you know, he had that physical force factor.
Karen Ortman 08:38
Yeah. And this happened at school.
Yeah, this was all happening at school.
Karen Ortman 08:46
To your knowledge, were there any witnesses to this?
No, like I said, I think we were sort of in at you know, after school hours in private areas, I mean, not private like, you know, dark corners. But sort of in study rooms where there wasn't a lot of foot traffic, there weren't people walking by it was like pretty deserted in those campus buildings at that time.
Karen Ortman 09:09
And I'm sure going to that school, both of you were aware of locations where people would be and perhaps would not be.
Sure. Yeah, yeah, absolutely. You know, I think the culture of boarding school is like, you know, there are the places that people go to hook up. Things like that. Um, you know, I think it almost always happened in study rooms, because I think we would meet up under the pretext of studying and we would we would start studying and then it would kind of devolve from from there.
Karen Ortman 09:44
Did you tell anybody about what was going on at the school?
Um, honestly, I didn't. Um, you know, I'm not going to say that I thought that what was happening was normal. I knew it wasn't normal, but I I think a lot of the narrative for young women, especially who are in heterosexual relationships, is that anything sexual that we do we do it because the guy wants us to. And so when I was in school, there was really no conversation, you know, educationally or in any of my social circles about, you know, women experiencing pleasure or consent or anything like that. And so to be honest, when it started, I sort of just thought that that was what it was to be a girl was that you just did things that you didn't really want to do, because men wanted you to do them.
Karen Ortman 10:35
Um, and so it's not that I thought that the violence was normal. Um, but you know, I know a lot more about this now, because I'm a social worker, and I've studied psychology and the impact of trauma. You know, and, and the unfortunate thing is that relationships are really complicated and unfortunately, we don't stop loving someone or caring about someone just because they hurt us, right? So I did really care about him. And, you know, he was manipulating me to believe that everything that he was doing to me was my fault. Um, and, you know, especially in a relationship that was happening so young when I, you know, didn't have a full sense of my identity didn't have great self esteem. Um, you know, I believed those things. And he was also very emotionally abusive, so he would, you know, blame me for things that went wrong in his life that I had nothing to do with and it was hard for me to see him in pain because I'm very empathetic. So then I felt guilty. You know, and then sometimes I would do what he wanted, because I was afraid and he would threaten to blackmail me or blackmail my friends. He would embarrass me in front of people. And, you know, obviously, the physical violence was very scary.
Karen Ortman 11:53
Were there any physical injuries as a result of the force used against you?
No, not that I know of. I think that the, the pushing and the grabbing was more of a means to an end like it was it was more about forcing me to do something sexually or trying to scare me. He did that a lot where like, I think he, he wanted me to know like, I'm bigger than you. I could hurt you if I wanted to. But I don't think that he actually was trying to injure me. I just think he was trying to show that he had power over me and that he could get me to do things that he wanted me to do.
Karen Ortman 12:28
So you said earlier that you didn't report the sexual assault or the physical abuse to anybody while it was happening. Did there come a time when you did report that?
Yeah, um, so about a year later, sort of after the assault had ended. The relationship had gone on for about five months. So I would say for about five months during my junior year of high school, I was I was being assaulted and abused pretty frequently. And then about a year after that. So when I was a senior in high school, I told one of my teachers about what had happened, it actually kind of came up naturally in the context of a conversation that we were having about, like a monologue that I was doing in my acting class. And, you know, she told me that we had to report it to the school.
Karen Ortman 13:22
What was the what was the monologue that you were working on?
Sure. So it was a it was a monologue from this play called the widows blind date. And in the monologue, is this woman who had been gang gang raped. And it's a great monologue, but my acting teacher kept saying to me, like, I know that you've never experienced anything like this. And she kept saying that over and over again. And at a certain point, I was like, I can't like I actually did pick this monologue up because I relate to it and something you know, similar of a similar vein had happened to me. And that was really all I disclosed. But obviously that's, that's concerning for a teacher to hear. And so we did end up having to report it to the school, which was terrifying because at this point, I hadn't told anyone. I hadn't, I hadn't told my parents like, nobody knew about it. And so I knew, you know, that when I told the school that I was a minor at the time, and so they would call my parents um,
Karen Ortman 14:29
Was your relationship over with your boyfriend at this point?
