This post has been written by a survivor of sexual violence. We firmly believe that survivors’ voices need to be heard and in the spirit of that belief, this story has not been changed or edited beyond grammar. The final version has been approved by the author. Content Warning: Language, rape
Wives, obey your husbands as you obey the Lord. The husband is the head of the wife, just as Christ is the head of the church people. The church is his body and he saved it. Wives should obey their husbands in everything, just as the church people obey Christ.
– Ephesians 5:22-24
I do not pray anymore.
I have not prayed in years.
But when I wish or dream or hope or invoke, I ask for Strength. I ask for Justice. I ask for the Tenacity to find the right words, and I ask for the Courage to say them.
My goal in coming forward with this statement is to make three things clear.
First. What happened to Adele could have happened to any of us. In many cases, what happened to her did happen to us. Just because we did not know to call it rape did not mean that was not what it was.
Second. The negligence that Christendom College displayed in addressing Adele’s case is intricately linked with the deeply entrenched misogynist preference that the Front Royal Catholic community (and the sort of people the College attracts) expresses towards men, at the expense of women’s safety. This sexist sentiment is deeply ingrained in this community’s expression of Catholicism. As such, our parents and community are to blame for what happened to us, as is Christendom College for creating an environment where sexual abuse was, is, allowed to flourish unchecked.
Third. I intend to present what it feels like to try to put a life together after I, a woman, have been told (subtly or otherwise) by my parents, community and Christendom College that my experience is neither as important nor as believable as a man’s. No. My purpose in life was set out for me. I was to be a caregiver. ‘Less than’ these men.
I want you to know what that feels like.
Praise Be: Just the Facts
- My name is Jane Snyder. My father is Steven Snyder, administrator and professor at Christendom College. He and I have not discussed my story, this story.
- My family moved to Front Royal, Virginia in 2001, when my father accepted the job at the College. I am very familiar with the ‘boys club’ that is Front Royal.
- I attended Christendom from 2007-2011. I began my undergrad when I was 16 years old.
- During one of the two semesters that I lived on campus at Christendom, in the Spring of my Junior year in 2010, I was close friends with 1 female student who was raped at a student party off campus by a Catholic townie.
- I knew one woman who was allegedly raped by her boyfriend, now husband — my roommate and I overheard an altercation between them on the subject.
- I knew of one rape that the younger sister of a classmate experienced in 2010 (allegedly, the rapist was the same townie who had assaulted one of my friends at the off-campus party).
- A friend was sexually assaulted by a Christendom alumnus a couple years after their graduation.
- Patrick DiVietri was the psychologist that two of my friends who had experienced sexual trauma were referred to. He did not offer them support in addressing their traumas. He later became my therapist for a short while, and his ‘support’ was negligent at best, damaging at worst. His therapeutic techniques have caused lasting damage.
- Looking back, I recognize symptoms of sexual trauma in many of the women I used to know. I do not have evidence (names, dates) to support that theory aside from the trauma flags my gut sensed, but my view has been corroborated by other students who think similarly. We believe that sexual misconduct was rampant among students, and women bore the brunt and did not know to call the assaults what they were.
- I graduated in Spring 2011. Fall 2011, I was raped many times by a Front Royal townie.
- My first point: Christendom College and the Catholic community in Front Royal breeds and protects the rapist, misogynist men who abused me and my friends.
- My second point: Christendom College fosters an atmosphere of disempowerment among its female students through its policies, governance and education, thereby discouraging them from learning how to set boundaries that protect and strengthen them against attackers while they are in school and afterwards.
We are Told, Subtly or Otherwise
Can you guess what it might be like to be reared within a social group that systematically programs its girls to be breeders of children and caretakers of men, while this same social group raises its boys to externalize blame and responsibility while they assume their places among their brothers, fathers, and male elders as esteemed patriarchal leaders? These men become the heads of families, priests, religious brothers, eligible bachelors who will have their picks of the (female) litter. The women become full time housewives, part time teachers, part time secretaries, part time people. Or spinsters who pine for home, husband, children.
Strange. These girls who become women are made to believe on the one hand that they, we, are morally frail, physically weak, and need a man’s protection, guidance. On the other hand, we are so powerful that we can control this same man. Make him better, or make him worse and ruin him, spiritually. We are not burdened by the blight of testosterone and the penis it infects. But we are assigned the responsibility of guiding this penis toward godliness, away from sin. Our sexuality does not exist for its own sake, but for the glory of a distant god, his virgin, sexless mother, and the salvation of a (naturally and through no fault of their own) morally deviant male race.
