Content warning: graphic descriptions of sexual violence, rape, harassment, gaslighting.
This article has been taken down from Medium.com because I was violating their policy of “sharing private conversations,” and apparently they think that is a better principle to adhere to than protecting women from obvious predators and rapists. Since the time of this article’s initial publication, I have received at least 10+ accounts of women, both secondhand and directly, accusing Ethan of similar predatory behavior, rape, and sexual assault.
My silence is dangerous. And it cannot stand.
“He had not been aware of my one rule: I decide what I am capable of. Whenever I am underestimated, I think, you mistake my quietness for weakness. If you can’t imagine me on a stage, I’ll get on one."
— Chanel Miller, Know My Name
I want to preface this by saying that I do not wish to take away from black voices and stories while protests and police brutality are currently escalating. But with recent screenshots being leaked from a fraternity group chat at Columbia, I have never felt more urgently about sharing my story.
Ethan Gould, an alumnus of Phi Gamma Delta (FIJI) fraternity at Columbia University, raped me in Beijing in August of 2015—approximately a year before we would both meet as freshmen at Columbia. I write this largely as a response to the anger and frustration I felt upon the dissemination of racist, sexist, and misogynist comments in the FIJI GroupMe, and partly because I am sick of being silent about a disgusting act of violence that I have kept to myself (and mostly my immediate close friends) about for years. Ethan should not get away with his predatory behavior and his friends should not get away with being complicit.
He raped me before we both got to college. Around college acceptance season, I thought that it was some sick coincidence we both ended up at Columbia. Back then, of course, I had not yet processed that he had raped me, simply that we had a little sexual kerfuffle gone wrong. But in sharing this story, I hope that you and I can both come to understand the sadistic and disgusting circumstances that allowed this rape to happen, and how you can respond to such circumstances in the future. I also wish to share the complexity of how survivors deal with trauma and the circumstances surrounding them. It took me approximately four years to come to terms with what Ethan had done and over two years to really say it out loud.
Some of the events in this piece aim to establish credibility, and some provide contextual evidence. Every single detail I seek to include in here is important and intentional. I clarify here that I did indeed file a report with Title IX in the Fall of 2019 on the issue. I decided not to fully pursue the case because I did not want the spring semester of my senior year to be mired with meetings with college administrators, and having possibly a long, drawn-out case that would result in no consequences. Often, this is the result of Title IX.
Ethan and I had met through one of my most trusted friends back in the day, Timothy (Tim) Wu. They had both attended Phillips Exeter Academy, a prestigious boarding school in New Hampshire, and became close friends after Tim had left my K-12 school in Beijing. This is an important detail—Tim was one of the main enablers and active participants in my rape, and I spotlight this because I want to spotlight the conditions of complicity that allow rape to happen. At that point, I had still kept in touch with Tim because of our years-long friendship. I had entrusted Tim as both a confidant and a best friend; we had a complicated relationship stemming from a crush he had on me back in middle school.
Tim and I grew up together. Back then, Tim was simply “my best friend Tim." We joked about how we could be siblings, given all the times we’d make fun of each other and even looked like each other, to a weak extent. I also like to think that this mutual understanding was a demonstration of our closeness. One of the very first interactions we had was him telling me that he had a crush on me through Gmail’s chat feature, a few mere weeks after sixth grade started. I didn’t know what that meant back then, of course, aside from the fact that I didn’t “like” him back the way that he “liked” me.
This mild rejection resulted in the constant back-and-forth that would define our pre-teenage years together. In the same year after I told him I didn’t like him back, I would whisper to my school counselor about how he made threatening rape jokes and bullied my friends for being ugly. Tim was prone to misogynistic comments long before misogynistic comments became the teenage norm. Being young and naive, however, I wasn’t really sure what to think, and a friendship between us developed for reasons of both proximity and our repeated interactions online; we’d sit together in Chinese class while talking after school on Skype. It was like this for a long time. He’d tell me about his frustrations towards his parents and I’d share my amateur photography with him. We’d joke about our 7th-grade teacher punching holes in our named index cards because he kept track of how many times we went to the bathroom. We knew each other’s secrets and crushes. I cannot count the hours of shared conversation and camaraderie I had with the boy I called my best friend, over the span of over eight years—a span reaching from the beginning of sixth grade to my second year of college.
