BY: Francesca Sam-Sin Rezaie
January 19, 1989. I was 19 and a sophomore in college. I was a young sophomore because I started college at 17, but I was independent, fearless and didn’t care whether people liked me, my hair or my clothes. I didn’t blend in and I wasn’t a follower. My personality was not much different than it is now- opinionated, stubborn and at times, a little defiant.
It was drizzling, and I was rushing to get to my lunch date with my boyfriend, who, in perfect nerd fashion, had formally asked me to be his girlfriend the previous day. I hurried past a group of guys hanging out in the quad -the center of campus situated between four academic buildings- which included the campus bully, an intimidating football player and member of a popular fraternity, four years older but only two years ahead of me, academically. I often went out of my way to avoid him. He was loud, obnoxious and never passed up an opportunity to humiliate someone. This day was no different. As I passed him and his fraternity brothers, I did a generic, all-inclusive wave and tried to make it clear that I was on a mission. Destination: Jones Hall, the cafeteria where my boyfriend was waiting. I was almost in the clear, when I heard my name, “FRAN!” It was him. Yelling for me to come back, demanding to know why I was in such a hurry and what was more important than acknowledging him in a “proper, respectful” way. This was typical behavior for him. I told him I was late meeting my new boyfriend (“mistake” number one), and that I really needed to go. His response was: “Fuck him, he can wait!” I rolled my eyes and started to walk away (“mistake” number two). The guys laughed and he grabbed my arm and said: “You need to learn to be more respectful.” At 5’5” and barely 110 pounds I was no match for him. He was 5’11”, 240 pounds and built like a brick. He picked me up, flung me over his shoulder and started to walk toward his vehicle, which was illegally parked on campus almost daily. As I screamed for him to put me down, the guys continued to laugh and eventually went their separate ways.
He threw me into his truck from the driver’s side, and by the time I made it across the passenger seat to the other door, he was driving down the hill. I demanded he stop the truck. He said I had two options: apologize for being disrespectful or jump out of the moving vehicle. I chose neither, and unleashed a profanity-laced tirade insisting that he turn around and return me to campus IMMEDIATELY! My demands were ignored as he drove farther away from campus, lecturing me on how I could have made the situation so much easier by being respectful and simply apologizing. I was unamused, angry and defiant, growing more upset at the thought that my boyfriend was waiting for me, assuming I had stood him up. It’s 1989 and there are no cell phones. I can’t text or call him. Or anyone else.
We arrived at an off-campus trailer (I learned later that he lived with a police officer) and I refused to get out of the truck. He reminded me that it’s this same defiant attitude that created this situation in the first place. I ignore him, arms folded, staring straight ahead. He tells me that he needs to go inside to get a few things, promises to return me to campus and strongly suggests that I get out of the truck. I refuse. He walks around to the passenger side and pulls me out, picking me up and cradling me like a baby. He holds me over a large puddle of water, and again demands that I apologize for my “bad attitude.” I respond with, “Go fuck yourself! Put me down, NOW!” He complies and drops me. I’m covered in mud. He laughs, and feeling defeated, I start to cry. For a brief moment I see what appears to be compassion as he helps me up and says: “I’m sorry, I was just messing with you. I don’t want your boyfriend to kick my ass, so come on, and get up. I’ll give you some sweats to change into and I’ll take you back to campus.”
I believed him (“mistake” number three). After all, he wasn’t a complete stranger, he was just the campus bully- a jerk, a prankster with a mean streak who targeted both, guys and girls.
I stepped into the trailer and he handed me a pair of oversized university sweatpants, a matching sweatshirt and said I could change in the bathroom. I changed, grabbed my pile of wet clothes and as I exited the bathroom, I was face to face with him. I smiled uncomfortably and said “Ok, I’m ready. Let’s go.” He said: “Say thank you.” I smirked and responded sarcastically: “Ooh kaay…thank you.” I’m pretty sure I rolled my eyes (“mistake” number four). He pinned me against the wall and tried to kiss me. I turned my head and tried to slide past him. He grabbed me, forced me onto the bed, aggressively pulled off my sweatpants and brutality assaulted me. I screamed and begged him to stop, and he told me that I needed to stop playing hard to get and that it would feel better if I didn’t resist. I fought, but lost.