How are we women so powerful that we can cause others, men, to do bad things? How is it that we are at the same time so weak that we need these men, who apparently have no agency of their own, to take care of us?
We are told. Subtly or otherwise.
Woman, you do not exist for your own sake, but for the sake of others. You are beautiful! And who enjoys this beauty? Others. Do not forget. You are blessed with vitality in order to save others with your virtuous beauty, your beautiful virtue.
What of those of us who are no longer beautiful because we are no longer virtuous?
But perhaps, a repentant woman? Like Mary Magdalene, yes. One of the (very) few recorded female disciples of Christ! She reclaimed her spiritual virginity, despite having led a sinner’s life of wanton depravity as a prostitute before converting, confessing, changing.
Could it be, that those of us who went to that Catholic school, that tiny speck in Helltown, god’s outhouse, those of us who smoked, drank, kissed, and touched – could it be that all of us were fallen women? Were the ‘cool’ ones, those of us who did not care, did not pray, did not love easily, were we ‘cool’ ones the ones who had ‘fallen, ie, had sex’…or perhaps experienced some other form of ‘worldliness’ such as abuse or extreme neglect?
And just how much nuance can fall under a Catholic description of having ‘had sex?’
From Simcha Fisher’s article, Are Women Safe in Christendom’s Bubble? Part I: “A source close to Christendom says that people send their children to Christendom because ‘they’ve raised them in a bubble and they want that bubble to continue.’ She said mothers of students have told her they don’t want to talk to their children about consent, because it might make them curious about sexual matters [italics are my own]. She says that, in recent years, the male students have been given more talks and education about how to treat female students with respect and dignity, but the word ‘consent’ is not used.”
Firstly, the topic of treating another living creature with ‘respect and dignity’ is a conversation one might have with their four year old child about how they should treat an animal. Treat the neighbor’s dog with ‘respect and dignity’ even though it shits on our lawn and barks incessantly. Women are not alien creatures that need to be ‘explained’ or ‘rationalized’ to young men.
Secondly, on the subject of sexuality, when the theme of consent is specifically avoided, the question then becomes, what was a ‘good’ girl doing in a situation where consent was required? What was she wearing? What situation did she put herself in, and how did she allow this to happen? Did she not realize how much physical and emotional pain she was making the man vulnerable to experiencing, by making herself available to him, subject to his advances?
But thirdly and even more fundamentally, for a parent to shirk their duty to educate us, their children, in order to avoid talking about sexuality and consent because it will ‘make us curious about sexual matters’ is insulting, belittling, utterly exasperating. I consider myself a lucky one who could turn off all feeling from the waist down. There was a censored black blur where my genitals should have been; where they should have had sensations of their own.
Catholic parent, Catholic administrator, Catholic person, you think we children will not even be curious about our sexuality simply because you do not explain it to us?
You honestly believe that because you refuse to introduce us to ourselves, we will not find our sexual selves one day, in either a benevolent or violent way? Do you think we are not objectively Sexual Beings simply because you avoid seeing us as we are, guiding us to be the best versions of who and what we are?
Hide your head in the sand, you who should have protected me. In your mind, what you do not see in me must not be real, must not be happening, must not be important.
Further, from Fisher’s article: “In Front Royal [Virginia, the town where Christendom college is tidily located], [if a woman pursues legal means in order to bring her assailant to justice] a prosecutor will assume that a religious young woman … is simply feeling guilty for having had sex, and is calling it ‘assault’ to assuage her conscience.”
We are told. Subtly or otherwise.
Fallen woman, you have no recourse. No support. No sympathy. Protect your virtue, or you will be ostracized, spat out. How are you going to explain this to your future husband? Do you realize that there will be three of you in the bed now – you, your husband, and the man you ‘gave’ your virginity to? You will never forget this, never overcome this, though the reclamation of ‘spiritual virginity’ may provide some solace. Despite all you have done, our god is a loving god who forgives all; confess your sins to a priest, and perhaps you can be forgiven, saved.
We are told. Subtly or otherwise.
“Don’t be a slut, and it won’t happen to you.”
“The result is an unusually vulnerable population of young women who don’t know how to navigate basic relationships, and who are terrified to express their wishes for fear of being rude, and are afraid to speak out when they or their friends are hurt. They don’t have the words to describe what happened to them if they are assaulted, and they feel very strongly that they will be blamed for anything that happens to them.”
