In 1990, when Katie Koestner told her parents, peers, and college administrators that she had been raped by a fellow classmate, she was met with the following questions:
“What were you wearing?”
“Well, did he pay for dinner?”
“Why did you invite him back to your dorm?”
“Are you sure you want to make that accusation? You could ruin his life.”
Ms. Koestner heard that she should stay quiet so people would not think of her as “damaged goods.” She was even encouraged by her Dean to get back together with the classmate who raped her since they looked like such a cute couple.
Ms. Koestner can take a good deal of credit for a significant shift in mindset, between the responses she received then and what the responses of trusted adults might be today. Before her case nearly 30 years ago, “date rape” was not a recognized concept; rapists were menacing strangers—never known and trusted peers. Ms. Koestner’s activism changed the landscape. Her courage in speaking out about her experience at William and Mary landed her on the cover of TIME magazine; since then she has appeared on The Oprah Winfrey Show, CNN, Good Morning America, and many other national television programs. She founded the international non-profit Take Back the Night to combat sexual, relationship, and domestic violence in all forms and has spoken all over the world on the topic of sexual violence, women’s safety, and healthy relationships.
On February 14, Ms. Koestner addressed Roxbury Latin faculty, staff, and students in Class IV through Class I, as part of a series of presentations dedicated to topics of health and wellness. In the course of recounting her sobering story, Ms. Koestner defined terms and policies surrounding sexual misconduct, explored the concept of consent, and emphasized the importance of bystander engagement. Ms. Koestner asked everyone to imagine his or her own reaction upon witnessing a possibly dangerous situation at a party or bar. She asked, “Would you intervene if you sensed that a friend or stranger was too drunk to be going home with someone else? It could take three minutes to save someone from a dangerous situation and help change the course of that person’s life forever.”
So often when it comes to sexual violence, silence can feel like the way out—for victims and for bystanders. It could be the way out of public shame, or strained friendships, or questions like “Why did you invite him back to your dorm?” But ultimately Katie Koestner chose to speak out, and her hope is that others, upon hearing her tell her story, will do the same.