Home » Feminism » Moni’s Story: How PCC Re-Victimizes Students

Moni’s Story: How PCC Re-Victimizes Students

listening

As I was interviewing people and researching their stories for my article on PCC, I had to make a tough decision about the stories that I would include. I didn’t have space for everyone, and I needed to be able to tell the stories clearly, but succinctly. There is not a whole lot of time for nuance in 1,200 words. A lot of people assumed that I chose the stories I did because they were “sensational,” which they are, but I actually chose them because their stories were simple, easy to explain, and easily understood by those who aren’t familiar with how predators operate and how they groom their victims.

However, I believe that the vast majority of victimized PCC students don’t have such cut-and-dried stories. So far, most of them have been far more complicated—however, they are also far more typical of what happens on the campus of Pensacola Christian and in the broader culture.

Monica Varela, “Moni,” has a typical story.

She is from Taiwan, the child of missionary parents, and started her freshman year, her very first semester, at PCC this January. As I’ve been talking with her, I’ve gotten to know a very gentle and incredibly sweet young woman, but she’s also incredibly brave—she decided to attend college in a foreign country, reached out to me, and is sharing her actual name. I am fiercely proud of her for being willing to do this.

After she arrived on campus, she quickly became friends with a young man who had also started in January. Her first impression of him was that he was a little awkward, but when he initiated a friendship with her, she thought that she should give him a chance. At first, everything seemed to be going well. He was incredibly sweet and generous—he gave her his favorite hoodie, and showered her with attention and compliments.

As their friendship progressed, he began “opening up” to her, telling her that he had never been able to open up to any other girl before, that he trusted her and valued her. She was helping him. He told her about some horrible things he’d experienced and said that her friendship with him was allowing him to trust people again, to realize that maybe people weren’t so bad.

If you have ever been in an abusive relationship, you will recognize this stage. It is one of the very first things that some predators do to groom their victims—they make their victim feel needed. They do everything they can to make sure their victim has bonded with them emotionally; the goal is to ensure that their victim feels compelled to stay in a relationship with them once they begin the abuse. You’ll hear this sometimes from domestic violence victims: they’ll excuse their abuser’s actions as part of them being “troubled,” and they see it as their responsibility to remain in a relationship with them in order to “fix them.”

The abuse in Moni’s relationship, like in most abusive relationships, began very slowly. One of the first steps he took was to isolate her from her support structure—she had family on campus, and had made other friends. He began asking her to go to dinner “just the two of them” because he wanted to spend time with her. When she would protest and say that she wanted to spend time with other people, he would ask her to accommodate his “social awkwardness.” He didn’t like big groups, he didn’t feel comfortable. Being the sweet person that she is, Moni capitulated to what he was saying he needed. Over time, she began seeing her friends and family less and less.

Another thing that predators do is test boundaries, or to outright violate them and see how you react. He began doing this to Moni, asking her to send him pictures. At first it was all incredibly innocent—he wanted a picture of her wearing the hoodie he’d given her, for example. This made her uncomfortable, but he would insist and eventually convince her that there wasn’t anything wrong with his request and she shouldn’t freak out, it wasn’t a big deal.

That is called gaslighting, and it is a very common abusive tactic. Predators employ gaslighitng in order to make sure that the victim doesn’t trust their own instincts or to respect their own boundaries—abusers convince victims that they cannot trust themselves or their perceptions.

(I explain more about how abusers can operate here and here.)

~~~~~~~~~~

shh

As Moni’s relationship continued, the abuse progressed and he began using threats. He carefully never threatened Moni, but he started saying things like “I’ve never wanted to punch someone [referring to a female friend] so much” or “I could totally beat up your brother.”

Moni’s reaction to these threats was the reaction that most people would have: he could not possibly be serious. He must be making a very bad joke, she thought, and she blamed it on his “awkwardness.” She responded with “that isn’t funny” or “please don’t say things like that.”

Personally, I believe that abusers might use ridiculous threats like this in order to further isolate their victims. At one point during my abusive relationship, my ex threatened to hire a hitman to assassinate my two closest friends. It just sounds so crazy—who exactly are we going to tell? I didn’t really take him seriously, but it did make me horribly afraid. I knew he was capable of violence, and I had no idea how far he’d actually go. Moni began feeling and thinking very similar things—what was this young man actually capable of? Who would he hurt?

He continued his threats, continued gaslighting her, and began coercing her into sexting with him. When I asked her to describe those interactions, it all felt so familiar to me. In the early days of my abusive relationship, John* had pressured me into sexting and, eventually, phone sex. It’s difficult to explain how that process works if you have never experienced it, but the constant needling, the never-ending drone of “please please please please please” eventually wears you down to the point where you give in. When you’re simultaneously being gaslighted and drowned in flattery and “affection” and “baby I need you so badly,” things can get incredibly confusing, especially for a young woman who has nothing to compare it to. Especially for young women who belong to a culture that puts what men need at the top of our priorities.

During this period, he sexually assaulted her twice—while they were on campus.

After all of this, Moni still had the courage to stand up to him: she told him that she did not believe him, did not trust him, and that she did not like their relationship. She says that he “blew up” and broke up with her. She was relieved, and thought “finally, he’ll leave me alone now.”

That is when he began stalking her.

He followed her all over campus, even when she was in a group. Her friends noticed, and commented about the way he was looking at them—he made them feel unsafe and was giving them “evil looks.” A cousin asked her about what had happened, and when she heard everything Moni had been through, told her to take it to her floorleaders (which is exactly what PCC tells students to do).

The second her floorleaders heard what was happening, they were appropriately concerned and immediately sent her to Student Life the next day.

