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Returning for a Dream, Despite a Haunting Past

Lauren Brown* is a 20-year-old hair stylist who was panning to start a career in Boston, before her plans
were interrupted when she was raped. Her relentless determination allowed her to reach her goals no matter stood in her way. Here is her story, as told by Abigael Thienel, a junior at UConn, from Woodstock, Conn., majoring in Journalism and English.

*Names have been changed to protect the identity of individuals involved.

Digging into a box of Triscuts, twenty-year-old Lauren Brown* is sitting cross-legged on her bed, in a comfy yellow zip up sweatshirt and black stretch pants.

Her hair, however, looks like she has just come from the salon.

Long, blond, slightly curled at the ends and not a frizz in sight, it is shiny and smooth.

Brown received her license as a certified hair stylist in August of 2010 after 1500 hours of training in Washington D.C., where she also began her career. She completed her training at Aveda Institute in D.C. after suddenly leaving behind her unfinished schooling at Blaine School of Cosmetology in Boston.

But now it is time to return to Boston. 

Two and a half years ago Brown was raped in a friend’s dorm room at Boston College. She immediately left for Washington to escape the tragedy. After the rape Brown wanted to get away as far as she could and yet still retain her goal as a hair stylist.  

But in the past two and half years Brown’s life has taken many unexpected turns, all of which have made her stronger and more determined to make her dream a reality.  

Now Brown is ready to start over in the city she once dreamed of making her home.

It was Boston where she pictured herself working when she enrolled into Blaine after graduating from high school in 2008. It was Boston where she could be close enough to her hometown, Woodstock, Conn., and still remain independent. It was Boston where all these plans were shattered in just a few hours.

 And it is Boston where her story begins.

“Chicken fingers,” Brown put her hands up as if pushing the memory away. “I remember the taste. Disgusting.”

December 6, 2008, was a typical Friday night for Brown: drinking and a party while visiting a friend, Lily*, who went to Boston College. Brown had drank a lot before walking to a party across campus with Lily’s roommate, Sarah*. Both girls were in their pajamas never bothering or intending to change. At one thirty in the morning, they decided to walk back to Sarah’s dorm, 15 minutes away from the party. 

Implying they felt safe walking around a prestigious college campus Brown said, “We made it all the way back to the building. We were good. It was campus, you know?” 

For Brown walking around Boston was second nature. She had gotten herself home safely traveling the thirteen blocks and train ride to her apartment every night after school for the past three months. 

Upon reaching Fenwick dorm, Sarah realized she forgot her student ID and couldn’t swipe them into the building. Two male students were outside the dorm, eating chicken fingers. They had an ID card to get into the dorm. After letting the girls in, they then followed them into the dorm and down the first floor hall to Sarah’s room. 

“‘Those two guys are still in the hallway,’” Brown remembers Sarah saying while she stood in the doorway of her room. Two shadows appeared behind Sarah in the light of the empty hall.

Brown said she didn’t care why the men were there but that she just wanted to sleep. She lay down on Lily’s bed, the top bunk and figured Sarah was on the bottom bunk, until she felt someone climb into bed with her. 

“I thought that it was Sarah, because I wasn’t really thinking,” Brown said. “But I could just smell the chicken on his breath. Disgusting chicken. Like a little kid.”

“I remember him asking me questions,” Brown said. “‘Do you want to go under the covers?’ ‘Are you comfortable?’ Thinking who are you? The whole time he was asking me questions like it was my choice. Like I had a choice. Whether I said no or yes, the point wasn’t whether I was actually answering for myself, it was that he thought he was giving me a choice.”

Then he raped Brown in the top bunk bed while below them, the other man was raping Sarah. Brown, who is five foot three inches tall and 115 pounds, recalls putting her hands and elbows up and trying to push on his chest to keep him off. She did not succeed. She called Sarah’s name and heard no reply. 

“Why would he ask me then not listen to me? Ask me then not do what I said?” Brown said. 

After the men left Brown climbed down to the bottom bunk and got in bed with Sarah. 

“We need to get out of this room,’” Sarah said.

The rest of the night passed in a blur: from rushing to Sarah’s friend’s room located in the same dorm, passing out and then waking up the next morning back in Lily’s bed.

  The women reported the two men to Boston College Police Department the following morning. Brown shook her head remembering how Laurene Spiess*, a patrol officer who works as a part of the sexual assault unit at BC, told her that day the two men denied everything after being identified. 

The women were offered the option by BC Police to write a letter to the dean of the university about the rapes, officially presenting their case. That same day the two men were identified by the BC police and when questioned they denied the rape, believing it to have been a consensual act. 

Once presenting their case the next morning, Brown and Sarah were stripped, examined, probed and questioned by the police before being allowed to take showers.

