“Does Miami fail sexual assault survivors?” is the tenth episode of The Miami Student's news podcast, This Week @ TMS.
This week, Ben Deeter talks with Tatum Moleski, a Miami senior who told her story of sexual assault in this week's print edition of the Student.
Below is a transcript of this week’s episode.
WELCOME TO THIS WEEK @ TMS.
I’M YOUR HOST BEN DEETER.
WHEN TATUM MOLESKI CAME FORWARD WITH HER STORY OF SEXUAL ASSAULT, SHE EXPECTED TO FIND SUPPORT FROM THE MIAMI COMMUNITY. THIS WEEK, SHE TELLS US WHAT SHE ACTUALLY FOUND.
IT’S FRIDAY, NOVEMBER 15th.
Ben Deeter: Tatum Moleski, can you tell us, to the degree you’re comfortable, what happened the night before the assault?
Tatum Moleski: Um, so I had just gotten back to campus. I had spent all summer working at a golf course and studying for the MCAT. I made plans to go out with my best friend. I hadn’t seen her all summer. We got to Brick, we went through the VIP line, and I saw all these people I knew. We were having a really good time, and before I knew it, I was in pretty deep. I don’t have the same alcohol tolerance as my friends. I’m the dorky one that tells us like “Yeah, we’re not going out tonight, we should go to bed early.”
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I knew that I was in too deep too fast, but I was with my best friend so like I didn’t worry. I actually did text someone at one point like “Hey, can you walk me home because I’m not good,” but they couldn’t come out. And then I saw my friends from Chi Psi, including my other best friend at the time. And I got separated from the girl I came with but I never worried because these were the guys I had been to formal with, I had been at parties with, so I was like “Okay, this is fine.”
We stopped at one of the annexes and then we ended up at a hookah lounge. There was a big circle of people and I was the only girl there. In any other situation, I’d be terrified, but I was like “Oh I know these guys, I went to formal with a lot of them. It’s fine.” One by one, a lot of them left. My best friend left, the people I knew really well left, and I was left behind with the only two people that I didn’t know. And at that point, it was really late in the night. I kind of didn’t know what to do, and I definitely couldn’t walk home by myself. I lived on the clear opposite side of campus.
One of them asked if I wanted to go with other people, and I was like “Yeah, I can do that.” He had to help me walk because I couldn’t stand up, and that’s how I ended up leaving
BD: Okay. And then who did you reach out to first once you had woken up the next morning? Who did you reach out to and what did they say?
TM: It was one of my friends in the frat. He was like “I’m kind of busy. This is not a good time for me.” I don’t know, I just kind of figured “Well I guess this isn’t that serious then.” Just hearing that, and he was there that night, I guess it wasn’t that bad then. If it were that serious then someone would’ve received it differently.
BD: So then did you reach out to anyone else besides that friend?
TM: I reached out to another close friend who came over. Basically, my whole close circle of friends knew something happened, and it was like “Yeah, something bad happened, but we’re just going to pretend that that did not happen. We’re just going to go forward,” because that’s what everyone that I knew did. I knew tons of people who had had things like that and they’re like “Yup, I was definitely assaulted, but I don’t want to talk about it. I don’t even know what to do.” So I figured, that’s just what you do.
I got super, super far ahead in school. I was in the gym constantly, and that worked for about two weeks.
BD: Right, and then I understand at some point near the beginning of the semester, you got in contact with the Title IX Office. How exactly did that happen? How did that get started?
TM: So the whole study constantly and work out” wasn’t going to work long-term, and it sort of started to break when, in my global health class, we were talking about the opioid epidemic, and a lot of people who use have experienced sexual assault or violence in the home, domestic violence. And it was just a little too real because I’ve seen the results of the opioid epidemic up close through my work in public health and I was like “Oh god, is that me too?”
I disclosed to the professor of that class. I had known her since high school, and I knew that by telling her that she would have to report it, but I was okay with that. At that point, it was becoming clear that I was going to need some kind of help.
BD: Okay. And then once you got in contact with the Title IX Office, who all did you talk with there and what did they tell you your options were?
TM: So before I went to the Title IX Office, I got this huge email. You get this email and it’s scary looking. It’s all in bold and capital letters and it was like “This is an official correspondence from the Office Community Standards.” And you click this button and it takes you to a link with a PDF that’s the official paperwork from the Title IX Office. I was like “Okay, wow, this is real.”
And then I got an email from Gabby Dralle, who introduced herself in a more personal way, and I went in and saw her in person. So when you first go into the Title IX Office, you’ve got a couple of options. One of them is report to police, report through Title IX, report through both, report through one or the other, or the other option is you can do nothing. You can sign off and say I don’t want any kind of investigation. You can always go back and change your mind later, but that’s what I originally signed.
BD: The one to indicate you didn’t want an investigation, is that right?
BD: Okay. And then what did you do in terms of support? What were your options of where you could go to maybe talk to someone about it?
