Four years ago, Beth Baumann was a college freshman, 18 years old and away from home for the first time when her friends convinced her to try a popular dating app called OKCupid. This is how she started talking to John*, a fellow student at the Arizona university she was attending.
She couldn’t put her finger on it exactly, but he was strange, she says. It would be the first of several red flags, but Baumann ignored it at the time. Even though she was reluctant to meet up with him, she let her friends convince her to go for it. “What’s the worst that could happen?” they said. She met him for coffee.
“It was very awkward,” she tells. “He seemed very reclusive and I’m just more outgoing.” But Baumann decided to give him another shot. She invited him over to her dorm room later to watch a movie.
“That literally meant watching a movie. But he thought it meant more.”
He tried to get physical with Baumann, but she told him no. When he went to the bathroom, she called her best friend, confused about what to do. “She told me to make him leave when he came back,” she recalls. “I should have made him leave.”
John stayed and he ended up raping Baumann, a fact she wouldn’t come to realize until weeks later. Baumann says she felt like a whore. “That’s the word I remember using. I felt so much shame.” She didn’t tell anyone.
A few days later, after returning from a trip to D.C. for school, John was waiting for her at her dorm room. From there on in, they were in a relationship that Baumann has no recollection of ever agreeing to. She didn’t have a roommate, so John essentially moved in.
“Class was the only time we didn’t see each other,” she says. John was immediately jealous of anyone else Baumann talked to or hung out with. He told her he didn’t want her talking to her parents. “It was his isolation tactic,” she says. She now knows about the psychological abuse methods that John had implemented. But, at the time, she was desperately trying to understand if what was happening was normal.
“In high school, I never really did the dating thing. So, I was trying to figure out if this is what a relationship was, because I’d never really been in one. And I didn’t have any guidance.”
For six weeks, John continued to control, isolate and sexually assault Baumann. She says she stopped fighting the assaults after the first time. She thought it was easier to just comply with his sexual requests on demand. Then, one day, John made a startling confession to Baumann.
“He told me that his cousin claimed he raped her,” she says. John explained that his family had handled the matter among themselves and that he had agreed to go to counseling for it. Baumann says this information “threw her over the edge.” She confided in a friend, who was a rape survivor herself, about the first time she and John had been together. “She said, ‘Beth, that is rape. You fought, you said no, and he didn’t listen.’” It was the first time it had occurred to Baumann that the word “rape” applied to her situation. Scared and unsure of how to leave John, she sent him a text telling him she wasn’t ready for a relationship. “I didn’t tell him the truth.”
But then, she confided in her mom. “I broke down crying and said, ‘Did he rape me?’ She said he did. My mom had to literally keep my dad, a cop, from driving to Arizona and killing him.”
Baumann decided she needed to confront John. “I said, ‘The real reason I broke up with you is because you raped me.’ He admitted to my face that’s what he did. Then, I went to the cops.”
The police investigated Baumann’s assault claims. “I felt like I was on trial. I had to go over my story five or six times. I had to write it in graphic detail. They took pictures of my dorm room; they took my bed sheets.” Baumann told them about John’s confession regarding his cousin. The police investigated it, she says, and found the girl was only 13 at the time of the alleged assault. “The cousin was my motivation to press charges,” says Baumann.
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Despite all of this, the case ultimately fizzled. The district attorney, says Baumann, told her “there was too much he said/she said.” She felt defeated. She wanted to move back home, but her parents convinced her not to. “They told me not to give him that satisfaction of him taking away college, something I worked so hard for.”
She pressed on and sought counseling—both individual and group therapy. She says learning about the cycle of domestic violence and the tactics abusers use against their victims helped Baumann, now 23 and a graduated double-major, find resolution, and to realize none of it was her fault.
“My closure came from talking with other women who had been through similar things and seeing the kind of strength that can come out of it … and learning how abusers use all their different tactics—it made me go from victim to survivor.”
Her Advice for Other Young People: “Don’t be so trusting,” says Baumann, bluntly. “I always tend to want to see the good in people, but it’s OK to see red flags and to distance yourself from people until you get to know them.”
* Name has been changed.
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