*This article was written by our previous editor-in-chief, Hannah Strader.
I’ve been telling the story of my assault since it occurred in March of 2017. It took much longer than that for me to believe the word that I was saying – “assault” – despite having read the definition multiple times and the knowledge that what happened to me qualified. I mean, if I wasn’t raped or groped, did it count? Was I entitled to that pain? I didn’t yet know.
The story has been told in a lot of different ways with a lot of different details. Some of worse things he said to me didn’t come into my consciousness until a few weeks later. I felt they couldn’t have happened because I couldn’t fathom anyone saying anything like that aloud to another person. There’s so much to keep track of and I was intoxicated. I had to wait for the details to fill themselves in.
In the past, I’ve tried writing about my experience. It was poorly worded and lacked the power I knew I could put into my words. I suppose I wanted to act in some way, to try writing a call to action, but I only hollowly expressed what actually occurred and the emotion wasn’t there yet. Since my dad passed away in 2014, I’ve been very good at suppressing what I consider “bad” emotions. I’m working on being better about that now. I think this will help me open that door, or at least I hope.
So what happened was this.
I met a man in class on the Lawrence campus of the University of Kansas. He was invited to provide us with a mock press conference experience. We had fifteen minutes to scour the internet for notes about who he was, then put together questions.
Jai Nitz. He wrote comics for DC and Marvel. He created the Latino superhero El Diablo, which had gained fame just a year before in the film Suicide Squad. As a creative, I was intrigued. After class, I followed him on Twitter. A few hours later, he followed me back. Two or so weeks after that, I agreed to meet up for drinks. What we spoke about online pertained to politics and entertainment, so I felt I was leaning into a mentorship.
I was wrong.
The evening began innocuously enough. He told me I looked nice and ordered a drink as I moved onto my second. He bought the third and began to tell me stories about Margot Robbie and Will Smith on the set of Suicide Squad.
He was trying to impress me, and it worked for a while as I ate up stories about escapades with Tom Felton when they met one year at Kansas City’s Planet Comicon. He told me about how he bonded with Jai Courtney over their shared first name.
Then he began asking about me. I told him about the project I had been focusing on, a Tinder diary of sorts that chronicled my dating life. It hadn’t occurred to me that he had already read it from the link on my Twitter page.
I told him that I recently wrote about my first kiss. He prodded me until I admitted that I was a virgin. He looked surprised.
On a nearby TV, highlights of KU basketball were being featured.
“I graduated in ‘98, during the winning streak. It was nuts,” he commented. “You would have been pretty young.”
Three years old, to be exact. He didn’t seem to be perturbed by this idea. Casually, he told me a story about a girl he used to sleep with.
“She wasn’t my student,” I remember him detailing. There was a lot of implication there.
Around this time, the restaurant we were drinking at was closing. It was getting late, but he asked me to join him at a bar nearby. Our conversation had taken a wrong turn and I felt it was maybe time to leave, but I was already fairly intoxicated and I felt I “owed him one” after he paid our tab at the restaurant.
We ordered more drinks and sat down at a booth. This is where my memory gets foggy, but certain moments slice through with perfect clarity. I remember that my favorite Beatles song was playing. I remember his foot on my calf.
“How often do you masturbate?” he blazenly asked.
I think I fumbled for an answer. I maybe asked what he was talking about.
“Every day? Multiple times a week?”
I told him. I can’t remember if it was then or later that he told me he’d think of me when he masturbated. I just remember the line, not the chronology. I remember feeling frozen in my seat, glued to the table even when he left to go to the bathroom.
When he came back he said that he half expected me to be gone when he came back. “What a power move,” he told me, like it was sexy and intriguing. The truth was that I was at such a loss on how to react, the thought of leaving hadn’t yet occurred to me. I was raised to be polite.
I remember suddenly feeling inflamed. “Why are you into younger women?” I asked. His answer was something bullshitty about youth and beauty, but it began a conversation wherein I began to get defensive and argumentative. Instead of humbling him, it was something he leaned into. I could see in his face he liked that I was calling him out.
“You had to have known what this was,”
“No, I genuinely didn’t,” I answered.
“Will I help you as a writer? Yeah,” he said. “Do I want to sleep with you? Also yeah.”
He asked multiple times if I was going to kiss him at the end of the night. I told him no, that it was beyond my comfort level. He asked if I’d go out with him again, and I turned him down. This didn’t stop him from asking. It happened at least two more times.
I felt relieved as we left the bar. I was parked nearby and he walked me there, pulling me into a hug.
“You can kiss me if you want to,” he whispered in my ear.
With his arms literally locked around me, I obliged and pecked him a few times on his neck.
“Not like that.” He sounded frustrated.
“Okay, I have to go,” I said, pulling away.
He asked if I was sure. He was going to the strip club, I could come with him. I reiterated my answer and opened my car door. I felt relief wash over me as I sat down in the driver’s seat. His hand was on the top of the door and he called my name. Reflexively, I turned my head and he forced his mouth on mine.
My second kiss.
I was too drunk to be driving. This was apparent immediately, but I had to get out of there. My apartment was just two miles away, but I only made it a few blocks before pulling into the driveway of my best friend’s house. It was 1:30 AM on a Wednesday night, but there was a light on.
When I knocked, another friend of mine answered the door. He barely had time to ask why I was there before I barrelled forward into his midsection and dissolved into tears. He hugged me back and called for back-up.
I sat down in the living room and I tried to express what had happened. I felt stupid, I told them. I should have left. I knew I should have left. I didn’t leave. It was me, it was my fault. I wasn’t the kind of girl who let this happen. I’m the kind of girl who picks other girls off the street and gives them safe rides home. I’m the one who writes about feminism and reposts links to other girl’s stories.
I look back at that moment now and I feel anger. He made me question my strength. I had to re-examine myself in a way I never had before.
What happened to me was predatory behavior. Bottom line.
I suspect I was targeted for my overt honesty in my dating blog. I’ve since deleted it. I didn’t write anything after that, just let the page fade.
I reported the incident in a teary-eyed moment of extreme vulnerability to the co-professor of the class I had met Jai in. He listened to me and informed me he would have to report it to the school. I told him I didn’t know what to do beyond that, and he said I’d hear back in a few days.
I received an e-mail from the KU Title IX office. I made an appointment and went in. I told the director what had happened and he told me in return that the school of journalism wouldn’t be inviting Jai back. I’m not sure if he’s flagged anywhere else in the University database.
The day after the event, Jai texted me.
“Hey, let’s talk about last night…”
I blocked the number. Nothing he could say to me was worth my reading.
My best friend had driven me to Overland Park, back to my mom’s house where I had laid in bed with her so I could feel safe enough to fall asleep. We didn’t get in until 3 AM. I blocked him on Twitter and haven’t had contact with him since.
I don’t owe him anything.
I don’t owe him space to give me an apology.
What I do owe is to the other women who have told their peers about the same thing happening to them, but who won’t come forward. What I do owe is to myself to speak my truth, and what I owe is to any young woman who he still has the capability to incapacitate in this way.
I won’t have it.
I’ve kept his name private because I didn’t want to give him an excuse to contact me again, but this weekend is Planet Comicon in Kansas City. It’s a place I enjoyed visiting in 2016 and it’s a place I can’t go to again. Jai Nitz is a creative guest yearly.
If this happened to me by searching for a creative writing mentor, I can’t imagine the kind of influence he would have over young women who are genuinely interested in comics or come to see him at these events. It’s a power structure inequality that he has used to his advantage and I’ve been told that I’m not the only one to experience this behavior from him.
I’ll be the one to talk about it.