In Part I of this article, Adele Smith related how she was raped by a fellow student from Christendom College, but the school failed to acknowledge the rape or punish the student for it, imposing only minor sanctions for harassing her after the rape. Smith claims the school’s sheltered, highly structured campus culture actually facilitates sexual assault — and that the administration works harder to protect its reputation than it does to protect its students.
Smith is not the only female student who makes this charge.
This has happened before
Adele Smith mentioned that there was nothing to prevent a rape like hers from happening again at Christendom. In fact, it had already happened, more than once.
A female student, a friend and classmate of Adele Smith’s older brother, says that her boyfriend raped her just off campus, too, in January of 2005. The woman has told very few people about the assault, and she does not wish to use her name.
She didn’t even know to use the word “rape” to describe what happened to her, until the moment she heard that yet another friend, a former Christendom student, had also been raped by yet another Christendom male student just off campus.
“I honestly thought it was just me,” she said. “Then I started hearing more and more stories, and I realized it was happening to a lot of people.”
“That’s Christendom culture.”
She believes if she told anyone on campus she had been raped, she would have been blamed, and would have heard, “What were you doing? What were you wearing?”
“That’s Christendom culture. We had hours and hours and hours of talks on modesty, dress code, how to act, how to keep boys chaste, all of those things,” she said. “The guys were just told to wear ties to Mass. I didn’t realize at the time there was any imbalance. What a girl wore and how she carried herself or what she said . . . she was responsible for both her actions and men’s.”
She describes the PDA policy in the same way as Smith did.
“It was almost like you’d see in a prison: No touching! Even just to sit next to a person, you had to go off campus. Which made it easier to go further,” she said.
Her boyfriend was a Catholic young man she had met that year at Christendom. He wanted to take her out after they got back from Christmas break, and she was excited at the prospect of a “real date” off campus.
Dressing for the evening was “above and beyond your average giggling and getting ready for a date,” she said. She remembers going to her RA twice to check her outfit, to make sure it was not only nice, but “classy and feminine, modest and dignified, all that good stuff.”
“He was the man.”
She was disappointed when her boyfriend told her their date would consist of simply sitting in his car and watching a movie on his laptop.
“He was the man. He planned the date, he decided things, and I went with him,” she said.
They drove out to a local park in Front Royal. She doesn’t know where they went. It was dark. She says it seems crazy now, but she didn’t feel she had the right to question him.
He suggested they move to the back seat where there was more room. She became alarmed, because “that’s what people do in movies,” but told herself that, while she was short, he was tall, and he probably just needed more leg room.
She says she didn’t mind him getting physically affectionate at first, but as he persisted, she became uncomfortable, and told him several times to stop.
“He had me give him a blow job,” she said. “Forcibly, he held me there. It can’t have been very good, because I had no idea what I was doing.”
She told him she didn’t want to do it, but “that didn’t matter.” He was very strong. She pulled away several times.
“I didn’t hit him or anything. I couldn’t put what was happening together with what should be happening. It was just too unreal,” she said.
He then penetrated her with his fingers. She told him “No,” and pushed him away several times, but again, “That didn’t matter. ” She was in “complete shock.”
About ten minutes later, he abruptly told her, “We can’t keep going like this.” He then said he was afraid she might get pregnant, and that they needed to break up. He immediately drove her back to campus.
Some of her friends were watching a movie in the gym, and she blindly went and sat with them. One friend later told her that he could see there was something wrong, but he thought she had just had a bad night.
“I hoped he would forgive me.”
She later told her friends she and her boyfriend had broken up, but never said why. She blamed herself for not being a good enough girlfriend. “Was I not dressed modestly enough?” she asked herself.
After the rape, she saw herself as “a complete failure, as a Catholic, as a woman, as a horrible girlfriend who had caused him to sin.” She repeatedly apologized to him, hoping he would “forgive her” and maybe take her back as his girlfriend.
“That makes me want to barf now,” she said.
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. 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.
“Is there a poster hanging up in a common area, telling you what to do if you’ve been sexually assaulted? No. I’d bet my right arm on it,” this source said.
“Didn’t something like that happen to you?”
