Two years later, she still thinks about that night. It’s all a bit foggy — her assault, the cops showing up at her hospital room, her mom finding out — with several hours missing from her memory. But the lessons, the ones no one should have to learn, remain.
Kendall Locey was a freshman, only a few weeks into her first semester at IU, when she was raped. That Thursday night in September 2014, she was heading to an off-campus fraternity party with some male friends she thought she could trust. The party was at a house she’d never been to and was being thrown by people she didn’t know.
She pre-gamed before leaving the residence halls. It was enough to make her tipsy but not so much she didn’t know what was going on, she remembers. She and the other freshmen walked to a house near the IU football stadium.
When they arrived, everyone was funneled into the basement and then almost immediately to the bar.
Kendall remembers taking a shot, but just the one.
The next thing she knew it was daylight. She woke up hazy and hungover. She didn’t recognize the man lying next to her. When had she met him? How has she gotten up to his room? When did her clothes come off?
Later that morning, she went to the IU Health Center to report her assault. They sent her to IU Health Bloomington hospital, where within hours Kendall was sitting in an exam room begging a detective not to call her mom.
She was only 17. What would her mom think? Would she blame her or accuse her of just being irresponsible?
Rape had never been something Kendall worried about. Like many other young women, she had trouble thinking of herself as a victim.
Looking back now, there’s a list of things she wishes she’d known — things she wishes someone older had told her before that night.
* * *
Many freshmen don’t realize it, but as soon as they arrive on campus they enter the red zone — a time when vulnerable new students, particularly freshmen women, are most at risk for sexual assault. Studies nationally have shown a spike in sex crimes between the first week on campus in August to Thanksgiving break in late November.
Freshmen enter an entirely new environment and are not sure of how to act or what’s expected of them. They long to fit in and try new things. They no longer have the protection of their parents and are new to living on their own.
Unaware of some of the risks, freshmen are sometimes easier to manipulate, said Ann Skirvin, a Sexual Assault Crisis Services counselor at IU. They are also often at a disadvantage due to abstinence-only education in lower levels of schooling, particularly in Indiana.
“If we really want to start to address the problem of sexual assault in a meaningful way, we need to start educating people much younger about consent and sexual assault,” Skirvin said.
According to the 2007 College Sexual Assault Study from the National Institute of Justice, sexual assault was more common among freshmen and sophomores than juniors and seniors. More than 50 percent of assaults happen between August and November. Incidents also more commonly occurred from midnight to 6 a.m. Friday and Saturday nights, the study found.
This points to one of the main dangers of college life — a party culture that’s constantly churning and nearly impossible to avoid. For many freshmen, it means experimenting with alcohol, drugs and sex for the first time.
In 2014, IU’s Office of Student Ethics conducted its own student survey to gauge attitudes and experiences with sexual assault. Among many key findings was alcohol was present in 60 to 83 percent of cases. Another was more assaults occur during a student’s first year on campus.
While freshmen admit sexual assault is an issue on college campuses, they rarely expect to become victims. If it hasn’t happened to them or to anyone they know, it’s not yet real.
This lack of recognition was clear early this fall when the Indiana Daily Student spoke with freshman women around campus. Many denied feeling unsafe on campus and minimized their chance of being assaulted.
“There’s always the possibility that it could happen, but I haven’t been threatened by it,” said one student in McNutt Quad.
“It’s not a realistic concern for me at this point,” said another.
“Every time I go to the bathroom I see a poster about a sexual assault campaign, so it must be a thing.”
Kendall Locey, now a junior, remembers encountering similar denial among her peers. When she told her story to other freshmen weeks after the assault, some didn’t believe her. Of those who did, some insisted they could have avoided a similar dangerous situation.
Kendall knew how wrong they were.
“It doesn’t matter how good you are at drinking, or how tough you are, or if you’ve fought a boy before and you won,” she says now. “It doesn’t matter. You don’t know what they’re going to do.”