TM: So the first two big ones were Women Helping Women and Student Counseling Services because those both could take my insurance. There were other options like the psych clinic and local options, but I don’t drive and those were kind of sketchy with if it was going to accept my insurance, because that’s a huge concern for me.
They told me “Okay, we can get you set up with Women Helping Women,” and I went and saw Hannah and Maddie. And they were really nice and I really like their office and what they’re about, but there was a huge waiting list and it was going to take me a month to get help. I was like “Mmmm, don’t know about that.”
So then I started looking into Student Counseling Services and at first, I didn’t like the idea of being moved up the list because I have so many friends who are trying to get into Student Counseling Services and have been put on a waitlist and just cannot get in. It feels wrong to put myself ahead of them, but I decided I’m not doing well, I need help. I called there, and I’d had some bad experiences with them freshman year, but I was like “It’s been a while, we’ll try again.
I called there and I had to keep calling back because there were some connection issues with the phone, which is no one’s fault. But the last time I called, I got this receptionist who ... (brief pause) I think there was a lot of miscommunication because I don’t think she understood that I was trying to set up the kind of therapy where you have weekly, regular weekly appointments. Because I guess the thing where you just see them once, people don’t usually get weekly appointments. So she said “Oh, if you’re trying to go weekly, you’re going to have to wait even this much longer,” and it was a month out from that point. I was like I cannot wait that long. I said, “Okay, Title IX said that I could be moved up the list.” And she said, “Title IX? We don’t take orders from Title IX. They don’t have anything to do with us.” And at that point, I was getting kind of irritated because I had basically just disclosed to a stranger that I had been assaulted. Because like at the beginning of this, I did not want to talk about it. I wanted to be completely anonymous. I couldn't make the word “assault” come out of my mouth. I would not talk about it as freely as I am now. A lot of things had to happen for me to get to this point.
And I said, “Yes, Title IX said that this counts as an emergency and that I can be moved up the list.” And then she said, “Well, an emergency is like if you’re hearing voices or if you’re going to kill yourself. If it’s not either of those things, it’s not an emergency.” And then I got really, really angry and I yelled into the phone. I said, “I was assaulted, and it’s taking for-fucking-ever to get any kind of help.” And then I just hung up because it was over at that point. I wasn’t going to have any kind of productive conversation when I was that angry.
BD: And then what did you do after that? You said obviously you wanted to seek that help that you needed. Where did you go next?
TM: I was like “Okay, I know how to make things happen here, and I got on Twitter. I tagged President Crawford and the university, and I had been talking to my friends earlier about how accessibility is really difficult, and I basically said what I’d said earlier and was like “...it would take less time to learn how to drive, get my driver’s license, buy a gun, and shoot myself” than it would to make an appointment here. And picked up traction pretty quickly.
I think within two minutes of tweeting that, I got a call from Gabby because the tweet had been seen by Crawford, who then passed it along to people, and Gabby recognized me from it. And she set me up with a therapist, Dr. Jennifer Young, who specializes in [sexual and interpersonal violence]-type trauma. And I was like this is great because now it’s this specialized therapist, it’s not just anyone. But why wasn’t this presented to me immediately?
BD: Did you ever get a clear answer on why that wasn’t presented to you immediately?
TM: No, I did not.
BD: Okay. And so you get in touch with Jennifer Young. Were there any major developments after that, or were you just in therapy at that point, getting the help that you needed?
TM: Well Dr. Young told me she was really proud of me for tweeting that. I didn’t expect that. She was like no, that’s a form of advocacy. Because of your advocacy, there have been changes here being made already that now everyone has mandatory Title IX training, not just the therapists, and they have scripts for people who work on the phones to talk to people calling that mention things like Title IX or sexual assault. And I saw in the article that Dr. Ward said that that was already in place, so I don’t know if that was in place previously, or it was in place and just wasn’t being enforced, but either one is kind of not a good look.
BD: How did it make you feel to hear that from Dr. Young, that it took your advocacy to get this new procedure put in place?
TM: I guess in some sense it made me happy because it felt like I was seen. I feel like, through a lot of this process, people are only starting to see me now when I’m doing a lot better. But in my absolute lowest points, it was like no one could see me. I was just invisible and struggling. So I'm glad that my complaining online eventually got something done, but I was like “Really? In 2019 this had to happen?” And I’m also upset because I’m the kind of person who, when something bad happens, like if something really not okay happens, then I will talk about it and say “Hey, this shouldn’t have happened.” So it makes me really upset to think how many other people probably called and had an exchange similar to that and just didn’t try to call back and didn’t know what to do after.
BD: Right. Now I want to pivot a little bit to the reaction to your story. The print version of the story was published earlier this week online and in the paper on Tuesday, and I understand you’ve been going back and forth with some Facebook commenters and seeing public feedback for the first time about this. What has that been like for you to see that on social media?
