Main Line Teen Goes Public With Her Rape, Calls Problem “An Epidemic”

"I would feel ashamed not being honest about it," says Wynnewood's Lizzie Schnarr.

Wynnewood's Lizzie Schnarr. (Photo courtesy Lizzie Schnarr.)

Wynnewood’s Lizzie Schnarr. | Photo courtesy Lizzie Schnarr

When Wynnewood’s Lizzie Schnarr was home on winter break during her freshman year at the University of Pittsburgh in January, the Lower Merion High School graduate says she was raped by an acquaintance. But unlike most rape victims, who choose to remain anonymous — and the press, as a rule, does not report their identities — Schnarr decided to go public with her story. She did so through the University of Pittsbugh’s “Breaking Out” initiative, modeled after a 2013 Duke University campaign that encourages survivors to talk openly about their assaults. Here, Schnarr, who is 18, tells us why she decided to share her story and what she thinks parents should tell their sons to prevent the continuation of what she calls an “epidemic.”

Most rape victims don’t talk publicly about what happened to them. Did you have any hesitance about sharing your story?

Yes. Well, I was hesitant about whether I wanted to be anonymous or not. I wasn’t sure how people close to me would react, and I didn’t want to face any backlash. I was afraid of what people might say about me.

And what have they said?

When I first went public in April, a lot of people didn’t see it, really. But then on Monday when the Gazette article came out, I had neighbors contacting me saying, Thank you so much for sharing your story … I just want the women in my life to be as strong as you are. I’ve gotten so much positivity.

Were there any charges brought in your case?

No. It occurred at a different college campus in Delaware over winter break. I reported it to the Title IX office at my school, but I did not have them contact the Title IX office at the perpetrator’s school. I didn’t really want to re-traumatize myself by having it opened up again and dealing with the legal process.

Does that change now that you’ve gone public?

No, because the perpetrator’s identity is still anonymous.

Do you feel any type of responsibility to report him to the police, in the interest of potential future victims?

Yes. I feel responsibility. I’ve thought about pressing charges, but I’m not sure. It’s not that I think he’s a bad person. I think he doesn’t have a lot of respect for women, and it’s very likely that he will find himself in the same situation and he’ll do it over and over again. I’m still … it only happened six months ago, and so I’m still thinking about the consequences and the waves it would create if I went forward.

There are those who believe that rape victims should not remain anonymous and that the press should name them, because, they argue, this anonymity contributes to the shame and stigma experienced by rape victims.

I think it’s mostly up to the survivor whether they want to stay anonymous. Yes, on one hand, it can further the problem. It’s something you’re supposed to be ashamed of. You don’t want the story to match your face. You don’t want people to know this happened to you. It’s such an embarrassing and taboo subject, and the anonymity can further the problem and add more shame to it.

But if a survivor is uncomfortable … take the Stanford rape case. It can benefit to have them remain anonymous, because it makes you feel like this could really be any girl in your life. She said in one of her letters that she is every woman, that we should look at her as any girl. I’m not sure whether or not the benefit of that outweighs the shaming issue.

In my case, I decided not to be anonymous. This is just part of who I am now. I don’t think it’s anything I should feel ashamed of. It’s nothing I did. It’s something that happened to me, and I would feel ashamed not being honest about it.

Have you been able to use this as an opportunity to help other women more directly, through counseling or similar programs?

Yes. I’m part of Students Engaging in Conversations About Sex and Sexuality. It’s pronounced “sex.” I found SECSS right after I realized that what happened to me over winter break was a rape. We’re less of a counseling organization and more about roundtable discussions and having conversations with groups and clubs at Pitt. We make it more of a conversation than a presentation.

You said, “right after I realized what happened to me over winter break was a rape.”

Let me explain. Basically, what happened was, I was at a party over winter break. An acquaintance wouldn’t leave me alone until I finally had sex with him. I was very, very intoxicated. I don’t remember much of that night.

After it happened, I pushed it out of my brain. I knew it wasn’t a good thing. I knew I didn’t enjoy it.

I had to go to the doctor, because I wanted to get tested for STDs. He had sex with me without a condom. A nurse practitioner at the school asked me, Was this something that you wanted to do? Did you choose to have sex with him without a condom? Did you choose to have sex in the first place? Was the act consensual? Did you want to do it? Did you enjoy it? I started to cry, because I couldn’t answer “yes” to any of those questions.

There are millions of people your age preparing to head off to college and away from home for the first time. Any advice for them?

I’ve noticed when I was at school that everyone just wanted to party. Get drunk and hook up. That’s the whole culture of college that happens every day.

What happened to me wasn’t my fault, but I was in situations all year that I was putting myself into that really weren’t right, and I thought they were OK, because that’s what everyone else was doing.

My advice is that once you’re finally away from your parents, you don’t need to feed into that culture. You should try to change that culture yourself.

If you’re a girl, know that this can happen to you. There is strength in numbers, and you don’t have to do anything that you don’t want to do. That’s really important, because I forgot that.

I didn’t drink much in high school or go to parties at all. That whole transition of my life happened in college. And now I’m drinking a lot less. I haven’t stopped drinking, but I have definitely stayed away from the big house party atmosphere, the 10 million people jammed in a basement atmosphere.

When I was in college, this issue really wasn’t something that we talked about all that much, but now I feel like we’ve been talking about it for a while. Is it getting any better?

I don’t think so. It’s still an epidemic. I’ve faced a lot of people who have told me of something similar happening to them, and I know that it happens all the time.

Yes, it’s talked about more, there’s more coverage. Joe Biden came and talked at Pitt about rape on college campuses, but most of the people there in the audience were already involved in activism, feminism, the campus women’s organization.

I can only hope that in the future, maybe as more publicity like this happens, there are more people who tell stories, I really hope that eventually we can make a change, but as of right now, I haven’t seen much of that.

As the parent of a boy and a girl, I can’t help but think that parents aren’t doing enough to educate their kids about these issues.

That’s a good point. Parents need to have the talk with their sons about consent. You don’t really talk about consent when you give “the talk.” You say, Don’t get a girl pregnant … wear a condom. When what you really need to say is, Make sure she’s not too drunk to refuse. Make sure she wants to have sex with you. A good rule-of-thumb is this: If a girl is puking, she doesn’t want to have sex with you.

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