Tina Griego talks with Katie Hnida about why she came forward in 2004 with rape allegations at the University of Colorado, and how she views the discussion about sexual assault at U-Va.

TG: You say in the story that you never wanted to come forward. How did you did get from that place to where you are now, telling your story to organizations and on campuses, week after week?

KH: The first speech I did was in 2005 and I would do at least one speech a year. I had to wait until things settled down. I had to get to a place where I wasn’t constantly reliving the trauma. But it was the letters from women. There were so many letters. I had letters that were triple-enveloped and taped up and it made me realize how we just don’t talk about rape. 

How do you respond when you hear all these stories?

The sheer number of people who talk to me about this and who reach out, even through social media, particularly after I speak, it’s heartbreaking. . . I do hear a lot of stuff and the first thing I do is close my eyes and say a prayer for everyone involved — literally everyone. 

What is your prayer?

I just pray that truth comes out, that the truth is known and that everyone gets the help they need.

You decided to come forward in 2004, four years after your alleged assault – I’m using the word alleged here because no criminal charges ever resulted and

No, no, I understand. Everyone says I never reported my rape. I did. It wasn’t right away, most rape victims don’t report right away or at all — particularly in rapes similar to mine, acquaintance rapes. But I did do that before I came forward. I went to the district attorney. I filed a police report. The DA didn’t hold back telling me how hard it would be. The hardest thing to hear was that my rapist would probably never go to jail. That stayed with me, that I would go back to Colorado for a trial, have all this media scrutiny, go through all this trauma and not have him go to jail. There is a definite fear for your safety knowing that someone who is capable of doing something as horrible as raping you is still out there. 

But you still went public.

I couldn’t handle reading in the papers that it looked like nothing was going to change at CU. Nothing would happen and the cases would be dropped. It was just, like: No way. If my chances of prosecution had been better, I would have gone that way, but they weren’t. But I didn’t expect what I got. I didn’t expect such disregard for my life. I was a virgin when this happened and incredibly naive. I thought coming forward would force the university to acknowledge it had problems and make changes.  Instead, it exploded.

You said you couldn’t read the Rolling Stone article right away, but once you did, what kind of questions did you have?

I look at the larger issues of campus rape and violence against women. What are we missing here? What are we doing right? What can we do better? I’m thrilled that we are having a national conversation, but sometimes I think it’s focused in the wrong area.

Such as?

False accusations. Let me pause and say something that is really important to me. I have so many men in my life I am so close to — my dad, my two fantastic brothers. The idea of any of my former teammates being falsely accused kills me. But false accusation are rare – the attention you get as a rape victim is not fun, it’s awful. And even if you lowball the number of rapes, they far outnumber the number of false accusations, which tend to get disproportionate media attention.

I know you don’t speak on specific cases, but what have you made of the controversy that has ensued over the reporting?

I have so many different emotions going on. I was horrified by the magazine’s first statement that they’d misplaced trust in Jackie when they were responsible. I understand you cannot verify that a rape occurred. We often can’t prove that in a court of law. But they had a responsibility to her and to the public to make sure they were presenting a story that had been thoroughly researched and vetted and their failure to do that did a huge disservice to all rape victims.

One of the groups I work with actually talks about what to do if you are going to write a story about rape. What it means for a victim to be seen publicly. How memory is affected dramatically by trauma. To tell your story is to place it in someone else’s hands and when we do that it is affected by their biases, their judgment, what they believe to be true. Jackie didn’t go seeking attention for this. A reporter found her. I think we need to remember that.