Karen Ortman 14:34
Yeah, it was about a year after head. It had ended. Yeah.
Karen Ortman 14:38
So the school finds out, they reach out to your parents. What does that whole scenario look like?
Sure. So I knew the school was going to reach out to my parents, so I actually ended up telling them beforehand, um, you know, and I had a therapist at the time and we kind of pulled them together and I mean, they they obviously were shocked. But they were very supportive. They, you know, were very involved in sort of my contact with the school and trying to pursue disciplinary action through the school. And just, you know, very involved and very supportive in that way. Um, so yeah, I reported it to the school. It was to one Dean specifically, I had a meeting with one Dean, she was a female Dean. And I, you know, I told her what happened and I remember being really nervous having to say like, specific sexual words in front of her. So I know that like, I did report it really thoroughly even though it was very, he was embarrassing and really uncomfortable. And after I reported and they, you know, they did whatever investigation they did, which quite honestly, I like, was not very privy to. Um, they said that it seems like a case of bullying, and that no disciplinary action was going to be taken.
Karen Ortman 16:00
And this was even after explicit details of sexual assault were disclosed.
Yeah. Um, and yeah, so I remember starting to tell the story again, because I was like, did you did you miss something like, I'm confused about how this could be construed as bullying. Um, and I remember so clearly, I remember the dean like picking up the phone and saying, if you say anything else, I'm gonna have to call the police. And she said it as a threat, like I was going to be causing a problem or like making a scene like, oh, now we have to call the police and, you know, clearly the school wasn't going to deal with it. And so they sort of used the threat of getting law enforcement involved to get me to just stop talking about it. You know, and she said the same thing to my parents because my parents called the school to see why nothing had been done. And she basically said, like, we're gonna have to hand the case over to the police. At this time I was you know, I was a senior. I was trying to graduate I was trying to go to college. I didn't want to have to get into a legal battle. I was really just hoping that the school would deal with it discipline airily. So we didn't pursue anything and the case was completely dropped.
Karen Ortman 17:17
And the police were, the police or law enforcement resources were never provided or there was no conversation with respect to what it would look like if you reported
No, the conversation honestly like law enforcement, I think law enforcement involvement was sort of used as as a threat. Like it was like, oh, we're gonna have to do this if you keep pushing
Karen Ortman 17:45
as if you did something wrong.
Right as if I did something wrong.
Karen Ortman 17:49
The crimes committed against you occurred in what year?
Karen Ortman 17:54
2010. Did there come a time when you actually did report to law enforcement
Yes, so I reported to law enforcement in 2019. So about a year, year and a half ago,
Karen Ortman 18:09
Nine year later, okay.
Karen Ortman 18:13
what gave you the courage to report to law enforcement nine years later?
It was a combination of factors. You know, in the intermediate years when I had graduated high school and I was in college, and afterwards, I became, you know, pretty vocal about sexual assault prevention and consent, focus sex education, and became pretty vocal advocate for those things. And at one point, I I contacted the school and I listed my grievances about what had happened with my case, and I sort of gave them some ideas and opened up an avenue for collaboration about how they could implement a more comprehensive sexual assault prevention and response protocol. So in early 2019, the current head of school who was not the head of school when I was there, but the new one, he emailed me, and he asked me to come in and discuss what I had kind of pitched. And, you know, we had that conversation and I felt like it was productive. And I felt like he wanted me to be involved in that process. And while I was there, I asked to see the record from what I reported. Because I just to this day was like, so confused about what had happened. And when I looked at it, I realized that huge chunks of my story were cut out. So basically, anything that mentioned sexual assault, it just wasn't, it just wasn't documented. Um, so the report essentially said that he yelled at me, and he pushed me. And like, I was literally in this man's office to discuss sexual violence policy. So like, I know, he knows what happened to me. I know the school knows that it was Sexual Assault and yet there it was nowhere in the report.