People may ask me now that given what I knew at the time about what was happening to my friends and women like Adele on campus, why did I not speak out, seek help?
And I will ask back, just who would I have asked for help? Tim O’Donnell, the bumbling, well-intentioned chauvinist? Jesse Dorman, the determined ostrich? Patrick DiVietri, paternalistic thomist?
A word on DiVietri.
DiVietri, who was my parents’ therapist, a fiercely religious (proselytizing) Catholic, an adjunct professor at Christendom college who encouraged my parents to send me and my siblings to him whenever we had ‘problems.’ When my sister disclosed to me that she was having suicidal thoughts, they sent her to him when they found out. They sent her away rather than try, in some feeble way, to love her, speak to her, support her.
When I found out my Christendom boyfriend was an addict, I was sent to DiVietri.
When I was ‘acting out’ (because my later boyfriend was assaulting me), my parents did not speak to me or attempt to support me. No, they sent me to DiVietri. He who never asked me if I had consented or wanted what was done to me to have been done. I would call that a pretty glaring Psych 101 fumble, to be generous. To be less generous, more frank, I call that a gross abuse of power and utter negligence.
No, DiVietri could not see me. No, he could not hear me (because he is, in point of fact, medically deaf).
DiVietri, the layperson priest. He spoke of virtue, he spoke of saintliness. He spoke of the control we have over our mental health, and how we could will the voices to go away and replace them with songs of saints. Through prayer and repentance, medication would be rendered redundant.
He did not speak of the agency I could exert in my life. He did not encourage me to love myself and he did not offer any me any trauma resolution or support while I ripped myself apart.
All that, that agency I could supposedly exert in my life, I learned of all that later. Many years later.
No. Back then, I was trapped. There was no one I could tell. There was no one who would listen. There was no one who cared to understand.
What Christendom College and the Front Royal Catholic community care about is obedience. Compliance. Meekness. Religious perseverance and oblivious sincerity. They care about the (improbable) statistic that students who leave the college keep their Catholic faith over 90% of the time. They care that Catholics unite in holy couplings and bring forth children for mother church. They care about religious icons, crucifixes, stained glass windows, skirts that do not go above the back crease of the knee, blouses that do not go lower than 3 fingers below the collar bone.
They care about there being no premarital sex allowed (or at least spoken of), no birth control permitted (or at least spoken of); no threats to traditional family would be tolerated. The ultimate threat to their patriarchal utopia, Feminism is a dirty word. Women’s liberation, a laughable phenomenon, not worthy of discussion (graduating in 2011 with a BA in History, to this day I find it endlessly shocking how little I was taught about 20th century American history, apart from learning about World War I and II battles and the (male) war heroes). Homosexual or ‘gay’ is a popular insult. A joke, not to be taken seriously.
They believe. The rampancy of pedophilia within the priesthood is overblown by the liberal media (though some Catholics may admit that priests are ‘human’ too, and have historically certainly had their failings). What they fail to acknowledge is the insidiousness of an institution such as the church systematically covering up abuse scandals. Not a dissimilar phenomenon to the sexual abuse scandals that are covered up and ignored on the Christendom campus, I wager.
For these people in this town and at this college, mental illness is a choice, medication an admission of defeat, a source of shame. Abortion is the greatest sin; a woman’s ‘choice’ or agency over her body is a misnomer. An unspeakable affront. A greater stain on humankind even than the sin of slavery, for which the American South is infamous.
No. There was no one I could tell, even if I had wanted to.
I was one of the luckier ones.
Outside my dorm room window, where I lived on the ground floor just feet from a parking spot. Sobbing, sobbing, sobbing. A female classmate I knew, sobbing. In her boyfriend’s car. Him: yelling, yelling, yelling: I’m sorry I put my penis in your vaGINA!!! Her: sobbing, uncontrollably sobbing. They are married now. They have children. Sons.
One morning after one night.
Hung over. So. Hung over. I get a call from a friend. We had partied wildly the night before. Raucously. Hi, she said. He took me back to his place, we had nearly had sex in the car while he drove. He had sex with me, and I did not want to. He kept touching me, even when I told him to stop. I want to come home now. Can you come get me?
My friend ‘became pregnant’ by her new classmate boyfriend. She left school straightaway and married him. He was mean, he was an alcoholic. She was kind. Still is. She takes care of him. They have several children now. She is young. She takes care of all of them.