If Kendall could do that night again, she wouldn’t have gone to a party thrown by strangers. She would’ve brought her own alcohol. She definitely would have gone with girlfriends she knew well and who would have made sure she was okay.
* * *
Other upperclasswomen remember going through similar experiences when they were in the red zone. Like Kendall, they have advice they wish they could give their freshman selves. Many felt too ashamed to talk about their assaults at first. Some blamed themselves and thought if they’d avoided that situation, stayed away from their attacker, not led that guy on, nothing would have happened.
Marcia Lewis, a junior, was assaulted twice as a freshman.
At one party her first semester, she remembers a guy pulled down her pants because “he wanted to know if I was actually a girl.” She tried to laugh it off, but later wished she’d said something.
Another time, she was sitting on a couch with a guy she barely knew in a room full of friends. He began moving closer to her and touching her leg because he “wanted to feel my muscles.”
Marcia, who played on IU’s field hockey team her freshman year, always had a lot of guy friends in high school. She never felt uncomfortable around them until her two assaults. Those incidents made her want to stay away.
“I alienated myself,” she says.
Casey Behling, a 2016 graduate, felt the same way. She had only been on campus for three days when she was assaulted inside a fraternity house.
That Friday night she met a cute guy at a party. He kept telling her to take a shot, then another and another, but she was the only one drinking. That’s normal, she told herself. That’s just what college is like.
She remembers taking at least 15 shots of tequila and by then could no longer walk. Casey remembers the stranger helping her stand up and taking her back to his dorm room. They started making out, but she didn’t want to go any further. However, her speech was so slurred, she couldn’t form the word “no.” As he raped her, she threw up in the trashcan next to the bed.
For a long time, only a few people knew about what happened — only the ones who helped her that night. Casey didn’t blame herself or feel ashamed but now wishes she had cared more about herself when it came to boys and alcohol. She wishes she had spoken out about her experience and been more involved throughout college in helping other young women who were assaulted too.
Jordan Smith was assaulted during her first semester on campus. It happened her third week of college, and she didn’t think it was a big deal at the time. It wasn’t until the end of her sophomore year that she realized the incident was even considered sexual assault.
She is now a senior and one of the directors of Safe Sisters, a student group helping to spread awareness about sexual assault to members of greek life.
Safe Sisters was founded eight years ago, at a time when less attention was paid to this issue, Jordan says. Even four or five years ago, the first part of their training process was convincing students they should care.
“The first time they did this training it was like a foreign concept to the women,” Jordan said. “Nobody was comfortable even remotely talking about it.”
Though students now are more aware, discussing sexual assault still isn’t easy, she said. Processing it and understanding it and reporting it all take time and emotional struggle some survivors don’t want to go through.
Sometimes, it’s easier to just pretend it never happened.
* * *
Kendall didn’t want to pretend. She feels lucky to have only a vague memory of her assault, but she knows enough.
When it happened, she was living in Read Center. That Thursday night freshmen knocked on the doors of floor mates they’d just met. It was only a few weeks into first semester, and friendships were just forming. Seventeen- and 18-year-olds, in their cramped dorm rooms, took shots of cheap vodka as they pre-gamed for the first parties of the weekend.
A guy from her dorm invited Kendall to the off-campus frat party. She wishes she’d told her roommate — or anyone she knew better — where she was going that night.
At the party in the basement of the fraternity house, it was dark.
There were green and purple flashing lights, thumping music, and a few people in the center of dance floor and others along the wall, Kendall remembers.
Then she took the one shot. The rest of the night is missing.
When she woke the next morning, the walls around her were unrecognizable, the face next to her without a name.
She jolted out of bed, scrambled to find her clothes, tried to remember if she wore underwear the night before, but trod lightly to avoid waking whomever it was lying in the bed.
As soon as she gathered her clothes off the floor, Kendall hurried out of the house. She needed to get back to Read but had no clue where to turn first. She was in a new town and unsure of how to get back to campus.
“That’s something scary about being a freshman — you physically don’t know where you are,” she said.
