My hometown sickens me.
There. I said it.
And I have good reason to.
For those who don’t know me personally, I was born and raised in Waco, Texas. Yes, that Waco. And no, I didn’t know the Branch Davidians, even though I will sometimes tell people I barely escaped just to see their reactions (and have done that since high school, FWIW). There have always been things I liked about my hometown, and things I hated about my hometown. But never have I been so heartsick and disgusted by Waco as I have been here lately.
Back in the fall of 2015, the story of Baylor football player Sam Ukwuachu and his pending trial for sexual assault on a fellow student–who happened to play for the Baylor women’s soccer team–broke. If you haven’t heard about this story (and there’s a good chance you haven’t because the media has been weirdly slow to pick up any of this), he raped her (took her virginity, actually), and when she reported it the investigation was laughable at best. She began to struggle in classes, especially considering he was in one of her classes. Under Title IX, universities are required to provide rape victims with counseling assistance/services and academic help if necessary. They didn’t do that. In fact, her grades dropped so much that she lost her soccer scholarship and was told that maybe she should just transfer to another school.
I only wish I was kidding about that.
Ukwuachu was found guilty by a Waco jury, and sentenced to six months in county jail and 10 years of probation. Yes, you read that right. A Waco jury only gave this guy six months in county jail for rape. Until his trial began, no one even knew he was in trouble. In fact, before the football season even started, Baylor football staff were talking about how he would definitely be on the field and playing for them. There are even more details that are absolutely sickening, but it ends up that Ukwuachu’s story is only the tip of the iceberg.
On February 2, 2016, ESPN’s Outside the Lines ran a damning report on how Baylor has made a habit of covering up rapes in order to not tarnish their star male athletes and their suddenly good football team (they were pretty awful for most of my life, TBH).
On February 4, 2016, former Baylor student Stefanie Mundhenk posted a very personal blog titled “I Was Raped at Baylor and This Is My Story.” It’s a difficult post to read (as it should be), and at times it both broke my heart and filled me with rage that this young woman experienced what she did. If anything, it was blatantly obvious from her account that Baylor, Title IX, and Human Resources simply didn’t give a shit about her and the fact that she’d been raped by a fellow student who’d gone on to become a Baylor employee.
On Super Bowl Sunday Baylor did a classic media dump and sent out a press release two hours before the Super Bowl began that basically said a whole lot of nothing.
Last night, on Monday, February 8, a candlelight vigil was held in front of Baylor President & Chancellor Ken Starr’s house. Yes, that Ken Starr. The Ken Starr who went after Bill Clinton for impropriety with an intern. Ken Starr apparently wasn’t home. About 150-175 people did show up, though, with one woman coming forward and revealing that she’d also been raped while at Baylor and had finally reported it to the Title IX office on Monday. She’d been an RA and was raped by another RA. She didn’t report it because she felt nobody would care or believe her.
Yesterday, a current Baylor student posted a blog post called “How I Survived My Rape at Baylor.” Again, it’s a tough to read account of how Baylor failed to listen to a rape victim and in fact blame her for being raped. On Tuesday morning nine questions were written in chalk in front of Pat Neff Hall, all of them legitimate.
In all of these stories is a similar thread of rape victims being blamed, being ignored, and being brushed aside. I want to say that’s uncommon and unique to Baylor, but it unfortunately isn’t.
So why am I sickened by my hometown?
I follow all the Waco news outlets on Facebook and Twitter, and they’ve barely made a peep about any of this. I’m sorry, but when the major university in your city has these kinds of accusations leveled at them, you don’t just ignore it. Baylor is such a huge part of Waco–economically and socially–that ignoring this is only serving to harm the community as a whole, IMO (especially since students from other local colleges have also come forward as victims of Baylor students). Beyond that, it’s kind of morally reprehensible that the media would just ignore all of this. Are we that desensitized? Are we that easily bought? When I first brought up the Ukwuachu case to my mom, she hadn’t heard a thing about it (she still lives in the Waco area and is a news junkie).
What’s upset me even more is the fact that I have a lot of friends who are either Baylor alums or Baylor employees. One of them has said something about this entire thing. ONE. These are all good people. Many of them parents with daughters of their own. I understand that sometimes as an employee you can’t say anything publicly. I get that. But the alums? Come on, now.