Somehow, Tim and I understood each other. And more than anything, I was “off-limits.” He told me multiple times how we could never have that kind of relationship, and that I was the first female friend who he could think of as platonic. Somewhere down the line, he had made a few advances on me, but starting from eighth grade, it was apparently clear to me that all those feelings had either dissipated or that our eventual failure to actually develop anything beyond a platonic relationship was symbolic of our friendship. That feeling alone was a complex thing to hold. But to me, it indicated a trust that was unspoken yet so in plain sight that I never felt like I needed to be reassured, and perhaps it was a privilege that I granted to inoculate myself from Tim’s multiple and persistent advances on other women. In that, too, I am complicit.
Tim befriended Ethan sometime after he went to boarding school. Sometime in my junior year of high school, I told Tim that I thought the guy in his profile photo was cute, knowing very little information about who he was. Tim then proceeded to try to “set us up:”
The schoolgirl crush I had on Ethan manifested into reality when Ethan came to visit China on a service trip in the summer of 2015. He was staying with Tim and their other friend, Ernesto Brown, for a couple of weeks in August. I remember the exact moment I met Ethan at a house party that Tim hosted that month: I was wearing a mint green J. Crew top, a silky one with spaghetti straps. I also wore a black skirt. We were playing King’s Cup on Tim’s kitchen table. Somewhere out there, there is a deleted Instagram post of me wearing that exact outfit, taken at Tim’s house in Beijing Rivera Villas that night.
The anticipation that had built up between me and Ethan was kind of funny in its own way, both of us sort of staring at each other agape with mild impressions from Tim’s bizarre introduction and a few Facebook group messages in mind. I remember Tim deliberately grinning as he introduced us when Ethan came down from the stairs—we nodded at each other as I continued to sip some of the tepid rosé provided on Tim’s living room table.
That night was the first time that Ethan and I had sex. It followed from a few more hours of the party and a trip upstairs. This time it was semi-consensual, but relevant to the time when it wasn’t. I was slightly inebriated. “Should I put a sock on the door?” I asked hazily, recalling that I was in Tim’s living room one moment and Tim’s guest bedroom where Ethan was staying, the other. We did end up putting a sock on the door, but despite our efforts to prevent partygoers from walking in the room, a guy from my rival high school (Adam?) mistakenly walked in anyway. That night I also ended up staying in Ethan’s room, and we had sex a couple of times throughout the night.
I did not regret that first time I had sex with Ethan. There tends to be a lot of flawed discourse on how women make up rape claims because they may regret the instance in which it may have consensually happened. Me? I thought it was a great time! I thoroughly enjoyed the fact that my schoolgirl crush was being fulfilled; however, consent during this one time did not imply consent for the rest of our interactions together. I knew nothing about him other than the fact that he already had a girlfriend, and that was something I did feel slightly guilty about. Regardless, he ended up speaking to me over the Chinese chatting platform WeChat when he remained in Beijing during the few days before school started, and we talked a little bit after the first time we had sex. “By the way, this needs to stop when I go back to Exeter, obviously,” he said, telling me that our chatting would probably affect his relationship with his girlfriend. Yeah, probably.
So let me be clear that this was the mindset I was in—I thought Ethan was harmless other than the fact that he was a prick for cheating on his girlfriend, he was best friends with my best friend whom I had trusted for over 5 years, and most importantly, both of them were quite pleased at the result of me hooking up with Ethan. It is quite common to say that victims should have perceived the threat early on and continually refused in order to be responsible for not getting raped. For me, the threat perception just wasn’t there, and to be frank, it had felt exciting and forbidden, not dangerous or threatening. It’s almost as if Tim had wanted the set-up to work, and that they had been strategizing about this for quite a while. I felt like I was living up to some twisted expectation (or even fantasy), and for a teenage girl, this male validation was as precious as golden syrup, in a way.
The second time it happened, I decided to go out into the city on a school night because Tim was going to be leaving for his senior year of Exeter soon, and I wanted to be a little bit rebellious. I did want to see Ethan again, as much as I didn’t want to admit it. I remember that it was a slightly humid and groggy night, either in late August or September. I don’t really remember what I was wearing. We bar-hopped for a little bit before heading to a Chinese dance club and throwing back a few drinks. This was the norm in Beijing, and it was actually more common than attending house parties. A warm and diluted shot of tequila slid down my throat.
