“Oh, mom, I’ll be fine.”
Those were the last words Andrea Cooper ever heard her daughter Kristin say.
More than a thousand people – sorority and fraternity members, students, parents and more – sat in the K-State Student Union Ballroom on Tuesday night and listened to Andrea Cooper, a member of Delta Delta Delta sorority and Florida State University alumna, tell the story of her only child’s acquaintance rape, depression and suicide.
Andrea was brought to K-State by Lisa Erbe, senior in theater and Tri-Delt risk manager, and Madeline Miller, junior in biology and risk manager of Alpha Chi Omega sorority. Miller received an e-mail from the Alpha Chi headquarters about Kristin. Miller and Erbe applied for a grant that funded all the costs for Andrea’s presentation, sponsored by Alpha Chi and Delta Delta Delta.
The two worked with Matthew Baker, senior in education and member of Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity, the Union Council Program and Student Government Association to make Andrea’s presentation possible and to sponsor the event. Miller and Erbe sent out invitations and Facebook.com events, made posters and created sidewalk chalk reminders.
“People forget to be safe because nothing has happened on campus recently, or they have not heard about it yet,” Erbe said. “For this, we wanted to get this story on campus because of the lack of awareness not only within the greek community, but throughout K-State.”
Erbe emphasized that rape will happen again and it is important to get help to deal with its aftermath, which can include depression.
Kristin, 20, attended Baker University and was an Alpha Chi. She shot herself on New Year’s Eve, 1995.
Her parents, Mike and Andrea, came home from a party around 2 a.m. to find Kristin lying in the family room, seemingly asleep with Alanis Morissette’s song “You Oughta Know” blasting. After she yelled at Kristin about the music and received no reply, Andrea thought her daughter was passed out. Kristin had told her parents she was going to a party with a guy friend, but knew she didn’t drink.
“Kids always tell their parents they don’t drink; maybe she had for the first time tonight,” said Andrea.
Upon going closer to check Kristin’s body, Andrea saw she was not breathing. Moving closer, she saw the gun in Kristin’s hand and immediately knew her daughter was dead.
“Mike. Mike!” she yelled. “Kristin is dead. She shot herself!”
Andrea believes the reason was that Kristin could handle one trauma, but not another one.
The first trauma was Kristin’s acquaintance rape.
Every other weekend, the lifeguards Kristin worked with had a party. On the first weekend in August, there was a party that ended around midnight. The host, a close lifeguard friend of Kristin’s, asked her to stay longer and watch a movie. During that time, he raped her.
The Coopers found this out after Kristin’s death from a journal entry of a poem titled, “What it Feels like to be Raped.” Previously, Andrea had believed the reason was Kristin’s breakup with her boyfriend, the love of her life.
That was the second trauma.
Right from the start, Kristin and her boyfriend decided to date exclusively and were very close. After she was raped, she told her boyfriend. He dumped her.
“I felt so guilty,” Andrea said.
Kristin had been e-mailing her mom every day for two weeks after the breakup. Andrea told her to stop and start calling every other day. Kristin called every other day for a month. Andrea told her daughter it was time to get over him. Other guys had been asking Kristin out, but she could not let the issue go.
In October, Kristin came home for a weekend. She cried time in her room the entire time. Over Thanksgiving break, she was still a wreck. But in December, Kristin came home happy.
Andrea said she should have seen that as a sign of her decision to end her life which gave her peace. She displayed a slide show of depression signs and suicidal signs and said suicidal people see the end as a relief, although it is a permanent solution to a temporary problem.
Other Alpha Chis noticed the signs of depression in Kristin and tried to help. Kristin feared her mom would be hysterical and her dad would kill the guy.
Michelle, sorority sister and friend, told Andrea, playing detective about the night of Kristin’s rape, and the two deciphered who the man was. Andrea wrote him a letter stating how she knew Kristin and him were friends and that she recently killed herself because a friend who she trusted raped her. She never heard back from the young man and assumed he was guilty. Men in the audience said that if they were in that situation, they would have confronted her or written back proclaiming innocence or offering aid in seeking the true rapist. The police could not charge Kristin’s rapist because in the state of Colorado, the victim must be put on the stand, and Kristin was dead.
Andrea still believes that if her daughter’s boyfriend knew how to handle a situation like rape, Kristin would still be alive. She told the men in the audience a list of things to do if their girlfriend or sister came to them after being sexually assaulted. The list also applies to women. It includes asking friends and family to listen, not giving advice, encouraging the victim to go to the hospital to have a sexual assault examination, accepting their decision to press chargers or not and putting your feelings aside. For example, do not say you will kill the person who committed the crime.
“Rape is a crime of the heart for the victim and a crime of convenience for the perpetrator,” Andrea said. “They forget about the event, but the victim holds on and will never recover without help.”
She said for the past eleven years, she has been traveling six months out of the year to 30 schools a year for the audiences. Andrea said she loves her job and is sad during the summer. She has given 360 presentations and spoke at 27 conferences.
“If I only help five people tonight, that is fine,” she said. “Then maybe Kristin did not die in vain.”
Andrea’s faith and her husband were the only ways she made it though the situation. She does not know how anyone can get by without a strong faith and is very thankful her marriage was strong to begin with and that she and Mike had many counseling sessions.
“I was really neat to hear from Andrea Cooper about how the rape, depression and suicide of her daughter affected her personally, but it’s neat to see how something so devastating and horrible can be turned around to help so many people today,” said Mary Shadwick, freshman in kinesiology and member of Pi Beta Phi sorority.
At the end of the presentation, Kelly Machan and Sarah Martin, interns at University Counseling Services, were available to speak with in rooms 204 and 205. The number 1-800-656-HOPE can be called to reach the nearest Crisis Center. A rape Web site to aid victims is 911rape.org. Andrea suggested reading “Recovering From Rape” by clinical psychologist and registered nurse Linda E. Ledray as well.
Andrea Cooper is available for anyone who wants to talk. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit kristinsstory.com.