In 2009, 2010, 2011.
I knew something was happening to Adele. She was not in my crowd. I stayed to myself and the flighty friends I partied with. But I knew. I somehow knew. I knew that man was a belligerent bully, a flamboyant misogynist. I knew something had happened to her, that he had done something to her. I have vague memories of the vile rumors he was spreading about her. Adele was wrong when she interpreted that he was well-liked on campus. He was not. Nonetheless. I never reached out to her, never made eye contact with her, never said Hi Adele, how is your day going?
Then and now.
The one friend I still have from school. She has ricocheted from one sexual assault to another. One to another. It is always something. I have lost count. Her NO has never meant NO to any of the men she has been with. It did not mean no when she said it to the men at Christendom, and it does not mean no to the men in the world who are even less pliable than ‘good Catholic boys.’ One of those ‘good Catholic boys,’ a Christendom alumnus. Boys like him are not taught that purposely getting a woman drunk and assaulting her is not virtuous, saintly, a notch on the belt that will allow for easy access into heaven.
I can think of another story of an on-campus rape that centered on the younger sister of one of my former classmates. I do not know the story though. I did not want to learn the details at the time. I still do not want to know.
I can think of at least eight other female former classmates by name who I suspect had been sexual assaulted by men that I knew. My former classmates.
How could this have happened, you may ask?
We fallen women have no recourse.
We are told. Subtly or otherwise.
Birth control is immoral. It is bad for women’s health.
But what we are not told is this.
What is more immediately bad for your health is sexually transmitted infections that can become cervical cancer. What is decidedly bad for your health is an unwanted pregnancy, a rape baby. What is bad for your health is thinking you are disgusting for something that was done to you that was not your fault. What is bad for your health is domestic violence. What is bad for your health is not realizing that you are a Person who has a right to have needs, wants, hopes, dreams.
Somehow, on campus, during my time there, I avoided assault. Even though I dated the ‘cool’ boys, the ‘fallen’ men (4 of them). The fallen men being the addicts, the traumatized, the belligerent. Somehow, even though we, too, had nowhere to go to be together, I was never raped by them in the backseats and forests and dark empty buildings we fled to. I certainly received my fair share of cruel words, shaming and demeaning words from a couple of them though. But I consider myself lucky for only having received that much.
After school. 2011. The story begins and ends where it was always bound to.
I was never taught any differently. I did not know any better.
This was always going to happen.
I did not know that ‘making love’ is a ridiculous and utterly inaccurate descriptor for the act of having sex. That is, fucking. Or being fucked.
I did not know it is not normal to be physically overpowered by a man who intends to fuck me. I did not know that the fact that he wants to fuck me is not my problem, not my responsibility, not my fault. I did not know it is not normal for a man to repeatedly thrust his hands down my pants, grabbing at my genitals, in public. I did not know that I could ask for help from even one of the innumerable people who stared, stunned. I did not know it is not normal for a man to continue to touch me, grab me, violate me even as I told him no, no, no. I did not know it is not normal for a man to mark my body with hickies, scratches and eventually, bruises. As if he was marking his territory.
Do not forget, those marks say, you are mine. You belong to ME.
I did not know that I do not have to marry the first person I fuck, or who rather the first person who fucks me. I did not know there are ways to protect myself against pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases. I did not know I do not have to try to be in a relationship with someone who fucks me repeatedly, when I did not want him to. I did not know that ‘rape’ is the word for just what that was.
I did not know that in a healthy relationship, there is a conversation and a measure of trust that surrounds the introduction of anal sex. I did not know that forced anal sex still counts as ‘sex’ and oral sex still counts as ‘sex.’ And that forced anal and oral sex count as ‘rape.’
I did not know that consent is what I say when no means no and yes means yes. I did not know that not all men are addicts who need to be taken care of. I did not know that not all men are time bombs who will one day engage in domestic violence.
I did not know that not all men manipulate and demean me.
I did not know that not all men weaponize their penises with the intent to get me pregnant, to trap me, to definitively manipulate me into becoming an empty shell of a person. Their empty shell of a person.
I did not know that not all men are hateful.
This is all my fault.
I let this happen.
I made this happen.
Why did you keep going back to him? My sister would ask, years later.
Many may well ask Adele, What did you expect? Why did you stay at that school?
At the time, there were certain things I could control. Just as for Adele, perhaps there were some things she felt she could control too.