Karen Ortman 20:07
very troubling. And I, yeah, I was shocked. I'm still shy. It's been a year and a half and I'm still like, how could someone do that? And there was really no, nothing I said to him, like, there's I was so confused. I said, there's no mention of sexual assault in this report. And he was like, No, there's not. Like, it wasn't an apology. There were no options for like, recourse. It was just like, oh, oops. And I didn't know what to do. So I just sort of left um, I never heard from from the school, again about it
Karen Ortman 20:45
about collaborating on sexual assault prevention policies, or
no, they they did email me. But by the time they had emailed me when they were in the middle of the we were in the middle of the legal investigation, and so I am, you know, it's not that I don't want to help them. It's it's just, I mean, that was clearly a very bad time for me to be involved. But I just after that I really never felt comfortable collaborating with them after that, because I don't know that they're actually interested and, and in fixing anything if, you know, they know that a document was completely falsified, and they they don't care.
Karen Ortman 21:29
Karen Ortman 21:32
You met with the new head of school discovered that. Basically, the the report on record did not include your sexual assault allegations. It was a bullying I guess, charge that they leveraged against the offender. And you decide to report to law enforcement. How did that process go for you?
Um, so I felt like I had needed to get a lot more information because I knew that you know, it had been nine years since the assault happened, and we were both minors, and now we're both adults. To my knowledge, he was no longer in the state. So that made it complicated. So the first thing I did was just to sort of get a lot of information about it. Um, and at the time, I was in my first year of grad school at NYU, and I was in a sexual assault survivors support group. And they were incredibly supportive and and provided a lot of both emotional support and information and so I was able to be connected with people who could help me with the process. So I reported to the police in March of 2019 in the district where the school is located, and the actual reporting process was probably as good of an experience as I could have hoped for. I had two female detectives, they were really kind, they were empathetic, they supported me. I think they, you know, they knew how hard it was for me to come in and have to reiterate all of these really graphic and disturbing things that have happened. Unfortunately, that outcome was definitely not what I had hoped. Essentially, my understanding is that they subpoenaed the records from the school. And the prosecutor said that since my story didn't match the school's records that the case wouldn't hold up in court. And so that was really heartbreaking because now this was the second time that the school doing what they did had barred consequences from being administered. Yeah. And it just sort of it just again sort of got dropped. And I think that was not for lack of trying on the, you know, the police department or the prosecutors part. It was just about like, is a jury going to do anything about this now.
Karen Ortman 24:16
Nine, nine years later,
Karen Ortman 24:21
Really, really tough cases to, to prosecute and such strength on your part to make every effort to be heard. You know, by addressing the school twice. And seeking resources then at NYU and then actually formally reporting to law enforcement takes a lot of courage. So I commend you for that your story should be heard. And I'm glad that you're sharing it today because I know you're going to help other people. Are there any resources in light of everything that you have gone through, that you could recommend for somebody who is in a similar situation?
Sure. Um, so yeah, like I said, I was in a sexual assault survivor support group and I would really recommend that to anyone who's gone through really anything and in which other people may have gone through the same thing. I think just being in a group of people who have similar experiences to you is really helpful, I think, especially with trauma. It was really powerful to be in a group of people who weren't all sort of feeling all of the same really scary feelings. And we can talk about, you know, what was triggering for us and people whose assaults had also happened a long time ago, and they were still, you know, experiencing symptoms of PTSD and really struggling. And to be in a group where we could support and hold space for each other, like that was really great. That's definitely something I would recommend. I'm also a really big mental health advocate, partially because that's my profession, but partially because, you know, for the past 10 years, I've dealt with depression and anxiety and PTSD that is sometimes been really debilitating. And that's something that I've had to explain to a lot of people is about why people can't just like, quote, unquote, get over trauma. It's because it lives in your body. So it's not something that I'm cognitively thinking about all the time, but my experience is that my body always feels unsafe. And so I'm always on the lookout for danger and waiting for the other shoe to drop. And especially because this was intimate partner violence and sexual violence, you know, it's affected the way that I relate to people and the way that I trust feel safe with romantic partners. And even friends and family like I have a really hard time coping when people are angry at me or standing up for myself and, and these things. And what I've found the most helpful is is definitely therapy. I've been in therapy for 10 years, I've had a bunch of different therapists just because I've moved around so much. And I've it has helped me to learn a lot about my triggers and unhealthy patterns that I that I have, because I've experienced trauma and it took a long time for me to even conceptualize the fact that my depression and anxiety were even related to my assault like that took years of therapy. Because I think I really wanted to separate those two things and be like, this is a thing that happened and then these are symptoms that I'm having right there. So related, like mental illness and trauma are so intertwined. And realizing that really transformed my understanding of what I was going through. And then that helped me to find the tools to cope with it better. Um, you know, and then, of course, I've been really lucky to have an incredibly supportive family and friends and, you know, a support network that I can turn to when things are hard. So I think it's been really important to have both of those things. But I would definitely recommend seeing a mental health professional because I think that talking to someone who understands trauma was really essential for me, so that I knew that what I was going through was not, you know, crazy or that I wasn't overreacting, right. I think a lot of people who experienced trauma can feel that way. And to have someone sort of say, like, these are the biological things that are happening in your body. And here's how we can regulate those things.
