NEWPORT, Ky. -- Jodi Penick met him casually at a Greek mixer her first week at Morehead State University. He seemed nice, so she gave him her number.
The Covington native didn’t think about the mysterious co-ed again until he called, asking if he could drop by her dorm room and get a copy of her biology notes. Her roommates had left for the evening and she was looking forward to a peaceful night alone.
But she obliged.
The next thing she knew he was looming in her doorway. He was taller than she remembered; skinny with green eyes and brown hair.
“I was shocked,” she recalled of the night 14 years ago. “But I thought: ‘Oh, I guess the door was unlocked.’"
“I turned to get the notes and he put his hand over my mouth, and I knew I was about to get hurt.”
Then, she said, he whispered, “Don’t scream.”
She’s Not Alone
That evening in 1999 Penick – a first-generation college student - became among the 20 percent of students who are victims of sexual assault while in college.
September is National Campus Safety Awareness Month, which is devoted to raising awareness about campus crimes and also to educate the throngs on new students who arrive on campuses across the county.
The Clery Act or the Campus Security Act, established in 1991, requires that all universities disclose information regarding crime on and around their campuses. Last year’s campus crime statistics are due out early next month.
Nationally, sexual assault statistics are sobering:
- Every 21 hours, a person is raped on American college campuses, according to the Clery Center for Security on Campus.
- Sixty percent take place in on-campus dorms.
- And, just like Penick, less than 5 percent are reported to the police.
Penick, who has never told her story publicly, agreed to be named by WCPO Digital because she believes doing so may help other victims.
Left In The Dark
Penick recalls passing out that evening at Morehead State naked, scared and ashamed. She was 18 and a virgin.
She picked herself up, made it to the shower, and with the water pouring over her, she cried.
“I was trying to wash my body of everything that happened,” said Penick, now 33 years old.
Her roommates got home, but she stayed in her bed, balled up in blankets.
She made it through the night, but she never slept.
The next morning, she went to the school nurse to get ointment for a cut that occurred during the assault. She didn’t tell the nurse what happened.
She didn’t tell anyone—not even her mom, who was back in Covington sick with a heart condition.
“You always hear, ‘it’s the woman’s fault. [It’s] the way she dressed.’ I was afraid it would get back to my parents—I was the only one in college and I didn’t want to be the screw-up,’’ she said.
She didn’t want to disappoint her family, but she knew she couldn’t stay at Morehead. She remembered a graduation card that her older sister gave her with the note: “If you ever need anything don’t hesitate to call.”
She called her sister, asked her to come get her, but not to ask questions, and not to tell their parents.
Penick waited, sitting on the sidewalk outside her dorm in the pouring rain with her TV, computer and clothes next to her.
“I wanted out of there. I didn’t want to say anything to anybody,” she said. “I just took off.”
And for a long time, she didn’t look back.
Taking Back Her Life
She told her family that she didn’t get along with her roommates and that’s why she was back home.
For the next three months, she burrowed herself in her childhood room at home in Covington, not talking to anyone.
Eventually, she told a former boss who asked her why she wasn’t in school.
“I let it spill. I couldn’t tell my friends. I couldn’t tell my family. I’d be a failure,” she said.
That manager convinced her to go to a clinic where she could get tested for diseases, while staying anonymous. The tests were negative.
Eventually, she said, she knew she would return to school, just not Morehead State.
In the winter of 2000, she started classes at Northern Kentucky University. Once in classes closer to home, her life slowly started to gain some sort of normalcy.
Take Back The Night
As the fall semester began the following year, she began to see signs posted around campus for a “Take Back The Night” event, but she didn’t know what it was.
All she knew was that all the volunteers wore bright green shirts—so she threw on a shirt and volunteered.
She remembered the crisp October air and the impactful moment of silence. She stuck around to listen to the evening’s speakers.
“Women started telling their stories and it was amazing to see how they could tell it so freely, but still with emotion. They weren’t ashamed or scared,” said Penick.
The women told the audience, “You should never ever be afraid to tell.”
The event changed her: She enrolled in women’s studies as a minor and social work for her major. Even if she couldn’t tell her story just yet, she thought that maybe she could help others.
“I learned that there are people out there to help you and [I] wanted
to be one of those people,” she said.
Throughout college, she also worked with rape victims through the Women’s Crisis Center Volunteer Training program at St. Elizabeth Edgewood.
“I was learning from my own experience,” she said. “I stopped being the victim and started being the advocate.”
How Safe Is Your Campus?
September is National Campus Safety Awareness Month, so how does your school rank in on- and around-campus crime? Every year, colleges and universities are required to publish campus crime report including statistics for three years.
Here is the latest reports:
Xavier University: http://www.xavier.edu/police/documents/CLERY2011FINAL.pdf
University of Cincinnati:
Northern Kentucky University:
Morehead State University-
How to Get Help:
Hotlines by state: http://clerycenter.org/referrals-sexual-assault-and-rape-state