Me, I could control food. I must have lost 30 pounds. I just stopped eating. To this day, 7 years later, beginning every November, I lose interest in food, and lose at least 15 pounds. Sometimes more.
This time, I have not been able to regain my interest in food. I am so much smaller than I used to be. I am not who or what I could have been. I am so much less than I could have been.
I was taught that virginity is an asset. A trump card. Once given away or lost, it can never be reclaimed. It is a gift. A gift to my future husband.
As Adele’s father said to Christendom’s president Tim O’Donnell, “The message [Christendom gives] is clear: men can take physical advantage of women, without consequence.”
At home, I was not taught what a healthy relationship between a man and a woman would look like. The education as to what male-female relationships look like was what I learned at Christendom. Yes, I remember the modesty talks. The dress code meetings, the consequences for violating said dress code. The mandatory dinner speakers who spoke of loving others, maintaining virtue in a chaotic, morally defunct world.
I remember being called to the Assistant Dean of Students’ office the morning after a Halloween (or something) Formal to discuss the ‘inappropriate dancing’ that I had put on display the night before.
I remember waking up in the mornings after nights of drinking, running through a list of people I felt I would need to apologize to, running through a list of sins I would have to confess to the priest. I remember the countless times I drove my car after drinking. Or while drinking.
That one time when I concentrated so fucking hard on staying in the yellow highway 522 lines driving home from a house party. Once I finally arrived home, I crawled into the backseat of my car and passed out. The drinking in the woods, drinking in cars, drinking in dorms, drinking in empty buildings, drinking in class from coffee thermoses. Writing exams still drunk.
There is so much that I do not remember from my time at Christendom. Because unconsciously (or perhaps consciously), I have chosen to forget.
Since then, I have been picking up the pieces of the life I was on a trajectory to lead, and trying to reassemble them into something cohesive, sane, stable.
The feeling I get when someone likes me for me, wants me for me, respects me for me, is terrifying. I do not understand it. I do not understand them. What I understand is cruelty. What I understand is projection. What I understand is that everything is my fault, and if I want to change my life or if I need saving, I need to do it myself. Because nobody is looking out for me.
There is no place for fallen women in Christendom’s orbit. There is only space for the fallen men, who women must care for, who women must clean up after, at whose hands we must suffer, and whose children we must bear.
We are told. Subtly or otherwise.
That the truth is: Eve was created because Adam was lonely. She was created to be Adam’s stop-gap against the pain of everyday experience, the pain of responsibility, the pain of mortality (or immortality, as it supposedly was at the time). As Woman though, she is necessarily a fickle creature, prone to sinfulness; she is a temptress, a deviant, morally frail.
A downside to her usefulness to Adam, no doubt.
We are told. Subtly or otherwise.
That the truth is: Eve was created to serve Adam. Eve exists as a person because Adam’s need made her so. Man in his neediness creates woman. It is not god’s business or anyone else’s how Adam treats Eve, because she was created for him, to give him comfort, to be the vessel through which he spreads his seed, to raise his children, to cook his meals, to pleasure him in bed.
Ephesians 5:22-24. Take heed, Woman.
We remain. Women without bodies. Women without agency. Women without personhood. Women without hope.
Ghosts drifting through our shell-shocked lives.
An aside on In Loco Parentis
I do not direct this admonition towards Adele Smith’s father. No. His letter to O’Donnell moved me deeply. I wish more parents could be like him.
What I will say is this.
To the rest of you.
Parents of Christendom students and alumni. It is grossly negligent of you to expect an institution to do your job for you. When you do not teach your children how to set boundaries, protect themselves, treat others kindly and reverently, say what they need when they need it. That fundamental failing is on YOU. Not the College. Your abuse and neglect has set us up for failure. We, your children, are paying for your selfishness and despicable squeamishness.
Many of us got freshly married hot off the Christendom baby-making press. So now. We will neglect our children, as you neglected us. Because we just do not know any better.
Shame on you for putting your faith in Christendom’s utopian pipe dream. It is hardly a shock to any of us, your children, that this house of cards must crumble.
Call to Arms
Those of you I used to know.
Those of you I do not yet know.
What happened to you, to your friends, was not your fault. THIS is your moment to stand up, speak out, fight back. The bad people who did this to us and allow this to continue to happen to us deserve the justice that is coming to them.
We have names, we have dates.
And we are angry.
This. This is our moment.