And before anyone asks, no, I don’t have an axe to grind against Baylor. I did a lot of stuff at Baylor in junior high, high school, and even college (I graduated from the University of North Texas). Baylor offered me a pretty good scholarship my senior year of high school and had been in touch with me since my freshman year of high school. I chose not to go to Baylor because I needed to get out of a bad situation at home, which to me meant getting as far away as I possibly could (so I ended up at Hollins University in Roanoke, VA, for a year before I realized I really missed Texas and wanted to come back to my home state). Other than a friendly rivalry, I have had nothing against Baylor. Until the past year.
The same would be true of any university that was engaging in such egregious behavior–whether it be one of my own alma maters or Penn State (now that was a really fucked up situation) or any other school. Because it isn’t right. It just isn’t.
And I think what has me most upset is that this isn’t just a Baylor thing. It’s a Waco thing. To some degree it’s a societal thing. How many times have we heard a woman be blamed for being a rape victim? “You shouldn’t have been drinking.” “You shouldn’t have been wearing the dress.” “You shouldn’t have kissed him if you didn’t want to have sex with him.” And it’s all bullshit. So much bullshit.
My heart breaks for these young women, because I know what they’re going through. I was sexually abused as a child and teenager and date raped while in college. I never reported either of those things, for a lot of different reasons, but the main one being that at one time I’d been told it was my fault (at least for the molestation…I actually was never told that about the date rape by anyone other than myself). My senior year of college I met a guy online who lived in a different state, and I moved there after graduation because I was young and thought I was in love. He broke up with me after cheating on me. I moved back to Texas. Two years later–TWO YEARS LATER–he charged some really bad porn to my checking account. To this day I still don’t know how he got my checking account info, but I do know he’d hacked into several of my personal accounts like email and blog well after I’d moved back. I don’t remember what it was that drove me to Google, but I did. And lo and behold I found out that he’d posted a bunch of nude photos of me online.
He was posing as me online, talking to men as if he was me.
Obviously, I dodged a bullet with this guy because he’s the very definition of cray cray.
I reported all of this to the Waco PD, and the checking account fraud to the FBI since it was a crime that had occurred across state lines and involved a bank. The charge itself wasn’t that much in the grand scheme of things–I think it was like 19 bucks or something–but combined with the photos he’d posted of me on numerous websites? This was obviously a crime.
Waco PD initially agreed and assigned a cyber crimes detective to my case. At first he seemed really attentive and determined to nab my ex. But then things took a weird left turn when the detective sent me a message on MySpace after finding a new batch of nude photos. His message said, “Girl, your body is bangin’.” And then he proceeded to say that maybe we should go out on a date after my case was closed.
When I politely told him I didn’t think that would be very ethical, it was like all communication just stopped. I would call him and the other detective that had been assigned to my case initially and no one would answer or return my calls. It was nothing but radio silence. This was in 2006 and to this day I still don’t know exactly what happened with that case–if anything–and I’m honestly not sure I care to open up that can of worms again.
Revenge porn didn’t become illegal in the state of Texas until September 1 of 2015. That’s NINE YEARS after I was a victim. God only knows how many other women were victims in that time. And God only knows how many other victims have been treated so carelessly by the very people who are supposed to help them?
My story, though, is why I say this isn’t just a problem with Baylor, but a problem with Waco. Baylor and Waco have a weird symbiotic relationship where they feed off of each other and one can’t exist without the other. Waco PD has long turned a blind eye towards Baylor and especially Baylor athletes (please do not think I’m trashing law enforcement, because I’m not–I’m just stating something that’s long been true in the Waco community).
And the court system in Waco isn’t necessarily much better, even when Baylor isn’t involved (that’s speaking from personal experience, too).
So yes, I am ashamed of my hometown. I’m ashamed that the Waco media isn’t doing their jobs. I’m ashamed that so many people just don’t seem to care because, hey, the football team is awesome.
But mostly, I’m ashamed that the justice system has failed these women so badly, and that other women have played such an important role in that failure.
I’m ashamed that I wasn’t surprised to hear any of these allegations.