By Annika McGinnis, The Diamondback (Jan. 29, 2013)
EDITOR’S NOTE: The last name of an individual in this story was withheld to protect her privacy.
One night when senior Bailey Lamson was 8, she ran into her mother’s and stepfather’s bedroom to escape a nightmare — unaware that she was jumping into another one, worse than anything imaginable.
That night, Lamson’s stepfather began sexually assaulting her, something he would continue for the next six years.
“I was like, ‘Oh, maybe he thinks I’m my mom,’” said the 20-year-old criminology and criminal justice and sociology major. “But it just didn’t stop.”
Lamson endured the abuse in silence until she was 14, finally going to the police in fear her stepfather would begin raping her soon-to-be 8-year-old half-sister. Six years later, Lamson tells her story as a part of the university’s Sexual Assault Response and Prevention Program, hoping to inspire other victims to seek help and raise awareness about sexual assault. Her openness and determination in overcoming her past, Lamson’s friends said, have become examples for others suffering similar hardships.
“She’s a really strong person,” said Claire Bernstein, a fellow SARPP peer educator. “She’s so passionate about other people that she can share something so personal with people she doesn’t know.”
Though Lamson remembers her purpose in telling her story — preventing future abuses and empowering those who are suffering — it’s still sometimes a hard one to tell.
In the beginning, she said, the abuse was occasional. But once she turned 12, it was every day.
“If I had a day off from school, it just meant hours instead of minutes,” she said. “I know sometimes [my mom] was in the room … but I don’t think she ever knew.”
Originally, Lamson didn’t think anything was wrong with her stepfather’s actions; he had been with her mom for as long as she could remember. He was her dad, Lamson said, and she did what she was told.
But when Lamson was 14, things began to change. One day, she invited her first boyfriend, Tom, over to play Dance Dance Revolution and her stepfather became infuriated — he ordered the boy home and Lamson to her room.
“[He was] saying, ‘You’re only mine; you can’t like him that way; you’re only allowed to be with me,’” Lamson said. “That’s when I realized, ‘I don’t want to be with you; I want to be with him.’”
With her stepfather, “it was never a ‘we want to do this for each other’ kind of situation … it was always some sort of reward,” Lamson said.
Around the same time, Lamson’s school book club picked up the novel Speak, which is about a teenage girl who is raped. The story strengthened Lamson, and she decided to divulge her situation for the first time — incidentally, to a friend who was also experiencing abuse.
“We were in book club and we looked at each other across the room and we just knew,” Lamson said. “After that, we talked every day. … We were both the first person that we told.”
Afterward, Lamson began talking to other friends and her school guidance counselor about her situation. Later that year, as her half-sister Jayne’s eighth birthday loomed closer — the age Lamson had been when the abuse began — she told her stepfather “no,” for both the first and last time.
“He was just like, ‘You don’t get to say no, Bailey,’ and I knew I couldn’t deal with it anymore,” Lamson said. “Then there was no more rationalization. I couldn’t say it was OK, or it would get better or it would stop, because I knew that it wouldn’t.”
The next day, Lamson went to the police. Her stepfather was arrested and sentenced to 10 years in prison, where he remains today. But the transition was hard on her family: her mother had to file for bankruptcy and her sister — who Lamson calls her “hero” — was suddenly without her biological father.
“She’s never asked questions since then, and she’s never wanted anything to do with him, which is amazing,” Lamson said. “I know everyone says it’s weird to look up to someone who’s younger than you, but I know she’s so strong and she’s going to do so many good things.”
Jayne, now 13, said she was grateful to Lamson for preventing something similar from happening to her.
“It makes me feel really special that she cares about me that much,” Jayne said.
Though a prison sentence kept both sisters safe, Lamson was not done battling her demons — for a long time, she struggled with depression and terrifying flashbacks. But over the years, Lamson said she’s slowly moved past the abuse. She’s grown into a driven, optimistic young woman with big dreams for the future.
The secret to overcoming her past, she said, was opening up about her story.
“Every time I tell someone, I get a little bit closer [to accepting it],” Lamson said. “I used to not be able to tell my story without crying or my voice shaking or tearing up, but now it’s just kind of like, ‘This is what it is; this is what happened.’”
After attending the University of Colorado for one semester, Lamson transferred to this university to pursue a degree in criminology and criminal justice. Last fall, she joined SARPP and began to tell her story in more formal settings, for instance, to student groups and at sexual abuse awareness events.
Only 5 percent of sexual assaults on college campuses are reported, according to the American Association of University Women, and of those, most are kept secret, so Lamson tells her story for those who can’t or won’t, she said. The most rewarding moments are when fellow victims reveal hearing Lamson’s story made them decide to tell someone about their own abuse.
“When I’ve given a presentation with her, even if she doesn’t share her full story but shares she’s a survivor of sexual abuse, I know people listen to her,” said Bernstein, a senior family science major said. “And [they] really begin to believe that it’s real. I think that’s the biggest impact she has when she shares her story — it makes it a really real issue.”
And even if a presentation doesn’t go well, Lamson’s “never willing to give up,” Bernstein added.
Lamson’s biological father, Harold Lamson, said he’s “as proud as [he] can be” of his daughter. He was first wary about the idea of Lamson sharing her experiences, but he has opened up to it based on what he’s seen his daughter do.
Lamson and other SARPP members want to change society’s “rape culture,” where objectifying and sexualizing women is accepted and even encouraged, Lamson said.
“We’re so in the college lifestyle thinking we have to go out on a Friday and a Saturday night and a man has to bring home a woman to be a real man,” she said. “People might think they didn’t even rape someone. Or you can see someone walking upstairs in a party, like not realizing that person is blacked out. They’re not going to remember it; they’re not going to give consent.”
In the future, Lamson hopes to work in a nonprofit or women’s shelter, telling her story and working directly with victims of similar crimes. But she’s not wasting any time before graduation — Lamson is writing a book about her experiences and worked four jobs and an internship last semester.
“If she knows there’s something that she wants, she’s going to do what she can to get it,” said Lamson’s friend Taylor Douglas, a biology and Spanish major.
Although her life has been changed permanently, Lamson accepts her past has made her who she is today. After she graduates in May, she hopes she can help other victims find that same peace.
“I don’t wish that it never happened, because I do think it has positively changed me,” Lamson said. “One thing my mom used to say was ‘God let this happen to you because he knew you were strong enough to handle it.’ And I don’t believe in God, but I do like to believe this happened to me because I am strong enough to handle it. … So I wouldn’t change it.
“I know that all of the pain was totally worth it, in how much I’ve been able to impact other people.”