Karen Ortman 29:00
That's sort of validating, to, you know, all the ways in which you feel after being violated. Thank you for sharing all of that. It's really important information. Did you ever confront your ex about the impact is his abusive, criminal conduct hat on you and your life?
No, I never did that. I definitely have thought about it. I have, you know, an unsent letter that I wrote sitting on my computer and I've written a lot about it, and I've spoken a lot about it, but I've never spoken directly to him. I honestly don't think there's any world in which that situation goes well. And so I just never felt the need to subject myself to that, um, in order to heal. I mean, I think people may think that that would bring a sense of caution. But I just think like, my healing and my closure, just It has nothing to do with him. Like that's just that's something that is about me and I don't need my his involvement or apology or not that I even think that I would get one but I just don't I don't need anything from him like he did the damage and it doesn't.
Karen Ortman 30:20
So you brought up closure has there been closure for you?
Um, honestly, I think that's something that I'm really still working on, you know, especially after so many times of my case falling through the cracks. You know, I got no closure through the school or the police. So I think that the ways that I'm seeking closure are through talking about it and being open about it. I think that coming on this podcast and talking about it openly is a big part of it. I think as long as I'm finding ways to tell my story and reclaim the story and reclaim the shame that goes with that and
Karen Ortman 31:05
having a voice.
Yeah, having a voice. That's, that's the closure that I'm going to get and the closure that I think is the most powerful.
Karen Ortman 31:15
Is there anything else that you would like to add that I've not already asked?
Um yeah, I think something and this is maybe simple and cliche, but it's something that I think I, as a young person, and even now, like needed to hear is, you know, to other survivors is just that it's not your fault. We put such an undue sense of shame onto survivors, and it's the reason that so many people don't report it's the reason I didn't report it's my people stay in abusive relationships. And for a long time, I felt like I deserved what happened to me in some way. And I just want other survivors out there To know that there's nothing that you could have done to deserve what happened to you. It's not about what you wore. It's not about how you acted. It's not about what you drank. You know, the shame that survivors feel. It's not on them, that shame belongs to the person who hurt you. And I hope that the more that survivors are able to tell our stories, the more that we start to feel empowered, and that there's a shift in the way that society views this issue. And they'll start to redirect that shame to the people who are doing the shameful acts. And not put that shame on us because it's not ours.
Karen Ortman 32:45
Thank you so much for that. Um, that's really meaningful. And I'm really proud to know you and to have you on my podcast to talk to our listeners and to tell your story.
I think thank you so much for having me it means a lot.
Karen Ortman 33:07
The pleasure's all mine. Thank you to my guest Gabrielle and to all of our listeners for joining us for today's episode of You Matter. If any information presented today was triggering or disturbing, please feel free to contact the Wellness Exchange at 212-443-9999 or NYU's Department of Public Safety and their Victim Services Unit at 212-998-2222. Please share, like and subscribe to You Matter on Apple podcasts, Google Play, Tune In or Spotify.