For my high school education, I attended Franklin High School in Somerset, New Jersey. My sophomore year, I was assaulted during the school day. Although I am now a freshman in college, the experience of being assaulted in school is something that still affects me to this day. In therapy, I have been discussing the PTSD surrounding my childhood trauma and how it affects my anxiety levels and behaviors. Recently, I brought up the experience of being assaulted and how I think it also might be affecting me still. I discussed the experience and learned more than I thought I would have about how prevalent this struggle still is in my life. It has been on my mind lately, and I have decided that I need to share my experience…
In this moment I have sharp shooting pain on the sides and top of my head. I am reliving what happened to me my sophomore year of high school. I am reliving the pain I felt each time the girl slammed my head into the ground over and over again. My face tingles and the pain on the side of my head increases. I try and close my eyes to make the memories flashing through my head go away, but when I close my eyes, it just makes the flashbacks brighter.
I feel like my skull is being bashed into the ground all over again.
This girl had no idea who I was, she didn’t even know my name. It is so hard to write this. My body is in physical pain and my anxiety increases by the second, but I need to write this. I have felt that this attack was my fault. I have felt that it was a fight and not an assault. I have felt wrong and crazy and weak; I am not any of those things. I was gaslighted by my school because they knew they fucked up and didn’t want to get sued. People need to know this happened. People need to know that many institutions will go as far as they need to in order to cover up things that make them look bad. People need to understand that what happened to me is a lot more serious than “a scuffle.” I need people to understand how fucking hard it was for me to get through that year, and how hard certain situations still are for me as a result of this. I want people to understand how strong I am instead of shaming me for not doing x or for doing y. I can’t pretend this is a small moment in my life that doesn’t still affect me, because it does even if I don’t want it to.
After what felt like an eternity, my friend was finally able to pull my arm hard enough to bring me up off of the ground and away from the vicious blows of this girl. I walked away for the second time, but this time faster than before so the girl wouldn’t grab my hair from behind again. I remember every second of walking down that hallway. I remember a random girl coming up to me and touching me, and I remember telling her through my hysterical tears to “get the fuck away from me.” She responded that she just wanted to help and she thought what happened was wrong. She wanted to walk with my two friends and I to the guidance office. I remember feeling like my head was going to explode from pain. When I went to try and flatten the rats-nest of hair I was left with after the attack, I remember having large amounts of hair falling into my hand. That made me shake and scream-cry even more. But above all of this, what I remember most vividly is walking past two security guards in the hallway, making eye contact with them, and being embarrassed, but even more furious they didn’t ask me if I was okay or if I needed anything. I was enraged they let that girl hurt me and let the crowd of people egg it on while taking video of the entire thing. After telling the administration that two security guards witnessed what happened, I was given a yearbook and pointed the two men out. The school later tried to convince me that I was crazy. “There is no possible way that those security guards saw what happened.” I was told one of them was outside attending to a matter, and that the other one was “too far away from the scene to see what had happened.” Both statements are the largest fucking heaps of bullshit I have ever heard. Where those TWO security guards were standing, they were able to see everything. Every fucking thing. That man was not outside. I did not make this up. They made me feel silly and terrible. I felt so bad that my dad stuck up for me in meetings in front of the board of education when I was wrong. I felt terrible that I could’ve jeopardized these two men’s careers when they were innocent. For the rest of my high school career, those two security guards never treated me the same. All of the shit the school fed me was just lies to cover their asses. I should’ve been sent to the hospital right away, and that girl should’ve been taken out of the high school in hand cuffs. Neither of those things happened. The nurse looked at my puffy face, plainly remarked that I had a black eye and that my lip was bruised, but that it was “nothing serious.” I had a fucking concussion. I sat through the rest of the school day feeling so sick. The piercing head pain, extreme nausea, the hair falling out from my head as if I was balding. I had to walk around the hallways and be stared at by people. I had to fucking participate in gym class. Everyone knew what happened. I now was recognized as “that white bitch who got her ass beat.” Minutes after the attack, my phone blew up with messages from the field hockey group chat. Girls were asking about what happened and some girls had the audacity to joke about how “Ella got into a fight.” As I sat in the nurse’s office next to my guidance counselor, I had a panic attack that everyone knew what happened. I was terrified I was going to get in trouble for getting into a fight. I knew nothing was going to be the same from this moment on. I couldn’t pretend like this didn’t happened because the video was everywhere. Ironically, that video is the only reason why anyone took me seriously. It is the only reason people believed me when I said I was in so much pain.
I heard how countless people from my elementary school had their own opinion about what happened. Lots of them made the remark, “Well that’s what she gets for going to Franklin.” For context, I went to Catholic school from preschool to eighth grade. Franklin was a public high school, and I was one of the few individuals from my graduating class that went on to public high school instead of continuing on to Catholic high school. These people who I had known since preschool and kindergarten laughed at the video and they made fun of me.