It’s interesting because a lot of what the media tells you, and even what a lot of survivors tell you, is that you might remember the exact details surrounding your rape. What you wore, what the date was, what they were wearing—it’s supposed to be etched into your mind. It’s different for everyone. The truth is I don’t remember any of this, and I don’t remember much at all. Maybe that does some damage to my credibility, but alas—
What I do remember is the burning, searing pain the next morning as I sat, hunched over the toilet, wondering what happened. I remembered having sex, but I did not remember him initiating anal without any lubrication or preparation, me too drunk and unable to say no, until I pieced it together. In a vain attempt to retrace my steps that morning, I sat for a good 20 minutes on the toilet, wishing that the pain would remove itself, extricate itself from my body. It didn’t happen. Maybe you’re just constipated, you fiber-deprived idiot.
I remember flinching as I sat down that day, wincing whenever the cotton fabric of my underwear would scratch against my abrasions. I was scared. Was it going to hurt like this, forever? How am I going to explain this to a doctor or to my parents if it did? What if it became infected? Oh, god. That was my first time trying anal, I had just had my first kiss a year ago, and I was too intoxicated to even recall if it happened, had it not been for the unmistakable pain I had experienced in the morning.
I also remember the sour smell of my vomit the night before as it crawled slowly up my throat, me retching and dry heaving into the gravel in front of Tim’s rusted green gate at 3am. We had headed back to his house after the night out. Are you okay? They asked, and me, my thoughts swirling and incoherent, mumbled something that probably sounded close to yes. Drunk and stumbling, visions blurring in and out—Tim asked no more questions. He left me to walk into that room with Ethan alone, where I almost knew what would happen but was too dizzy to express my thoughts on it. I felt mechanical as we reverted to what we were doing the first time, only this time, it was hard for me to even see a single damn thing.
I have slowly come to realize that this was simply what I perceived to be normal after Ethan raped me. Drunk, alone, slightly terrified, with someone who was basically a stranger. That was sex, wasn’t it? That was desire, wasn’t it?
I want to take a moment here to discuss the complicity of Tim. Because from this moment onwards, it only got worse; my rape would not have been possible if my best friend had stood up for me, if he had even thought to ask me if I was comfortable going into that room with Ethan while that mind-numbingly drunk. So here I am imploring you to reflect; to think: how many times have you enabled a situation like this, where you know you could have intervened? How many of you are willing to risk embarrassment or status to protect obviously vulnerable people, at a possible detriment to yourself? I knew that Tim didn’t want to lose one of his best friends at Exeter. I knew that he wanted to show his friend a fun time in China and didn’t want the trip to be a bummer. I knew that he wouldn’t speak up. But I couldn’t help asking. After that night, I prodded Tim lightly a couple of times; “When u where there / Who was more drunk? Me or Ethan? / Do you doubt that it was non-consensual? / Cause he never asked.”
“Yeah I mean I like wasn’t ok with what he was doing so I haven’t really spoken to him,” he responded a couple of weeks later, when we were having a different conversation. So he did know about the terribleness of the situation, despite him saying that “rape is kind of not a word I want to throw around lightly,” when I first confronted him about it. Ethan, of course, denied everything. It was like he was taught to say he had forgotten, as some sort of immediate embedded response to these kinds of situations.
I felt impossibly trapped. I began to doubt myself. If they didn’t remember, it must not have happened. If they didn’t remember, it must not have happened. If no one heard a tree echoing in the forest but yourself, does it really mean the tree fell down? I trusted that Tim had my best interests in mind; five years of friendship was enough of a marker for trust, a better marker than what I had come to understand as the Boys’ Club mentality that dominated spaces like Exeter. Perhaps I would have forgotten, if not for the continued cruelty both Tim and Ethan decided to unleash even after the rape itself. Tim continued to tease me about that night for years. “Remember when you stained my bed with your blood? That was so funny, you guys were so loud. It was actually kind of hot.” Blood? I thought—
Ethan and Tim then proceeded to make fun of my ex-boyfriend for his anger towards them. What a shitty personality he had, getting unnecessarily angry and sending them messages condemning their actions because I had sex drunk. I laughed along with them. They had the benefit of numbers on their side, as Ernesto had known and joined in the laughter, and they had told a school friend named Jake Della Pasqua about how the whole thing had occured. It seemed to be a funny story that Ethan told everyone:
And when Tim and Ethan finished their first semester as seniors—idyllic, pillowy sheets of snow blanketing their pristine boarding school campus—Tim came to me with a secret.