How I got back to the truck is unclear. I don’t recall the conversation on the ride back to campus and I don’t remember him escorting me to my dorm room, but there I was…and so was he. My roommate was frantic, worried about where I had been because my boyfriend had come by repeatedly looking for me. As I was about to explain, my rapist interjected and told her that I had been disrespectful and needed to be taught a lesson. I verbally lashed out at him, feeling a sense of safety in the presence of my roommate. I was wrong. He said: “There she goes again. She hasn’t learned anything.” He removed the belt he was wearing, grabbed me like a small child, put me over his knee and struck me on my legs several times. My roommate yelled at him to stop and he laughed, sat me up and as he left our room, pointed at me and said: “Behave yourself.”
My boyfriend arrived later and asked what happened to me, why I was a no-show at lunch. I was embarrassed and traumatized, but I told myself that I could never let him know that I had allowed myself to be raped. There were visible marks on my legs from the belt so there was no getting around that. My roommate and I explained that the campus bully (unbeknownst to him, now also a rapist) was responsible. My boyfriend stormed out of the room and I later found out that he had driven to the trailer and confronted my rapist with a baseball bat. The following day I received a call: “Tell your boyfriend that the next time he decides to confront me, he better bring a gun, because I will shoot his ass.”
In the months following, my rapist was confident that I hadn’t shared his crime with my boyfriend or anyone else. Not even my roommate. However, as a means of additional “insurance” he initiated a friendship with my boyfriend, which began with an apology for the “spanking incident.” An apology to my boyfriend.
We occasionally had superficial interactions with my rapist which finally ended when my rapist graduated and my boyfriend and I broke up. The following year, he graduated and was drafted by the NFL. I continued my education at the university and graduated in 1992.
I told myself that their friendship would never last. After all, the threat (me) had been eliminated.
A few years after I graduated, my ex-boyfriend and I reconnected as friends, on Facebook and LinkedIn. He had retired from professional football and was a successful radio and television broadcaster, published author and motivational speaker.
In 1999, a college classmate shared that my ex-boyfriend and my rapist were business partners. I finally mustered up the courage to tell him what I had kept secret for 10 years. I felt that he deserved to know that he was doing business with a sexual predator. I told him my story and his response was shock and compassion. He was supportive and said that he wished I’d had the courage to tell him when it happened, and then glossed over his business partnership as a onetime investment rather than a long-term relationship. I was relieved.
Over the years, I have relived the experience in my mind more times than I can count, but I redirected my focus and got married, had children, obtained my Masters degree and became a Director at a hospital in one of the largest healthcare systems Texas. In 2016, I called my ex-boyfriend to discuss my need to confront my rapist. He advised against it. It was then that I learned of their continued business and personal relationship, how a one-time business investment turned into a close friendship, mentioning that he helped him write his papers to complete his masters degree. Despite his glowing endorsement of my rapist who had become a family man, attended church and joined him on family vacations, he expressed concern for my well-being and safety. He reminded me of how well-connected and powerful my rapist was and that he had the ability and the means to “destroy” me.
He had quite the resume: From campus bully and rapist to semi-professional football player to CEO to University Board of Trustees. Our university.
We continued our discussion via text message as he encouraged me to “heal internally” and expressed concern for what my “allegation” could do to the rapist’s reputation, business and family. The conversation went from “I’m really sorry this happened to you and that it still impacts you” to “after weighing what I know about him today, the conclusion is that it is unprovable and unknowable.” With that, our contact and friendship ended. I was devastated. The one person who was my protector for two and a half years in college and a supportive friend in the years after, was sounding like a misogynistic assclown.
On November 13, 2017, after confiding in two of my close friends (a man and a woman) I decided to contact my rapist, and prepared myself for it to go one of two ways: 1. He would respond, be accountable, accept responsibility, apologize and acknowledge that he was a bully in college who made awful decisions that he regretted and has spent the last 28 years becoming a better person, remorseful for any pain he may have caused. Or 2. He would ignore my message and pretend that it never happened.