“I just remember seeing myself in the shower. I had marks. Hickey marks, bruises, and the inside of my thighs were black and blue. Black and blue. Just marks on my arms, finger marks. All over my neck.” 

Police identified the men but Brown chose not to learn their names. She only knew they were the same age as she and Sarah. Neither of the girls filed a police report, a decision Brown later regretted. 

“It doesn’t ever happen the way it does in movies. I wasn’t wearing heels and a slutty dress. It happened to me in my pajamas.” 

The BC campus, a Catholic Jesuit traditional university, has several cathedrals with stained glass windows. Buildings that look like churches serve as lecture halls and classrooms. 

Because of its religious affiliation, Brown was unable to get any form of birth control, but instead had to walk with Sarah the next morning after talking to police, to the nearest CVS for an alternative contraceptive paid for with her own money. 

Where Brown’s reaction to the aftermath of the rape was summed up with the simple phrase, “I just wanted to forget about it,” her older sister, Emily Smith’s* anger still seethes out two and a half years later. 

After finding the men on Facebook, Smith fantasized getting on a train to Boston and shooting the two men. She envisioned herself plastering their faces to billboards or tattooing ‘rapist’ on their foreheads.  

Smith begged Brown and Sarah to press charges, but to her dismay the women offered the excuse ‘they were drunk’ ‘we were drunk’ and left it at that. 

 “Why,” Smith said,  “in these girls’ minds this was a reason not to press charges I can’t understand. They got anti-disease shots, and letters, and excuses. And bruises. Could no one see the bruises?” 

At the end of December 2008, Brown moved home to Woodstock to live with her parents, officially leaving Blaine and Boston behind. Unable to get relief by talking to counselors, doctors and psychiatrists, Brown suffered the lonely aftermath of her rape.  

“I felt fake. It wasn’t healing me,” Brown said about the psychologists she talked to. “I couldn’t really say what I was feeling.” 

Thoughts still haunted her for months after the rape.  Often when driving she would forget how she got where she ended up. She forgot she had eaten. Her mind, completely occupied with the rape, led to a crash in the summer of 2009 while she was driving her parents BMW. 

The summer after the rape, in 2009, Brown was at work when a co-worker put their hand on her head in friendly way. “I froze,” Brown said. “ ‘Please do not touch me.’ I said before walking away.” Only men sent her adrenaline rushing. “I was very aware of where men were in the room afterwards. I was trying to make sure spatially I knew where everyone was,” she said. 

In August of 2009, Smith suggested that Brown live with her in Washington D.C. 

  “Our parents were beginning to resent her for getting stuck with paying for the apartment she wasn’t living in in Boston and school costs,” Smith said about Brown’s move home to Woodstock after the rape. Smith said how Brown’s messy habits while living at her parent’s house were driving them crazy. 

According to Smith, it was a way to get her parents to agree to pay for cosmetology school again. “I wanted her to finish the hair styling program because she does enjoy it and she is good at it. I didn’t want her to languish at home. All that was doing was making everybody miserable.”

Although their relationship had frayed from sharing a 300-square foot apartment and clashing habits, Smith wanted her sister to stay in D.C. “I told myself I could tolerate Lauren’s messy habits, but I didn’t hold up as well as I thought I could,” Smith said.

Brown was in cosmetology school at Aveda Institute for eight months, working at a pizza restaurant and in a relationship that lasted a few months, when her and Smith’s relationship hit a breaking point. This lead Brown to move into her own apartment in D.C. in April 2010.

The tragedy and aftermath of being raped at age 18 has left a mark on Brown that will never go away. But she is healing.

“It’s a scar. You don’t remember how much it hurt, you just remember it happened,” she said. 

Looking back on her rape, Brown said sometimes she regrets not filing a police report because the two men were never brought to justice and there is a lack of closure for her.

 “I am impressed at the way she’s pressed on with her life,” Smith said. “I hope she’s told the story to enough people who’ve shown her they love her.” 

Two and half years later, Brown’s words still come out slowly as she retells her story. “I know now you can’t rely on someone else to save you in a situation like that,” she said.  

In January 2011 Brown moved back to New England and will soon continue her career at an Aveda salon in Boston. She sits up a little straighter, her hands move quickly and her eyes brighten as she describes the importance of hairdressing and her devoted passion for it.

“I learned everything that you need to learn to do hair in a salon including color, updo’s, advanced cutting techniques. I also learned about skin care and make up,” said Brown.

Today Brown anxiously anticipates the next step of her hair styling career in Boston. “I haven’t stopped since I moved to D.C. in 2009,” said Brown. “I want to keep going because how many people my age are lucky enough to start their career?” 

Brown has currently been in a relationship for the past five months and grins, letting her hand goes instinctively to the bracelet her boyfriend got her when he is mentioned. “We’ll see where it goes,” Brown says nonchalantly, but the sparkle in her eyes gives her true feelings away. “I’m just so happy.” 

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