Exeter expelled Tim for sexual assault, while he was off-campus on a school trip. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. *Correction: details omitted for privacy* He had caused physical injuries. I tried to forget the fact that I had sat on the toilet in pain all those years ago, and that Tim had denied me that pain—only to inflict it on somebody else. “I’ve been barred from going back to New York State,” he revealed, eventually. It was too much for me to think about, and I feel guilty every single day because I wish that I had cut him off then and there, but I didn’t.
Something they never tell you about being a survivor of rape or don’t emphasize nearly enough is that the trauma never follows a linear path. More than anything, I had craved my rapist and his enabler’s seal of approval.
I tried hard to impress both Tim and Ethan and remained cordial with them, even after the rape, and after Tim’s expulsion. At that point, I stopped trying to process that it was rape. Instead, I thought that if I did enough to seem like someone who was “chill” and possibly nonchalant about the whole thing, they would view me as more than something they did something to; maybe I would be worth something more than the girl they made fun of and occasionally made references to when telling stories about their shared escapades in China (this was a fruitless cause and I realized much later that their only interest was in treating me like a sexualized, fetishized object). I talked to Tim, snapchatted Ethan, found out that Ethan had gotten into Columbia the semester after I did. When I had brought up the incident again while slightly drunk my second semester of senior year in high school, Tim revealed to me that he had in fact wanted Ethan to “get some” that night, and that he was just doing him a favor by setting us up. Was I just the most convenient and willing body nearby? I brushed that thought aside, for the sake of maintaining my friendship with Tim. He even joined me on my graduation trip to Japan.
Ethan and I had sex a third time after we both ended up at Columbia. Here, I emphasize that the path of healing for survivors is non-linear and not monolithic; it took me a long, long time to accept that Ethan had done anything remotely wrong, and much of it because my best friend had basically told me he didn’t. “He’s just kind of psycho,” I would tell people if they asked me how I knew Ethan. Vignettes from our lives appeared in the forms of distorted memories: me seeing him at my sorority semiformal, me hearing about how funny he was from a close friend, bits of DMs and messages. He was close friends with someone in my sorority. He was dating a blonde girl now. He was in Rhode Island. His seemingly popular position amongst those of Greek life and in his fraternity made me question if I would ever be able to confront him about what happened, despite the increasing accusations of his predatory behavior making it around the school grapevines.
Tim, who had left for Australia after I started college, told me that he wasn’t really friends with Ethan anymore. Well then, I thought bitterly, What the fuck did you defend him for?
Something they never tell you about being a survivor of rape or don’t emphasize nearly enough is that the trauma never follows a predictable path. More than anything, I had craved my rapist and his enabler’s seal of approval. The complex relationship I had with Tim and Ethan should serve as a foundation for this story because the truth is that many survivors do not automatically start hating their rapist the moment it happens, or whatever twisted depictions of survivors that the media and our cultures tell us to internalize. Some survivors may even remain friends with them; women and femme-presenting people are taught to be respectable, polite creatures in the face of discontent and pain. From childbirth to abuse, our pain is normalized, fetishized, seen as desirable. That does not make my rape illegitimate, or the pain any less real.
I felt a deep sigh of relief when I realized that Ethan had unfollowed me on Instagram sometime in the later years of college; why I was too scared to block him or unfollow him in the first place, I don’t know. I felt paralyzed seeing his face on school grounds but couldn’t click a single button to delete him from my social media. I realize now that I was probably still scared of what he would do to me. During freshman year, I had posted in the Columbia 2020 group to ask if I could borrow a graphing calculator. An unknown number texted me – Wait, did you delete my number? I’m not letting you borrow my calculator if you did. This was what Ethan had texted me when I attempted to move on, and me, too scared to say yes, told him that I had gotten a new phone.
Tim and Ethan were able to define my memory for so long because they welded my pain like it was some kind of trophy, something that they could parade around. For the longest time, I could not believe that Tim, my friend of more than five years, could side with a boarding school friend he had known for barely two years. Together, they protected each other—encouraged each other—to dispute the warbled account of someone who doubted themselves. It allowed me to put myself in more vulnerable positions with men over the past couple of years, where my subconscious reckoned that almost anything was better than what they did to me.
I was raped again in the spring semester of 2018 by someone I met on Tinder (a story for another time), and put myself in numerous compromised positions where I thought being extremely inebriated in a stranger’s bedroom was normal. I do not place the culpability for my actions leading up to those compromising positions on factors entirely outside of myself, but I have slowly come to realize that this was simply what I perceived to be normal after Ethan raped me. Drunk, alone, slightly terrified, with someone who was basically a stranger. That was sex, wasn’t it? That was desire, wasn’t it?
