Since I was about 18 I knew I wanted to be a journalist, and until recently I thought I had the stomach to cover any story that came my way. That would be put to the test one Friday afternoon in a fluke moment of happenstance. A lot of different topics have come across my desk. From sports, to government, to art shows, to profile pieces, they all have their own uniqueness. But no matter what the beat, they can all turn sinister very quickly. It could be a doping scandal or even sexual harassment. Over the years of reporting on these things you build up a thick skin to the fact that almost every part of life carries some sort of wrongdoing. It’s horrible, but it’s necessary to do your job. After all, if it’s really something so awful to make your spine tingle, people should probably know about it.
But what if you see something that stops you dead in your tracks? What if something makes you consider whether it’s worth it to put yourself through mental hell, even though you’ve devoted eight years of your life and thousands of dollars?
I shouldn’t have even been on campus that Friday, but I had offered to help distribute the campus newspaper. Distribution doesn’t take long, so my plan was to get it done, get lunch, and be off to work in no time. My friend was even helping me, which always helps, so I knew it wouldn’t take long. Once we had finished I started making my way outside. I was just passed the coffee shop when I noticed a crown forming around the bathrooms. My instinct kicked in and I went to investigate.
I watched the group crowding around the bathroom from a distance at first. Some of the people that regularly poured me coffee at the shop were standing around watching. I walked up and asked them what was happening, but they didn’t know. It looked like a fight was happening, but as I watched I slowly started to realize that there was something off about how the crowd was reacting. I saw a guy limping around and people were asking him if he was ok. Campus public safety was already there taking care of him. Everybody was standing around acting like they had just witnessed a murder. There was obviously a fight, or something, in the bathroom, but how bad could it be? Whatever it was, it had my attention, and I had to find out what was going on.
I walked up to ask one of the people standing around what had happened. One guy turned around to me.
“I think there was a rape in the bathroom,” he said.
I couldn’t… Wait, what? Right here? I walk passed here every day. It’s the middle of the afternoon. A nurse walked out of the bathroom in tears. Apparently the guy was still in the bathroom. I knew I should be reporting on this, but I didn’t want to.
This was important though. I ran back to the office and grabbed a camera. My heart was beating out of my chest and my palms were clamming up. I ran back and snapped a couple shots of people standing around. Through the lens I could see somebody looking at me. I stopped and sat down. I just didn’t want to, but more importantly I didn’t think I could.
I wish I could say this story has some brilliant resolution about how I pulled myself together and did what I needed to do, but I can’t stop thinking about whether or not the victim, whoever they are, is alright. We see tragedy every day on the news, but to watch the scene unfold is a reminder that the world is a cruel, vicious place. Perhaps I choose ignorance over knowledge if it means having a shred of peace.