Sharing Kristen’s Story



Nancy Ng

On the evening of Thursday, February 3, Colgate students congregated in the Chapel to hear Kristen’s Story.

Kristen, a beloved only child, went through what her mother described as a “miserable” middle school experience. In high school, Kristen seemed to finally find a sense of belonging. She excelled in the performing arts, joined the swim team and was an expert skier. She attended Baker University, a small college outside Kansas City, and seemed to be having the time of her life; she was in love and she was accepted into the sisterhood of Alpha Chi Omega.

Then, not long after the beginning of her sophomore year, Kristen’s mother began receiving daily phone calls from a deeply distressed daughter – her boyfriend had broken up with her. She continued in this gloom into Thanksgiving, worrying her mother somewhat. Her mother was extremely reassured when her mother saw her at Christmas time. When she watched Kristen leave for a New Year’s Eve party with her friends, she could not have known that it would be the last time she would see her daughter alive. How could she have known that her daughter’s sudden happiness was rooted in her resolve to end her life and thus her pain? The next time she saw Kristen, she was lying on the couch in the family room as if asleep, with music blaring, a gun in her hand. She had committed suicide.

It was not until weeks later, after Kristen’s parents were allowed access to her personal possessions, that they uncovered the circumstances around her death. Written in the journal that laid next to her that fateful night was her mind’s innermost secret and turmoil: she had been raped.

Told by her mother, Andrea Cooper, herself a Tri Delta member, Kristen’s story is one that has been heard at over 240 college campuses across the nation. Thanks to the funding of Tri Delta, in collaboration with Alpha Chi Omega, the program has been able to raise active awareness on rape, sexual assault, depression, suicide and ways of helping victims.

The story’s lessons are very relevant to the Colgate campus especially given the truly terrifying statistics cited within the presentation. The FBI approximates that one third of all women will be raped in their lifetime. One-fourth of all female college students will either be raped or will suffer through an attempted rape, most likely during their first year. Andrea asserted that the statistics are even worse on college campuses not only because of the prevalence of parties and alcohol, but also the reckless sense of security that women bring with them to college. Forty-six percent of rape survivors never disclose their ordeal to anyone, 90 percent of rape incidents involve either drugs or alcohol and 42 percent of victims have sex with their rapists again. Andrea sees this as a way victims internally rationalize what has happened to them and a way for them to gain control of the situation.

“Rape is about power, humiliation, and control. [It] is a crime of the heart for the victim and a crime of convenience for the perpetuator,” she said.

Because 30 percent of rape victims commit suicide, Andrea also educated her audience about ways to help. She stressed that one should always be available to listen and not judge. A supportive friend should put aside his or her personal feelings, offer comfort, patience and understanding, not be overly protective and encourage the victim to seek help. On-campus help is available through the counseling center, health center or Campus Safety for victims who require immediate medical treatment or someone to talk to. Off-campus resources include 1-800-656-HOPE and Andrea even offers students her email address [email protected] as a means with which to reach her for any assistance she may be able to provide.

Also included within the presentation were symptoms of depression. These included feelings of sadness, helplessness, worthlessness guilt and irritability, decreased energy, sleeplessness, loss of concentration, stomach aches and thoughts of death and suicide. Kristen’s own depression was dismissed by her mother as a normal phase typical of being a young lady in the throes of lost love. Because of this, friends should be especially vigilant of these signs and take every threat of suicide seriously.

As in Kristen’s case, roughly 85 percent of victims are raped by either an acquaintance or relative. It is rarely ever some “creepy stranger hiding in the bushes.” According to Andrea, a rapist commits his crime an average of seven times before he is eventually caught. Sadly, because Andrea is not alive to give her testimony, her alleged rapist has been able to go free under our current laws.

With a picture of an X-ed out zebra on the projection screen as a background, Andrea related the story about zebras that simply look on as a lion attacks one of their own at a watering hole. She urges students not to be zebras. She exhorts that friends should all watch out for one another and that students do not stand idly by when they see a person put in a compromising situation especially when excessive alcohol is involved.

“I was not able to help Kristen,” Andrea said, “but I hope and I pray that I have helped some people in this room.”

The story, with its hard-earned lessons and tragic end, seemed to have had its intended effect. “I’ve met Andrea and I could see that she genuinely cares – she’s like a mom to all of us. It’s such a personal story that I’m sure it was able to touch a lot of people with its message,” Sophomore Carrie Dewitt said.