~~~~~~~~~~

pointing finger

Moni went to Student Life feeling hopeful. This was her first semester at PCC, so she innocently believed what Student Life said—they claimed to care about students, and they had publicly assured the campus that they take things like what Moni was going through very seriously. It’s even in their handbook, the Pathway, that they respond to “harassment” (which supposedly includes stalking and sexual assault) very seriously.

However, the several women that she spoke to in the Student Life office did not take her seriously. They told her that because the threats he had made were verbal and not written that there was nothing they could do, and their only “solution” to his stalking was to tell her to “remain in groups and very public places,” confident that he would eventually give up and leave her alone, and that she was “letting herself be too controlled by fear.”

In an attempt to explain what this man was capable of, she told them about how he had sexually assaulted her twice, and about how he had been coercing and pressuring her sexually.

That’s when they finally became interested. They switched from being dismissive to being hostile and demanding—they repeatedly asked her variations of “do you know what your sin is?”. After several hours of interrogating her, they concluded that she “had been too willing” and she was sent in front of another “council” and told to “defend herself.”

She explained everything that had happened, and the council decided to expel her for “sexual misconduct.”

In her own words, this is how Moni described her encounter with Student Life:

They treated me like I was a dirty, sexually disturbed person … how they mentally and physically exhausted me that day and then made me defend myself without really knowing how is the most horrible memory I have. I looked into their faces and saw no sympathy and Christian love. Only disdain and judgment as I sat there trembling.

Did the women, when interrogating me, try to comfort me as I cried? No: instead they were trying to elicit a confession of my sins, and a repentance for what they thought was my “seduction.”

This is called re-victimization, and many sexual violence victims report that their encounters with authority figures after their assault is more traumatic than the assault itself. That is what Student Life did to Moni—they listened to a story about verbal abuse, physical threats, stalking, and sexual assault, and instead of reacting with empathy and compassion, they began attacking her.