The day was as much of a blur as the night before. Once she found her way back to her residence hall, Kendall’s roommate told her to go to the IU Health Center. She went to the hospital, where the police showed up to ask her the same questions she’d answered several times that day.
Kendall couldn’t help but blame herself for what happened. She was the kind of person who always gave the other person the benefit of the doubt.
“It felt like I was going to be socially exiled for this behavior,” she said. “I felt like I fucked up.”
Because she graduated high school a year early, Kendall started at IU younger than most students. Her mom was already wary of her being away from home so young when she found out about the assault.
It was 10:30 p.m. Friday when Kendall returned to her room. She shared a bottle of wine with a close friend while trying to process the last 24 hours.
That’s when she got the call from her mom.
She was upset and wanted Kendall to come home.
* * *
This fall, thousands of new IU freshmen have been navigating the red zone.
At every party, freshman Lauren Schmitt is the sober friend. She doesn’t drink alcohol, but one night a week all her friends go out. It’s a way for them to relieve the stress of the week, unwind and forget about everything else, Lauren said.
Because it’s only one night, there are often no limits.
“It’s just kind of that one night a week people get crazy, and that’s when a lot of accidents happen,” she said.
While Lauren plays the role of designated driver by taking care of her friends and making sure they get home okay, she watches. As an outsider, she notices things other might not — as other freshmen women at the party get more and more drunk, she sees the men watching, waiting.
“I can see guys wait for them to get drunk and then try to pull them off into rooms,” she said.
Lauren is aware of how serious sexual assault is on campus. Anyone can get invited to a party, she said. Even if you barely know someone, word gets around. Sometimes she takes it upon herself to defend young women who can’t defend themselves.
“I’ve been in situations where I’ve gone into a room and stopped a guy from assaulting a girl,” she said.
It’s common for freshmen to attend parties off campus rather than those at an on-campus fraternity. Because formal sorority rush isn’t until January, by rule they aren’t allowed to enter fraternities that are part of the IU greek system.
Emily Rotundo and Emry Schnell, freshmen living in Foster Quad, said it’s not unusual for a guy to grab at them when they’re dancing at a party.
Because rates of sexual assault are higher in college compared to high school, the aggressive environment of college parties came as a shock to Rotundo.
“I’ll give them a dirty look, but I never actually say anything,” she said.
“I just kind of walk away,” Schnell said.
For freshman Amanda Stelman, adjusting to the size of IU’s campus was the hardest part. Being from a small town, sexual assault was never something she worried about.
She would walk at night in the dark by herself and still feel safe.
She wasn’t educated much at all on sexual assault in high school.
“Out of everything we get educated on I think that’s the least,” Stelman said. “Because they always talk about drugs and alcohol and sex, but sexual assault has never been a big topic.”
Freshman Katrina Nickell had a friend and classmate who was assaulted during high school, so she’s always conscious of the possibility of that happening to her, too. When guys at parties grab her from behind and want to dance with her, Nickell feels uncomfortable.
Over the summer, Nickell’s parents and her new roommate’s parents met for the first time. They worried about their daughters’ safety on a campus sometimes known for women going missing. So, the first thing they warned their daughters was to never leave each other alone.
* * *
After the assault, Kendall never went to another fraternity party.
She couldn’t fully focus on anything else in her life in the following weeks. She felt the emotions of that morning lingering in the back of her mind.
“It’s just something you can’t help thinking about,” she said.
She would still hang out and drink with close friends in those weeks, but she stayed in the dorms. Spending time with them was more of a way to distract herself than anything else.
Kendall, now a junior, lives in a house with five other women. They look after each other, make sure they get home okay every night, only go to parties thrown by people they know and hold each other accountable.
She feels the safety she only wishes existed that fall when everything was new.
“I’ve changed some of the behaviors that a lot of women don’t really think about when they come to college,” Kendall said. “But still, when the topic of sexual assault comes up, it’s definitely more painful.”