It was both: He responded and he pretended it never happened.
I sent a message via LinkedIn and within seconds I received a reply. It was simple: “Hi Francesca. Thanks for reaching out! I’m open to talk.”, and he provided his cell phone number. I was hopeful as I’ve been told that I am an eternal optimist often giving the benefit of the doubt to people who are undeserving. I didn’t call right away. In fact, I drove around my neighborhood nervously and eventually parked in a church parking lot. I sat in my car for about an hour before I finally decided to call. I’d had 28 years to think about what I would say, except that I never imagined I would actually get a chance to say it to the person who raped and physically abused me. I finally called, and he answered on the first ring. He said: “Hello Fran. How are you?” My heart was racing. Suddenly, I was 19 again. I answered, “I’m okay.” And he said: “It doesn’t sound like you’re okay.” And I responded: “You’re right. I’m not.”
I took a deep breath and explained how difficult it was for me to make this phone call. He asked why, as if he didn’t know the reason for my call. I said that what happened in 1989 had a profound impact on me and shaped the person I had become and that as the mother of daughters, I would never want them to go through what I experienced. He sat silently as if he was waiting for me to enlighten him on the details. I started to recall the moment I was walking through the quad and he interjected “Oh! You mean that time I was teasing you and dropped you in the water?” Suddenly he remembered the exact day.
He remembered stopping me.
He remembered giving me a hard time.
He remembered throwing me over his shoulder and carrying me to his truck.
He remembered dropping me in the mud and offering me a change of clothes.
He even remembered using his belt to “spank” me and getting confronted by my then-boyfriend with a baseball bat. He also remembered apologizing (to my boyfriend), saying that he didn’t know I was his girlfriend, as if to say that a single girl was fair game. What he didn’t remember was cornering me and sexually assaulting me. That part, he conveniently did not remember. His voice was calm and confident, almost compassionate, but mostly, arrogant. I was disappointed, but not surprised.
He mentioned that he had heard my story before, from other people, asking him if it was true. He said that he had never touched me in a sexual way because he “could never do that to his boy”, so I reminded him that 1. He and my boyfriend were not friends at the time, and 2. His apology (excuse) to my boyfriend was that he had no idea I was his girlfriend.
Then, the bully emerged.
#1: Intimidation & Shaming. He said that during his recent conversations about me with former classmates, he recalled I was promiscuous, and that now, after hearing the story directly from me, he would need to consider going back to those people to get “documentation” of my promiscuity. So I told him that I would gladly provide him with a list of all my sexual partners, because the simple fact was that I chose to sleep with those people. He, however, raped me.
#2: Victim Blaming. “Why didn’t you ever come to me and talk to me about this back then?” I responded: “Quite honestly, I was 19 and you were extremely intimidating and I was absolutely terrified of you.” I purposely spoke in past tense. The truth is I did blame myself for providing him with information that ultimately motivated him that day: I made it clear that I was unavailable, spoken for, taken, and completely uninterested in him.
#3: Invincibility. When I realized that the conversation was not going in the direction of an acknowledgement or an apology, I assured him that my intention was not to ruin his life, his family or his career. That I simply needed closure and an apology would do that for me. He laughed, apologized (for laughing), and said: “I can’t apologize for something I don’t remember, and I’m definitely not worried.”
And finally, #4 Manipulation. At the end of our 19 minute conversation, I said I appreciated him taking my call. And, that despite his claim of not remembering, I would never forget. He responded: “Hey Fran, I want you to know that if anyone ever mentions your name to me in the future, I will always tell them that you’re a good person and that I always considered you a friend.”
Thank you for the endorsement. To me, you will always be a rapist.
Texas Law: Aggravated Kidnapping under section 20.04(a)(4) if the defendant committed the offense “with the intent to violate or abuse the victim sexually"-from the day of the victim’s 18th birthday.
Update: On November 25, 2017 I emailed my story to the Executive Directors of the Alumni Association and Board of Trustees.