Instead of helping her, they expelled her.

~~~~~~~~~

That is what Pensacola Christian College does. I’ve heard dozens of stories from other victims in the past few months, and most fit this pattern. The administration, Student Life, and their “counselors” do not understand sexual violence, trauma, or abuse, and so they almost invariably re-traumatize victims.

This must change.

author’s note: I was able to independently corroborate this story with several PCC students and staff, all of whom have asked to keep their identities private for fear of reprisal from the college.

*edit: ordinarily I keep my comment section fairly open. For posts like this one, however, I moderate more closely. Because of the content, it is vital that the comment section remain a safe place for me, Moni, and other survivors. Also, if you believe that whether or not Moni has reported her assault to the police is at all relevant, you have missed the point of this article.

36 thoughts on “Moni’s Story: How PCC Re-Victimizes Students

    • I am currently working with other alumni on sending a letter to the current president with a list of recommendations; proper education for staff, faculty, and students, and putting together a packet of information for students on what resources are available in the area, how to get in touch with police, etc.

      If trying to work with the administration goes nowhere, we will go public.

  1. Oh, wow. This is exactly how the relationship with my ex-husband began, only he successfully manipulated me to stay with him for 17 years by threatening me with the school/church reaction. I knew very well it would all come down on my own head because I’d seen it happen to other girls.

    The abusers use that knowledge of whose “side” leadership is on to control even further, and my ex, at least, was very aware of the assistance they gave him, and used it in our “counselling” for years. I was always the one who was lectured the most. He even attempted to threaten me with the church one last time when I finally moved out. And you know what? He was right. Our church kicked me out “church discipline” and he’s still a member in good standing.

  2. This is such a powerful story. Thank you to Moni for sharing, and thank you Samantha for writing it and bringing it to our attention. It’s awful that after being a victim of something so emotionally and physically traumatic that PCC has responded by terrorizing her.

    • Everything Sabina said. I agree.

      I only on a very minor level can relate to how horrible it feels to not be believed that you’re the one being abused, to see people who you thought should have your best interests in mind siding with your abuser, etc. but when you think someone might help you and instead they do the opposite, it really does feel like a horrible betrayal.

  3. Has the Escambia County Sheriff’s Department been notified of these sexual assaults? Their number is (850) 436-9630. A simple police report would at least memorialize these violent acts, even if evidence cannot be gathered. This man needs to be held accountable.

    • Whether or not Moni reported her assaults to the police is irrelevant to the point of the post, which is on how PCC re-victimized her and refused to abide by their own policies.

      Also, victims are advised by the police not to discuss things related to ongoing investigations– so, if she has made a report, she (and I) would not be allowed to discuss it.

      • Well, no, it is relevant. Is a violent criminal walking the streets of Pensacola (or wherever his home is?) Good God, what is being done to stop him?

        I have filed several police reports in my life, and have never been told not to speak of it. You’ve told us that two sexual assaults occurred–I want to make sure that they have been reported to the police. The Escambia County Sheriff’s Department’s number is (850) 436-9630. Justice needs to be served on this young man, and good and hard.

        • So have I– each time I have been told not to talk about it until the investigation is over.

          It was irrelevant to the argument of the post, which has to do with how PCC responded to Moni, not what the Escambia County Sheriff’s Department has or has not done. I am writing about PCC, not about Escambia County.

          • This man is walking around on the streets. Doesn’t that bother you? Call the cops. Or send me the info, and I’ll call the cops. Enough with covering up this cr@p. Let’s put these people behind bars. Why cover up for them?

        • Anyone who knows essential information and does not report it to the police is participating in the cover-up. This is serious stuff–sexual assault is incredibly traumatic–covering it up is sick. If you have knowledge of the assaults you need to report it–not doing so is disgusting. Don’t let this guy get away. Why would you want to cover it up? Call the cops. (850) 436-9630 This man should not be out on the streets. Stop covering it up.

            • I would feel a whole lot better knowing that you have.

              So have you, or someone else with knowledge of the assaults?

              This is sick behavior. You should act on it and report it. If you are afraid, send me the info, and I will report it. Stop the cover up.

              • This has nothing to do with me being “afraid” and everything to do with me refusing to capitulate to a belligerent person on the internet in my own comment section. You know absolutely nothing except what I have told you– and I have told you absolutely nothing concerning any possible police investigation.

                It is my duty to keep the focus of these posts clear: I am critiquing how Pensacola Christian College has responded to sexual abuse victims as an institution. Anything else is outside of that purpose. It is also my obligation to ensure the safety and well-being (both physical and mental) of those who have been brave enough to trust me.

                You are banned.

                • That was a breathtaking exchange. Thank you for handling it so well. Nobody gets to tell an abuse victim how he or she “should” respond to an incident of victimization. On the somewhat plus side, though, you couldn’t ask for a better definition of what re-victimization looks like, could you?

                  How “manleyjmm” feels, and what would make zhim feel better, is absolutely irrelevant; it’s telling that zhie thinks that telling you what would make zhim happier or more comfortable in any way puts some kind of responsibility on you to do what zhie thinks you should do. And you conveyed your refusal to let that happen in one of the most graceful ways I have ever seen. Brava!

  4. Using the logic of this post, any girl who does something sexually with a boy on campus can use this argument to get out of trouble that she might face.

    How convenient

    • Please read my comment policy before you continue.

      That is not the logic of this post, that is not the argument I made. She was coerced and pressured into some sexual things– true, and that’s a complicated thing to talk about.

      However, she was sexually assaulted and then stalked. She is not to blame for that, she has no responsibility for that whatsoever. Being in a relationship with someone does not equal consent. Consenting to one act does not mean consent for another. That is what PCC did not address, and should have.