The young woman who was assaulted that night in 2005 revealed small portions of her story to a friend, who suspected that what she was describing was rape. The story was passed among friends, but it wasn’t until 2007 that the young woman acknowledged to herself that it was rape. The realization happened when another student told her she’d heard another story which sounded horribly familiar: A girl was parked with her boyfriend, a Christendom student, off-campus to watch a movie on a laptop, and he raped her. The male students was friends with the male student who perpetrated the first assault. The first woman’s friend asked her, “Didn’t something like that happen to you?”
The first young women immediately drove to the house of the woman who had just been assaulted, to talk to her about what had happened.
“This happened to me, and I didn’t say anything until literally right now,” she told her. “I don’t want to force you into something, but I don’t want you to make my mistake. I’m just now realizing this is a big problem.”
She persuaded the second young woman to go to the hospital and get a rape kit done. The second young woman also went to the police, but, because she didn’t have any bruises or cuts, they advised her that her case would not go anywhere.
“This is Front Royal; no judge is going to convict a rapist.”
An official whom the first woman describes as “the battered woman counsellor” told the second young woman, “I’ve seen a lot of these, and I can tell you right now it’s not going to go anywhere. This is Front Royal; no judge is going to convict a rapist, even with evidence.”
She was also told that, in Front Royal, a prosecutor will assume that a religious young woman such as herself is simply feeling guilty for having had sex, and is calling it “assault” to assuage her conscience. So the second young woman stopped pursuing a legal case.
According to the first young woman, all of Front Royal is “a notorious boy’s club.” She says a female employer once told her, “Basically, guys don’t have anything to worry about.”
The second young woman went to the Christendom administration with her complaint, according to the first young woman.
“She was confident it was going to be dealt with seriously and professionally,” she said. “I was less sure.”
Just looking for drama
Nothing ever came of the complaint. The Christendom student who assaulted the second young woman ended up transferring out, which was hailed as good news for the girls. The young woman who was raped in 2005 said that one professor told her the female students were making too much of it, “just looking for drama.”
She says sexual assault is “something we stick our heads in the sand about, as conservatives, as Catholics. ‘Don’t be a slut, and it won’t happen to you!’ But that’s not how it works.”
The ordeal has not damaged her faith, but it has changed her perspective.
“By the time I saw [the school] brushing things off, I had moved to a place where I could say, ‘No, that’s wrong. They’re not representative of the entire faith,’” she said.
She was able to separate their actions from Catholicism itself; but she was disillusioned with Christendom.
“A lot of their policies create an environment where stuff like this can happen, and especially where it can go unreported,” she said.
Perception is so important.
She says the school heavily promotes the idea that the campus is like a safe, happy family, that “[p]arents can send their homeschooled, sheltered, don’t-know-anything-about-the-
But current students and alumni say the school has a “boys will be boys” attitude which allows the male students to harass and grab at the women. If a young woman is raped or assaulted, the other students are ready to assume she did something wrong. Several students interviewed for this story made a distinction between “rape” and “date rape,” and only acknowledged when pressed that rape is rape.
The school administration has a vested interest in failing to punish male students who commit sexual assault.
“People see it to be a traditional Catholic School, and there’s a tendency to whitewash anything that did happen,” Elizabeth Foeckler, former RA, said.
More than one alumna said that many of the teachers at Christendom are excellent and caring, and that many of the students are sincere and faithful people. When asked what they would say to a student interested in attending Christendom, they said it could work out, as long as you go in with your eyes open.
In many cases, says a source close to the college, the rules regulating campus life arise from an ideology, and not from a practical understanding of student behavior. The lower echelons of the administration, those who deal directly with students, struggle with trying to convey ideas like safety and consent without subverting the founders’ notions of what virtuous student life looks like.
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.
And there is the reputation of the school to guard. “Perception is so important,” said the woman who never reported her rape at Christendom. “We have to evangelize, so everything untoward would be covered up.”
Adele Smith says there was a running joke among the student body about the fountains on campus.
“The school had lots of fountains,” she said, “But the carpets were the original carpets. They were thirty-eight years old. If you lived in the dorm, you were going to be sick. They installed fancy fountains, visible to everyone. But in student living, you can’t get new carpets.”
“Let’s craft and paint the outside,” she said. “But if the inside is not so good? It’s okay.”
Timothy O’Donnell, president of Christendom, was unavailable for comment when we called. He is still welcome to return our call.
This story was researched and reported by Damien and Simcha Fisher. Part I can be found here.
christendom sign: By AgnosticPreachersKid (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/l