TM: So, I expected it to some point, so it hasn’t been bothering me that much. What I didn’t expect was someone, like a 50-year-old woman with kids to make fun of my last name, and say “that sounds like ‘molest me,’ it’s funny you were assaulted.” Damn, haven’t heard that one since fifth grade. That’s super inappropriate. It’s just really bizarre because the point of that article wasn’t “I’m going to destroy the life of the person that is being accused.” It was just about “Hey, I need help and things need to change,” and people took it upon themselves to play “Law and Order” in the comments. Don’t y’all have jobs or something? But yeah, seeing someone make fun of my family’s last name was really something. And I don’t think they realize that I’m a real person, so not only will I see those comments, but my mom sees them, and that’s what makes me really angry is seeing my mom get upset because this process has been so hard on her.
BD: Right. And so, have you gotten more supportive messages as well from people who are reading the story?
TM: Yeah, I’ve gotten tons of messages from professors, from classmates, people from home that I haven’t spoken to since like freshman year of high school. It’s a little overwhelming, but it’s good. That’s how we should be reacting. Just because i haven’t responded to them all yet doesn’t mean I’m not reading them, There’s just so many, but that’s a good thing.
But it’s stressful because people keep calling me brave, but in my book bravery is when you have a choice between one thing and another, and I didn’t have a choice, I feel like. This was about survival and self-preservation. It was actually pretty selfish. I felt like I was dying and I was ready to kill myself when I was approached to do this interview, and in the days leading up to it. And this interview was just my hail mary that happened to be a touchdown.
So I want people to understand how bad things had to have gotten for me to go from “Yeah, I’ not reporting this. No one needs to know,” to “I’m going fully public in an interview,” because everything that I had considered living for was just gone. So I was like whatever, I can do this interview now.
BD: You said that you don’t feel brave specifically. Is there any one word that describes how you feel now with everything out there?
TM: I guess yeah I feel better, but I still feel desperate that I had to put absolutely everything out on the line just to make things better, not just for myself but for my community, because there are so, so, so many people contacting me and coming up to me in person telling me their stories about how they reported and it was handled badly, or how they didn’t report and they’re terrified, and it’s a lot of pressure.
I feel like I’m now the de facto representative of the entire survivor community. There’s just so many of them, and there’s men too and no one’s talking about that. And it makes me nervous because what if I say the wrong thing and I don’t represent this entire community properly? And I’m supposed to be home kind of resting now, but I feel like I need to be more tuned in to what’s going on on campus more than ever, because people just genuinely do not know what they’re talking about. And if I don't say something then who’s going to?
BD: Right. The last thing I’ll ask you here, Tatum, is about your takeaways from this situation. What did you learn about this institution through this experience?
TM: I guess that I learned that everything that I had ever been afraid of about “The administration doesn’t care,” blah blah blah, that that is pretty much true. No one from [the] administration has reached out to me since the interview was released. President Crawford and a bunch of other higher-ups knew that that interview was happening and had known about it for weeks because I had mentioned it in emails and in meetings. I actually asked Gabby Dralle “Hey, what kind of things should I not say during this interview? What do I need to steer clear of?” It’s not like this hasn’t been out in the open for a while, especially after my testimony in ASG. So, just the fact that administration doesn’t seem more willing to acknowledge this or work with me, that really hurts.
I guess another thing I learned is that you literally have to do whatever it takes to survive, whether it means putting all your stuff out there on Twitter or just whatever. If it means that that’s how you’re going to keep going, then that’s what you have to do.
After I learned that my scholarship had been liquidated, I was really ready to kill myself. There was nothing left for me to live for. I wrote a letter to leave behind for my mom, my friend group and for Gabby, just letting them know “Hey, you did absolutely everything that you could have done for me and I couldn’t have asked for anything more. This is not your fault.”
And I wrote out this email to President Crawford, just going into detail, it’s several pages, everything that had happened and the way that my life had fallen apart, and that my family absolutely cannot afford this school without my scholarships. And then I got back a response a few days later. It was one paragraph, and he was like sorry to hear that. I heard that Gabby set up a meeting for you with Kimberly Moore, the Dean of Students, to talk about your scholarships. And I was just like, “Okay thanks. I would’ve rather you just not answer.
BD: Tatum, I really want to thank you for coming on the pod today. I really, really appreciate it, and I want to commend you for continuing to tell your story. Thank you.
TM: It’s no problem, really. Thank you for having me.
THIS EPISODE OF THIS WEEK @ TMS WAS PRODUCED AND EDITED BY ME, SARAH GRACE HAYS AND MAGGIE PENA WITH SUPERVISING PRODUCTION FROM OUR MANAGING EDITOR CEILI DOYLE.
SPECIAL THANKS TO MIAMI’S MEDIA, JOURNALISM AND FILM DEPARTMENT
OUR THEME MUSIC IS BY SAM TERRIBILINI.
THAT’S ALL FOR THIS WEEK @ TMS. TUNE IN TO THE MIAMI STUDENT ON SOUNDCLOUD NEXT FRIDAY FOR A NEW EPISODE.
I’M BEN DEETER. SEE YOU NEXT WEEK.
LOVE AND HONOR.
This podcast was produced by Ben Deeter, with editing help from Sarah Grace Hays and Maggie Pena, supervising production by Ceili Doyle and music by Sam Terribilini.