My dad was away on business, my sister was at work, and I was too terrified to not only go home on the bus, but also be screamed at by my mother for getting into a fight. So instead of going home after school, I took a one hour bus ride with my field hockey team to our away game. I wasn’t even able to play in that game. My coach told me I had to see the physical trainer before she let me play and the trainer diagnosed me with a concussion. I was so distraught that I couldn’t play in the game. I was a sophomore starting varsity games and I was so upset that I couldn’t do the one thing that I felt gave me purpose. Eventually, my mom found out about everything that happened. Initially, I only called and told my dad what happened, because I didn’t want my mom to yell at me, and I can’t remember why I didn’t tell my sister. My dad didn’t understand the severity of the situation, no one did, and he encouraged me to stay in school because he didn’t want the other girl to feel like she had won (and partially I believe his initial reaction was that it was a fight not an assault…until this video came out, no one believed how serious the situation was). But, my mom of course found out, as my dad had to tell her he was coming home early from his business trip. By the time she found out, I was at the away game. My mom was screaming at me through the phone that she was livid I went to the game, that I should be at the hospital. She screamed at me she was “so sick” and couldn’t handle this. She screamed at me for not telling her. She interrogated me making sure I didn’t start the fight, because if I did she would be extremely pissed. I lied on the grass behind the bench with sunglasses on to make the pain from the light slightly more bearable and my hair in a bun to hide how much of it was falling out. The coaches wouldn’t let me sleep but I just wanted to get away from all of the pain.
My head is spinning, my stomach is churning, I feel like I want to throw up, I’m sweating profusely, and I have this awful taste in my mouth. I need to fight through this and keep writing.
When I got home around 9:30 that night, my sister drove my mother and I to the hospital, as my dad rushed home from his business trip to meet us there. The hospital waiting room staff just stared at me as I tried to hide the tears running down my bruised face. This girl from the field hockey team who was my best friend at the time and I guess kind of more than that had her mother drive her to the hospital. She gave me her varsity jacket and her childhood blanket. She rubbed my hand and face. Her homophobic mother demanded that the two of them needed to leave even after the girl insisted on staying, even after my dad offered to drive the girl home. They left, and I was left with my mother screaming about how we needed to call the cops. I asked her to quiet down because she was being loud and my head hurt, but she told me that this was serious and I needed to shut up. That night was hell. I waited hours to get an x-ray on my jaw to make sure it wasn’t broken. The only good thing that came from the night was the doctor telling me I couldn’t go back to school until I saw the concussion specialist. I was super relieved because the concussion specialist didn’t have an available appointment for about a week; I wouldn’t have to go back to school and feel terrified…in the one place that should protect me…
My therapist wants me to think about why I feel it’s important for me to get through all of the video of the attack. I can never get past thirty seconds. I think last night was the longest I ever watched without grimacing and turning the video off.
I couldn’t go to Madrigal’s rehearsals and I missed a lot of performances, but I made it to our White House performance. On December 23, 2015, I sang at the fucking White House with a concussion. I was in so much pain all day, but I did it. Despite the intense anxiety I faced the rest of that year, I had the balls to audition for my first spring musical and I got in. I wasn’t able to play in any other field hockey games for the rest of the season, but despite my setbacks, I was captain my senior year. That girl changed my life forever that day, but I have been able to persevere. That doesn’t negate the terrible things she did or the absolutely disgusting way the school handled the situation. That doesn’t mean I was without pain and just moved on. I fought back in my own way. I didn’t have to hide behind punches and ferocity to prove who I was as a human being. I stood by my morals. I only threw punches to get her off of me, and when she backed off, I tried to walk away from her; I didn’t want to hurt her. Turning my back was the biggest mistake I made, but I’ve learned from it. It was a pure and good-natured mistake.
This was the topic of family functions for the next year and a half. Everyone had their opinions of what happened and even when I voiced I no longer wanted to discuss the occurrence, they would continue on with their “insight” and “knowledge.” Once again, how I felt didn’t matter. It got to be too much, and I went into the room where everyone kept their coats and had an anxiety attack. When I shared why I was upset with my cousins and sister, I was made to feel as if I was over-reacting. I told my sister that I wanted to leave and go home, and she told me that if I told Dad it would be selfish because he was enjoying himself and finally had time away from the shit show of life with my mom.
Soon after, me not feeling well got old. I still had debilitating migraines in January, but since this assault happened in October, it was old news. The school nurses, my teachers, even my field hockey coach started to understand less and less. They thought I was dragging this out. Even my therapist at the time made me feel as if it was something I needed to quickly get over, but wounds from experiencing something like that don’t heal overnight. Everyone tried to put bandaids on bullet wounds, and reassure me that I was okay and needed to return to my normal life.
