Leatherwood Discusses Rape Culture, Empowers WHEE

In a discussion with WHEE, Lorin Leatherwood recounted her experience with sexual assault. Leatherwood has turned her experience into a positive force to remind women that the victim is never to blame. (Isabelle Metz)

Everyone has been blamed for something in their lives — a dent on the car, a bad grade, a formerly white-and-now-pink shirt. Assistant Alumni Director, member of the Advancement team, JV and assistant varsity softball coach and assistant JV girls’ basketball coach Lorin Leatherwood believes that one thing no one should be blamed for is getting raped.

“I want people to know it’s not their fault,” Lorin Leatherwood said.

In a speech to Women Helping Empower Each Other (WHEE), Sept. 18, Leatherwood discussed rape culture and recounted her own experience with sexual assault.

Leatherwood went on a weekend tubing trip to the Frio River in Uvalde County with a friend when she was 15 years old and entering her sophomore year of high school. She and her friend were approached by a group of college students and joined their group to go down the river.

“I remember kind of being torn, thinking oh, these older kids want to hang out with us, like that being cool, but also having a gut feeling about why they wanted to hang out with us — why are they picking two fifteen-year-old girls when they’re adults,” Leatherwood said.

The whole group drank alcoholic beverages that night. The last thing Leatherwood remembers is asking for a non-alcoholic drink and having her soon-to-be-rapist pour beer on her face.

“The next thing I knew, I woke up, and he was holding me underwater, and he was raping me,” Leatherwood said.

Leatherwood managed to get back to her friend to tell her what had occurred.

“I was very upset and crying and out of it. Because of my disheveled shape, there was no denying what had happened,” Leatherwood said.

Leatherwood went to the Uvalde County hospital and recounted her story to the police officers.

“After answering many personal questions about myself and my history, the officer made me feel like everything was my fault,” Leatherwood said in her speech. “Less than three hours after the rape occurred, I got my first taste of victim blaming.”

The police were able to locate her rapist through the tube rental store. He was brought to the hospital, where Leatherwood identified him. Later he would be tried, convicted and imprisoned for his crime.

Leatherwood was transferred to a San Antonio hospital to meet her parents and have a rape kit done. The doctors took samples of her hair for DNA, took pictures of lacerations and did a vaginal and cervical swab.

“That weekend didn’t just change my life; it changed my whole family’s life,” Leatherwood said in her speech. “I still feel chills when I recall the nurse calling my parents in the middle of the night, waking them. As my mother repeated the nurse’s words, ‘Permission to treat my daughter for sexual assault?’ I can still hear my dad’s scream as he fell to his knees.”

After being treated, Leatherwood came back home and started her sophomore year at St. Agnes.

“I kind of expected to go back to a normal life,” Leatherwood said. “It all happened so fast; my life just changed so dramatically in one day.”

Leatherwood describes high school as the hardest few years of her life.

“I went through so many issues of feeling like it was my fault, feeling like I was alone, feeling like I had no control over my life,” she said.

Although she and her family first tried to deal with the situation on their own, they soon realized they needed outside help. Leatherwood went to the Houston Area’s Women Center for counseling and realized that her rape was not her fault.

“No matter what the girl does, whatever choices she makes, whether you think they’re smart choices or poor choices, the perpetrator still chose to rape you. He made a decision to, and none of your decisions ever justify that decision.” Leatherwood said.

Leatherwood first spoke about her rape to juniors and seniors at St. Agnes when she was a junior.

“Although it was a little awkward the first time, I’ve learned to talk about it,” Leatherwood said. “I’ve gotten to turn something bad into something positive. Even if I could go back and change what happened, I don’t think I would. I’ve found a way to find the positive.”

Leatherwood has been talking about sexual assault throughout Houston. In May, she wrote an article, “Let’s end sexual violence,” for the Houston Chronicle. Alumni and Communications Director and WHEE sponsor Courtney Burger persuaded Leatherwood to talk to WHEE.

Leatherwood coupled her personal account with statistics and facts about sexual assault.

Thirteen percent of Texans are reported to have been sexually assaulted; however, because rape is one of the most unreported crimes, as many as one in three women and one in six men could have been raped. Two-thirds of sexual assault victims know their attackers and 30 percent of victims considered the attackers their friends.

Leatherwood believes that to change rape culture, society needs to emphasize “do not rape” instead of “do not get raped.”

“People might say the girl brought it on herself because she was wearing provocative clothing,” Leatherwood said. “Well, does that mean it’s a bank’s fault for getting robbed because its contents are provocative?”

Leatherwood’s speech was trenchant and haunting for many members of the SJS community.

Junior Miranda Hurtado-Ramos, a member of the WHEE leadership board, said, “Being able to hear a personal story instead of just statistics, and especially with that story coming from someone in our community, made it more real for me.”

Rebecca Chen
Assignment Editor

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