“The Bachelor” was more serious than usual Monday night. Caelynn Miller-Keyes, a 23-year-old from North Carolina, told Colton on a one-on-one date that she was drugged and raped during her sophomore year in college.
Traditionally, one-on-one dates require a contestant to open up about the biggest obstacle or trauma she’s faced. That might be a sibling’s or parent’s death or divorce, a difficult breakup or a past abusive relationship. But Monday’s episode was the first time a contestant has opened up about being a sexual assault survivor.
“It’s not a conversation that I enjoy having with anyone,” Caelynn said. “But it’s something that’s really important, especially in relationships, because it’s something that … has come in between intimacy and just a lot of different things in my life.”
She then elaborated about how she and three girlfriends went to a friend’s house, where someone drugged their wine. She passed out, she said, but later she remembered seeing a guy in her bed. Caelynn said that one of her girlfriends who had been sober that night told her that a man had sex with her and another one had lifted up her dress, laughed and took pictures. “It was absolutely horrible,” Caelynn said.
The next day, she recalled, she went to the police and tried to get a rape kit but was turned away by a hospital, so she went to another one, but the results were inconclusive “because so much time had passed." One of the men got expelled but the others “got away with it,” Caelynn said.
Caelynn went on to describe how that incident has affected her since: “It’s something that will always be a part of me and will always come up in relationships, and that’s why I wanted to bring it up to you,” she said, adding that for months afterward she felt triggered whenever a man would touch her. She also said felt a lot of shame and guilt over what she’s experienced.
“I want you to know: With me, you’re safe,” Colton told Caelynn, adding that he has some experience in relationships with women who are sexual assault survivors. He didn’t name her in the episode, but Colton has dated Aly Raisman, who has spoken out about the abuse she suffered at the hands of Larry Nassar, a former doctor for USA Gymnastics who’s been sentenced to 175 years in jail.
On Twitter, Colton posted a message about how “there are moments that are bigger than the show itself,” Monday night’s episode being one of them.
“Bachelor” viewers often snark on the show’s portrayal of the petty drama that can erupt between contestants, but tonight there was a lot of praise for how it handled a difficult and important subject.
Former contestant Ashley Spivey, who’s routinely critiqued “The Bachelor,” said on Twitter that she had a “very similar situation” happen to her during her freshman year of college.
Another former contestant, Jacqueline Trumbull, responded to Caelynn’s comment that the men she’s told about her experience often haven’t known how to handle it.
During the 2018 Miss USA pageant, Caelynn’s platform was sexual assault prevention — particularly in regard to Title IX rules for sexual assault survivors on college campuses — and was open about her own experience.
Colton handled Caelynn’s disclosure with compassion and empathy, telling her how strong she is and thanking her for opening up. After their conversation, a phone number and website for RAINN (the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network) flashed across the screen, in case viewers had their own incident to report.
This episode was markedly different from the last time consent came up on the “Bachelor” franchise. In summer 2017, “Bachelor in Paradise” shut down production when a producer filed a complaint after witnessing an incident in the pool between contestants Corinne Olympios and DeMario Jackson, with Olympios possibly “too drunk to consent.” Soon, Olympios hired a lawyer and released a statement saying she had “spent the last week trying to make sense of what happened ... as a woman, this is my worst nightmare and it has now become my reality.” Jackson vehemently denied any wrongdoing.
Shortly after, production company Warner Bros. announced its investigators found no misconduct had taken place; Olympios also confirmed her team’s own investigation was completed to her satisfaction. “Paradise” resumed production, and when it returned, everyone discussed the controversy at length. This included a lecture from host Chris Harrison on sexual consent, as well as in-depth interviews with Olympios, who said the “unfortunate, annoying situation” was no one’s fault, and Jackson, who said the accusations nearly ruined his life.
Contestants also reported that producers tightened the rules on the show, which had suddenly come under increased scrutiny. For example, you were only allowed two alcoholic drinks per hour, and if you wanted to spend the night with someone, you had to give verbal consent on camera.
“It wasn’t a buzzkill,” contestant Vinny Ventiera told E!, “but it was a little bit of a speed bump."
When a Washington Post reporter asked former Bachelorette Andi Dorfman in 2017 how “The Bachelor" might adapt in the #MeToo era, she noted that though viewers watch the show for entertainment, not public service announcements about sexual assault, the contestants have an opportunity to spark change. “I do think there are women who can come out on the show who can talk about it,” Dorfman said, “just like there’s women right now coming from Hollywood talking about it.”
However, viewers at home should also know that no one is required to disclose their deepest trauma, sexual or otherwise. Because sexual assault takes away someone’s agency and ability to make decisions, Jess Davidson, interim director of End Rape on Campus, has told The Post that it’s important for survivors to have control over how and when they decide to talk about what they’ve been through. “Survivors should never feel guilty about centering their own needs, whether that means sharing with your partner or not sharing with your partner,” Davidson said.