      If you make any argument that involves victim blaming, you will be immediately banned.

  5. Samantha, thanks for your research, this post and for protecting the safe space in your comments. I can recognize a lot in the post.

  6. If Moni ever sees this… thank you for telling your story. Thank you. I wish I could help. I hope you have found some healing after what you went through. I can’t even imagine what it must have been like to go through all that.

    And thank you, too, Samantha, for helping Moni tell that story and also for protecting your space.

  7. I never had it as bad as Moni, but ascribing abusive/manipulative stuff to someone’s awkwardness or immaturity is very familiar to me.

    SO glad you’re taking up for these girls, Samantha.

    • Well, I think that abusive behaviour can stem from awkwardness and immaturity and even often does, rather than from deliberate power-games. (In fact, it’s true in my case, and I do mean my own tendency to abusive behaviour; I think it’s also true in the case of my parents who were abusive towards me.) But, you know, that’s the abuser’s problem to solve and their responsibility, not the victim’s. That’s the point, in my view.

  8. Samantha, thank you so much for sharing Moni’s story. Moni, you were so brave to tell your story! My heart broke because your story reminded me of an abusive situation I was in before.

    I’m so sorry the school hurt you instead of being there for you. I hope change will happen at PCC. How many more students will have to go through things like this??

  9. My heart just *aches* for Moni. This story is just so painful in so many ways. I am proud of her courage and her strength, so incredibly proud that she is willing to put herself out in the open like this, under her real name. Thank you, Sam, for providing the forum for her story to be told. Thank you, Moni, for your courage and strength.

  10. Thank you for continually posting about agency, abuse, consent, everything you’ve been posting about, really :) & many thanks to Moni for sharing.

    Last night I read Divergent & got totally triggered. Not just by how the young woman narrating the story belittles the two sexual assaults she endures, or even by how manipulative & physically abusive her boyfriend is (seriously, it’s all there: he needs her, he uses his strength to hurt her (often “for her own good”) when he doesn’t like how conversations are going, he tells her they can wait for sex, but is constantly pushing them into more & more intimate physical encounters, he compliments her with his words & uses force when she wants to exit a conversation), but what really triggered me was after the story was over, when the author thanked “God & his Son…” Just. Wow.

    It took me back to all the times I’ve been manipulated by church leaders & how so much of that simply had to do with my inferiority as a woman (in their eyes). I was never sexually assaulted or forced to do anything sexual with a church leader, but I (the virgin who’d never even kissed anyone romantically) was definitely made to feel dirty & pressured that way into following their community rules. & again & again Christians I turned to for comfort would do anything except what I needed, which was someone to mourn with me. & it is traumatic. & I am broken now, & I don’t know how long it will take before I can hang out with complementarians w/o taking medicine in advance so I won’t spend the rest of the day in a shame spiral. But reading this post today helped.

    So these posts matter. We need them. We need them b/c we need to know we aren’t alone, b/c our society at large, both abusers who think their behavior is “normal” & “right” & their abuse victims, needs to know what abuse looks like, & b/c institutions that repeatedly revictimise & punish those who suffer abuse must be called out on their behavior.

    Your spirit & the truths you share & the graciously strong way you handle belligerent & bullying & revictimising comments are a blessing & a powerful force. Thank you.

  11. Samantha, I wonder if, in light of the the inappropriate discussion of police reports in this thread, you might consider doing a piece with advice on how to help a person who shares a story of abuse with you, especially if the abuse is recent or ongoing (Perhaps you have already done this, and I missed it). I’ve only been in this situation a couple of times, but I struggled with encouraging the victim to go to the police without pressuring the person into doing something that they weren’t ready for. It is hard because failing to go to the police may leave others vulnerable to the same abuse, but going to them may be too big of a sacrifice for someone who has already endured something that she or he could never deserve.

  12. Ugly story. I hope Moni gets all the help she needs.

    Unfortunately the future students that PCC targets are the people least likely to hear about this, since their homeschooling parents tend to limit their children’s knowledge of the outside world. Finding a way to get the information to them would be wonderful.

    Wayne

  13. Reading this breaks my heart.. more so to know that she isn’t the only one that this has happened with. Thank you for telling these stories.. PCC hopeful students need to be aware of these things.

  14. Oh wow – I have to tell you that what’s really scary about this is the fact that in the early stages, an abusive relationship is practically indistinguishable from a normal one (assuming I know what “normal” means). Everyone is imperfect and everyone is a little bit abusive, but mutual love and effort over time can help distinguish the two. But a savvy abuser will suck you in so that you don’t know which way is up. Frankly, it’s miraculous that any of us are able to see abuse for what it is at a certain point and get out successfully.

    I have given a lot of thought to this over the years, because my relationship with my husband (which I would consider healthy) sometimes has some uncomfortable similarities with my abusive marriage. So I ask myself – why do I nevertheless feel so safe this time around? Why am I not a traumatized mess? I think the answer is that I have healed in a lot of ways, and also because when something bad happens and we have a big blow-up, my husband takes responsibility for himself instead of blaming me. He really does make every effort to improve himself and to help me continue to heal.

  15. What an amazingly strong woman you are, Moni! Thank you for sharing your story – may God use it to protect other precious women from “Leaders” who choose to be spiritually abusive rather than to protect, to comfort and to seek healing for our wounded.

    I also am the daughter of missionaries who attended PCC (79-81), and because of my “third-cultureness” I was easy prey for abuse from others during my two yrs there. It took me yrs after I left to be able to identify what was so evil about the spiritual abuse I experienced at their hands. I am praying that you are now surrounded by people who love you and that you are undergoing counseling with someone who truly understands how mks think and process life-experiences. There is an organization called Link Care Center (in California) that has been around a very long time specializing in doing exactly that and I know there are others!

    May you feel Jesus carrying you today! – Lois P.

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