March 2014. Classes were done for the day and the night started out like most for Alexis “Alex” Nowling, a sophomore at a private college in Iowa. For Alex, and many of her friends, excessive drinking was standard.
“You get hammered all the time because there is nothing to do; you’re in Iowa,” Alex says. “There is a drinking special at one of the bars pretty much every day of the week besides Monday.”
While pre-gamming for the standard drunken night out with friends, Alex received a phone call from her mother. Her license was suspended. Alex concedes she didn’t have the best coping skills then. So her reaction to a suspended license, from what she calls the repercussions of being an “irresponsible driver,” was to get really, really hammered.
With the plan in motion and the party already starting, Alex and her friends were ready. Even one of Alex’s guy friends offered to be their designated driver. Alex was nearly blacked out before they left.
The events of that one night are still unclear to Alex. What she does remember is arriving at the first bar and meeting more friends, then arriving at the second bar after calling her guy friend to drive. Next, she remembers holding a beer and walking toward her car. Somewhere, in that timeframe, she believes she called her guy friend to take her home.
She can’t recall where her other friends were at that point. One of Alex’s classmates remembers being with Alex and turning to talk to other friends. When she turned back Alex was gone. This was normal behavior and didn’t alarm her friends when it happened. They know when Alex wants to leave, she leaves.
Alex’s next memory is in her dormitory room, a single with no roommates, and her guy friend kissing her. She then remembers waking up the next morning to a messy room, clothes strewn all over, and being completely naked in her bed. Her guy friend was beside her in bed. Alex was hungover when he left for class.
“What happened?” she later texted him. His reply, they fooled around but did not have sex.
Though Alex couldn’t recall the details of that night then, and still doesn’t know exactly what happened, she took him for his word at the time. Yeah they had previously hooked up before freshman year, that’s how they met. But that was just one time and since had become platonic friends. They did what friends do. They ate lunch together, studied together and even took a road trip to Utah and to the Grand Canyon earlier sophomore year. They were friends, and good friends at that. So why shouldn’t she believe him?
“Where our friendship was, I don’t think he would have lied. How much can you take for truth?” After all, why else would she wake up naked next to him? Alex asks unconvincingly.
At first, Alex tried to pretend everything was normal and it was just like the other time they hooked up. Casual sex in a hookup culture was the norm amongst her and her college friends. Because she slept around before, she tried to act like it was no big deal.
“All my friends were doing it so I saw nothing wrong with also doing it” Alex confesses. “I was in a pretty bad place and was searching for affirmation in a lot of different ways; sex being the main one. It feels good to feel wanted, even it is just for a night.”
But this time was different. This time wasn’t like every other time. Deep down inside Alex felt like something happened. That something unwelcomed happened. After weeks, she began telling friends about that night. Initially her friends brushed it off and thought it was no big deal. Alex told them she was drunk and her friend was sober. Her friends then became alarmed, especially since they weren’t dating or hooking up for that matter. After many conversations with friends she learned her guy friend began lying about that night and was telling people none of it ever happened.
Alex decided to tell her Residence Hall Coordinator who was “really sorry it happened.” Her Residence Hall Coordinator connected Alex with the private college’s sexual assault advocate. The advocate asked if Alex wanted to press charges. Yes. From there Alex met with the dean, head of campus security and the sex assault advocate who subsequently opened an investigation and found Alex’s friend guilty of sexual assault. The school’s president released a statement saying sexual assault would not be tolerated. However, there was no suspension or expulsion for her attacker. A no contact rule was set in place. If he tried to contact Alex, he could face expulsion. He also had to write a paper and could not go to any of her sorority’s events.
“I just get mad that he is living his life. After the school told me they wouldn’t do anything, I filed a federal investigation against the school,” Alex says expressing controlled dissatisfaction with the school’s penalty. “If that is going to change something for someone else then good, I am glad that it is doing something.”
There are no updates to federal investigation she filed in October 2014.
Alex was already scheduled to spend a semester in Ireland, less than six months after the assault. In Ireland, solitude was Alex’s comfort. She took DART – Irish Rail down the coast. She took herself on dates and explored places she’d never seen before. She would have a glass of wine, read a book, people watch and go to downtown Dublin to coffee shops. She’d visit her favorite place, the little coastal town of Bray. There were fish and chips, quaint ships and ice-cream shops to treat herself. Most importantly, there was Bray Head. It was a hikable hill at the end of the boardwalk where she could see for miles into the ocean and out toward Dublin.
“Being in Ireland was really healing. It did a lot of good to be in another country” she says with a slight twinge of peace in her voice. “God put things into motion before I ever knew I needed them.”
However, the healing process is still slow for Alex. Alex never went back to the private college. After spending a short period in Georgia, Alex currently lives in Nashville and is enrolled in college online, with the support of her parents. She enjoys writing and playing with her pet hedgehog, Bray, whom she named after that city that brought her so much solace in Ireland.
“Don’t forget who you were before because you’re going to be different. It changes you. But don’t let one person steal your joy and steal your life. It took me a long time to stop being angry at him and stop being angry at the school and stop being angry at myself for drinking so much. Being angry isn’t going to change what happened. It will only hinder you from healing,” Alex said about her healing process. “Life is still really beautiful. It’s a bad thing that happen to me but it is not who I am it’s just something that happened to me.”