Yesterday evening in the Shea Room of Conte Forum, the Boston College Sexual Assault Network (SANet) kicked off the organization’s year of programming with a talk by Katie Hnida, a survivor of rape and the first woman to play and score points in a NCAA Division I football game.
SANet is run by the Women’s Center under the leadership of Director Katie Dalton and Assistant Director for Sexual Violence Prevention and Response Rachel DiBella—the mission of the group being to provide support to survivors of sexual violence through trained advocates and on- and off-campus resources.
Dalton and DiBella introduced Hnida, who spoke to a full room of students, student-athletes, and faculty members. Hnida discussed her experiences growing up in Colorado, playing high school and college football, and subsequently getting raped by one of her teammates—the catalyst for her seeking to change culture of silence around sexual assault.
Hnida said she had dreamed of playing football since she was 14 years old, and began playing in high school as a backup kicker—the only freshman to make it to the varsity football team.
“Due to my size and gender, I never thought I would actually get on the football field,” she said.
Hnida recounted that her father first noticed her talent for kicking a football when she was only in junior high school. At the time she became eligible to play at the high school level, Hnida noted that she was excited to participate in a sport formerly closed off to most female athletes. Excelling on the field,
Hnida said she had always wanted to attend the University of Colorado Boulder, but while playing college football there, encountered a much different collegiate experience than she had imagined, noting that her teammates abused her both verbally and sexually.
“Unfortunately, the truth was … that I walked into a nightmare,” she said.
Hnida eventually transferred to the University of New Mexico after one of her teammates at the University of Colorado Boulder sexually assaulted her.
“I don’t even know how to describe it still to this day,” she said. “My life had been completely shattered. It was the most depressing, darkest period of my entire life. Suddenly, I was this shell of my former self.”
At the University of New Mexico, Hnida said she had the virtual opposite experience of what she had endured during her years at CU. Her teammates became her family, she said—accepting her and embracing the rare occasion of having a female on the team.
In February 2004, during her last year at the University of New Mexico, a story by sportswriter Rick Reilly came out in Sports Illustrated about her experience getting raped and assaulted by her former teammates at the University of Colorado Boulder.
The story received national attention, and the swelling media-perpetuated rumors aversely impacted Hnida during what she called a “hellish time.”
The hundreds of letters that she began receiving after the SI article was published were what inspired Hnida to break the culture of silence toward rape and publicly speak about her experience for the betterment and knowledge of other.
“When I was raped, I didn’t know anybody who had been raped,” she said. “I had no idea this was such a huge problem, so when I received and started opening those letters, I realized that this was a huge problem and that we needed to be out talking about it and that what I experienced was not a unique experience, that it was something that women and men were going through across the country.”
The event was co-sponsored by Athletics, Boston College Police Department, Bowman AHANA and Intercultural Center, Bystander Intervention Education Program, Graduate Student Association, Office of the Dean of Students, Office of Graduate Student Life, Office of Health Promotion, Office of the Vice President for Student Affairs, and UGBC.
Featured Image by Arthur Bailin / Heights Editor