I have thought deliberately and for a very long time about how I wanted to tell this story. Of course there is the risk that you do not sympathize with me, and that you question many of the decisions I made along the way. But hey, it’s my birthday this week, and if there’s one gift I could reasonably ask for, I want you to understand the following:
Rapists do not have the power they do simply as individuals. The power they hold comes from the community, from the people who continue to prop them up and support them regardless of what they know. Through my discussions with friends and peers, I have realized it is far too common that complicity is simply allowed, be it a rapist’s friend who refuses to stop him from raping a drunk woman; an entire sorority for refusing to cut off connections with a frat for predatory and misogynist behavior because there are “good ones;” a friend telling a survivor that they do not believe them because it doesn’t fit the perceived conditions for rape. Rapists need to learn that there are consequences for their actions, and those who associate with them need to feel the discomfort that comes with it. Cut them off. Call them out. It is the least you can do.
Why didn’t any of his brothers investigate further? How many other people did he have to assault in order for that to happen?
I still do not forgive Ethan or Tim for what they did. I don’t think I should; they gaslit me for years about my rape and shared it incessantly as base locker room talk. I think forgiveness would take a long time, and I want to get there eventually. But I also do not wish to punish or exile them to the depths of hell for what they have done, either. Instead, I hope my voice inspires those who are too scared to come out of the shadows, to demand accountability from those that have perpetuated similar wrongs. I want to take a transformative outlook on surviving a prolonged incident like this and I think one of the main reasons I did not choose the criminal justice system to pursue my claims was that imprisonment or punishment was never the end goal for me. Plus, it never even would have made it to trial, bearing in mind that 995 out of every 1,000 perpetrators of sexual assault will never go to jail or prison for their actions.
Use this as an educational resource to unlearn your biases. Read through my account and think of all the times you may have questioned me or refused to believe me. Perhaps you still do. I am an imperfect survivor: I remained friendly with my rapist and his enabler after it happened, I sought out further opportunities to engage with my rapist, I even had a boyfriend the time that it happened. I fail to recall many exact details. A police officer would laugh at me if he saw me present my account for the first time. My case would be dismissed by a judge for exceeding the statute of limitations.
These factors do not negate what Ethan did to me (rape), and I hope you can at least believe me when I say I do not want this happening to anybody else. To this day, I still suffer from PTSD, anxiety, and depression stemming from the incident. I have had multiple panic attacks simply from being in sexual situations where I was uncomfortable and could not find the means to voice my concerns. This is a pattern that is unfortunately common for many survivors, and I hope you realize that having complicating factors is also just as common for many survivors who don’t fit the perfect trope or expectation of what a survivor should be.
To FIJI and the larger Columbia community: it is about time you prioritized the lack of action in addressing sexual assault in Greek Life and beyond. Already some of you have reached out to me about your own experiences dealing with sexual assault from members of FIJI, with one (unsurprisingly) being yet another incident of sexual assault by Ethan himself! I admire your bravery, courage, and ability to share. Clearly, this is an issue that is both endemic to FIJI and representative of fraternity life at Columbia as a whole—while the rape happened to me in high school and we ended up at Columbia together as a mere coincidence, I have heard various reports of Ethan and other FIJI members’ predatory behavior go unaddressed. At one point, it was common knowledge that Ethan was a creep. Why didn’t any of his brothers investigate further? How many other people did he have to assault in order for that to happen?
Sexual assault trainings and meetings are not enough. Workshops and emails and fundraisers are not enough. I am begging and imploring you to do the following: You need to stand up when it feels uncomfortable, when you feel like you have everything to lose. Push against a culture of rape, misogyny, violence, racism, and harassment because it is the right thing to do. If you cannot imagine yourself in a scenario where you would potentially lose your social status and friends because you stood up for a survivor of rape or a victim of racism, you need to get there, especially against the backdrop of a common fraternity culture where brothers are taught to protect those amongst themselves more than anything else.
I am happy to speak with any of you about my experience and about how we can move forward.
[Here’s a list of sexual assault resources. In solidarity with all survivors now, then, and forever.]
S. L. is a Columbia University alum interested in issues of justice, gender, and race. They can be reached securely via Signal at +1 949 220 6510.