I couldn’t walk down the hallway I was assaulted in for months. I would take the long way to class. I got a special pass so I could leave class early/arrive to class late so I wouldn’t have to be in the crowded hallways. My junior year, I didn’t attend the steered straight assembly, as the assault took place right after this assembly my sophomore year, and honestly after the assault, I was fearful of all assemblies. My choir director just looked at me and nodded when he noticed I was the only junior who didn’t leave for the assembly. Senior year when we had an assembly to honor the those affected and the lives lost by the Stoneman Douglas High School shooting, I had an anxiety attack having to be in the hallway with so many people. I still get overwhelmed and fearful in large crowds. I still hate confrontation like I always have, but now when someone raises their voice at me and gives me attitude, my body and mind shut down. This past summer I was a camp counselor. An adult raised their voice at me for having my kids in her bowling lane (which she was wrong about). Even though I remained calm and cordial, she started talking shit with her coworker. As the situation escalated, it brought me back to sophomore year. I felt weak and I felt scared. I asked someone to watch the kindergartners for me, and I went in the bathroom and had an anxiety attack. Feeling like that woman wanted to hurt me terrified me. I have a perpetuating fear of walking by myself especially at night because I am afraid of being physically or sexually assaulted. This experience has convinced me I am weak and unable to defend myself. Even though I have taken multiple kickboxing classes, I don’t trust my capabilities. I had taken kickboxing classes prior to the assault, and was unable to defend myself; this is when I have to remind myself it was an assault. I did not have time to prepare. I was caught off guard.
My new therapist is phenomenal and she is helping me work through many adversities I have faced throughout childhood. I know she will be able to help me with the PTSD surrounding this situation. But, I still wonder if I will ever feel okay and safe in crowds or if I will ever feel confident in my ability to defend myself. This girl got off with community service that she may not have even ended up doing. By her nature, she’s probably hurt and beaten other people. I feel bad for her. I feel bad that she is hurting so much that she has to harm others in order to feel important. I am resentful that my school did not support me and tried to make me feel wrong and crazy. I am resentful for the medical bills my dad had to pay as a result of this. I am resentful for the mental scar she has left on me, but by my nature, I will continue to heal and grow. I will continue to push myself and do everything I can to make sure I am a better person today than I was yesterday. You can beat me and you can leave bruises, but you can’t take away my perseverance.
I am not sharing this out of spite for my school. I have much love for my hometown as well as Franklin High School. There are many faculty members from FHS who remain important figures in my life, and I consider many of these faculty members dear friends. I have been blessed with many amazing opportunities that I may not have received elsewhere. I am thankful and grateful. But, the way this situation was handled was truly appalling. My love for everyone doesn’t negate the disgraceful way I was treated. Instead of punishing the girl who assaulted me, the school punished me. I continuously fought and went to meetings to get this assault categorized as “HIB” (Harassment, Intimidation, and Bullying), but I was told it was no such thing. I came in with evidence proving that the criteria of what makes something HIB lined up perfectly with the way in which this girl assaulted me. She attacked me on the basis of my race. She threw out many derogatory terms involving my ethnicity multiple times. The administrator I spoke with compared this girl of African American descent calling me “a white bitch,” along with other demeaning names, to two African Americans using the N word. Not only is that disgusting, it is irrelevant. I do not agree with anyone using the N word as it is extremely harmful and dehumanizing, and I told him that. But I also told him that if two African Americans are using that word consensually and are not offended by that word, then it does not classify as HIB. This girl using my race as a means of belittling me and targeting me, is in fact HIB. In the video, it is clear to all viewers that this assault was premeditated. The comment, “We’re about to watch her pop on this white bitch” being yelled clearly indicates this girl was planning to harm me regardless of what I said to her. It shows they all knew something I didn’t; they all knew this girl was about to destroy me at whatever cost. They also started recording before I even spoke to this girl; you don’t randomly record a conversation, unless you know something further is going to result from it. She singled me out because of my race. I don’t care what anyone says. I felt it, and there is ample proof. Countless lawyers would not take this case, because it is too hard to go against a school, as a public school has immunity. I don’t know the specific details, but on a basic level, it meant that even though the school was wrong, they were protected. That is not okay. Institutions should be held accountable for their shortcomings. School is supposed to be a safe place to learn. I should not have had to worry about being assaulted in an environment of learning; especially in an environment that had security guards. The school also denied having any substantial footage of this assault, which brings me to their next failure. Either they didn’t have ample security cameras that were working well enough to capture this, which is then a major fuck-up on their part, or they had the footage but they refused to show it to my parents and I, as it would prove their faults. Regardless, whenever my father and I insisted on being shown the security footage of what happened, they refused to show us. They used the excuse of the cameras being fuzzy and unable capture everything/anything that happened due to the angle in which the cameras were positioned. They also refused to show us the footage of the location I claimed the security guards to be standing, even though I’m sure there was footage showing the two of them standing there. The way in which my high school handled this situation needs to exposed. That day when the school failed to protect me and I was assaulted has affected me immensely, and continues to affect me even as I’m in college. Trauma like that doesn’t just go away, and it is not fair that for the school, they were able to pretend like it was “just another day at Franklin.”
This has been extremely hard to write. Even with how long this is, there are some parts I failed to touch upon. Not everything is worded perfectly. But what’s important is my story is out there. It is cathartic to let go of feelings and memories I have tried so hard to stifle and forget. Maybe my story will help someone else. If nothing else, it has raised awareness.