“The videos on his phone taught me that it can happen to anyone.”


Content warning: This story contains references to sexual violence.

More than half of student sexual assaults occur in the fall. Resources, survivor stories, and investigation of what is being done to protect those at risk in the Pittsburgh area. Discover the series.

I never thought this would happen to me. I had heard about sexual violence pretty much every year in my middle and high school and then again in my college major. I never paid much attention to it, because it could never happen to someone like me.

I was the good Christian girl. I didn’t really go to parties. I haven’t gone around in circles in which this could theoretically happen. I would never get caught up in any of the situations that they warned about in each of these sexual violence awareness trainings.

I was too naive to realize that there isn’t one type of person to whom sexual abuse happens or doesn’t happen.

On October 3, 2021, this naivety left me. At 3 am, alone in my room, I tried to understand what had just happened to me. However, I didn’t have the language or the framework to understand what it was.

“I was too naive to realize that there isn’t one type of person that sexual abuse does or doesn’t happen to.”

I had found four videos on my friend’s phone that night an hour before. I opened each of them, only looking at the first few seconds. They all started the same way: his hands placing his phone against the things on my bedside table. I couldn’t bear to watch the rest of each video. I knew what I was going to find. I knew I would see the image of my naked body as I changed clothes.

I had no idea how he set up his phone without me knowing or when he started each of these videos. Just for a moment, I considered leaving them on his phone, so he wouldn’t notice that I had found them. But I came to my senses, deleting each one before handing them their phone back, saying, “You left your phone in my room.”

“You could throw a rock and find a woman who has been sexually abused.”

I don’t know why I never told him. Maybe it was a shock, but now I think I wanted to give her phone back and go on with my life as if nothing had happened. I could not.

I tried denial. I tried to distract my mind and do my homework for the next day, but my mind still wouldn’t play along. I closed homework on my laptop and opened Google. “Does being filmed against consent mean sexual assault?” I typed in the search bar.

The first link provided some answers. “Abuse using technology: is it a crime for someone to take or record private or intimate videos or images of me without my knowledge or consent?” the title of WomensLaw.org read. Unsurprisingly, what he did to me was illegal.

His crime would likely be covered by voyeurism, illegal surveillance, invasion of privacy, or invasion of privacy.

It was a small comfort, but at the time, I didn’t know why it was important. I deleted all evidence from his phone. I wasn’t going to take it to the police. I didn’t think they would care about something so minor. What I really wanted was a label.

I felt so alone. I wanted a story like mine to comfort me, but my admittedly incomplete Google search turned up none.

He didn’t touch me; I was not assaulted; I deleted all videos from his phone. In the end, nothing happened, I thought. Yet I still felt violated. A friend of mine tried to take something from me that night that I had never given anyone – something he knew I didn’t want to give before the wedding.

After that night, I immediately started analyzing what had happened with my family and close friends. I wrote my story for the class. In doing so, people in my life and even a classmate told their own stories – stories I had never heard of. A friend once said to me, “You could throw a rock and find a woman who has been sexually abused. Why haven’t we talked about it more? Thus, during an internship at PublicSource, I shared my story and a desire to collect others like her. I wanted people to know that they are not alone and that it doesn’t matter whether they are “big” or “little”, what happens to them matters.

Jane fiddles with her fingers in an interview as she tells more of her story.

My friend, whom I will call Jane to protect her privacy, joined me in sharing her story. “I feel like I shouldn’t have to keep this to myself,” Jane said after asking her why she wanted to tell her story now. “And I think a lot of people can benefit from knowing and understanding that it can happen. For example, a sexual assault can happen in many ways. People can also experience trauma in many ways.

I had known Jane since she transferred to Pitt’s Film and Media Studies program in her freshman year. I never knew what happened to him.

“I think I denied it because when you think about the rape you always think like, oh, the guy the drugs and stuff like that, like you never really think like, oh, maybe that’s was consensual at first and then that person withdrew their consent,” Jane explained.

During summer vacation, before transferring to Pitt, Jane was assaulted by a friend. “I was in shock,” she said, “because when it happened, it was consensual.” However, after refusing to use the protection, Jane withdrew her consent. He refused to stop. “I was screaming, ‘No,'” Jane recalled. “And like after it happened… I was like, did it really happen? Like, is it all in my head?

Jane, who wishes to remain visually anonymous, poses for portraits in her college dorm.

All she knew after he left that night was that she needed a plan B, but after that she didn’t think about what happened for a long time. “It literally took me months to really sit down and say to myself, no, this actually happened to you. And so, I think after realizing that, I felt a lot of weight that I didn’t know which I wore seemingly falling off my shoulders,” Jane recalls.

Like Jane, my first instinct was to deny what I saw on her phone. At first, I would have preferred to act as if these videos were an accident, so that nothing would change. It didn’t last long, and I was able to process and heal with others, but it’s not uncommon to see denial appear in other people’s stories.

“In a way, you run away from it, but really, it’s always going to come back no matter what you do because it’s going to influence certain things in your life,” Jane told me.

Jane does not see herself as a victim. “I’m a survivor, and I don’t blame myself either because it wasn’t my fault, and it was never my fault because I said ‘No’ and it’s his fault. he decided to continue.”

“In a way you run away from it, but in reality it’s always going to come back no matter what you do because it’s going to influence certain things in your life.”

Jane’s courage to tell her story inspired me. Our experiences are different, but we managed to find common ground, even if that connection is unfortunate.

Telling our stories gives people the chance to realize that they are not alone, that what happened to them was not their fault, that it was real and not just in their head, and that they can ask help. I hope our stories will become a light for those seeking understanding, support and healing.

Kaycee Orwig graduated from the University of Pittsburgh in 2022 and is now a member of the Urban Impact Foundation and a freelance photographer. If you want to send a message to Kaycee, send an e-mail [email protected].

This project was made possible thanks to the support of the FISA Foundation.

Our process:

For this project, PublicSource conducted in-person, phone, and Zoom interviews with survivors, then worked with them to corroborate their accounts whenever possible. We asked for notes, legal documents, journal entries, emails and text messages and/or asked to be put in touch with people the survivors confided in at the time.

In journalism, anonymity is usually granted to people who have experienced sexual violence. PublicSource has provided varying levels of anonymity to those who have shared their stories of sexual violence with us in order to respect privacy wishes and avoid further trauma. Their identities are known to us and the information they shared has been verified.

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The red zone

More than half of student sexual assaults occur in the fall. Resources, survivor stories, and investigation of what is being done to protect those at risk in the Pittsburgh area.

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