Student recounts personal experience, advocates for others to report early
24 mins read

Student recounts personal experience, advocates for others to report early

By Trent Opstedahl and Ally Krupinsky

“He took a step closer to me, and looked me in the eyes and said, ‘You owe me.’ ”

Senior Jackie Ortmeier was a junior at USD when she reported being sexually assaulted in 2013 at a fraternity formal.

She’s not the first USD student to have experienced this crime, and unfortunately, she’s likely not the last, either.

It’s estimated women ages 18 to 24 who are enrolled in college are three times more likely than women in general to suffer from sexual violence. Females of the same age who are not enrolled in college are four times more likely, according to statistics by the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network.

Additionally, male college-aged students are 78 percent more likely than non-students to be a victim of rape or sexual assault.

Though she’ll never be the same as before that night and she still struggles with the experience to this day, Ortmeier said talking openly about sexual assault and creating an environment in which victims feel comfortable coming forward is essential.

The assault: ‘You owe me’

In October 2013, Ortmeier and a couple of her friends were invited to a fraternity formal. She was taking 19 credits that semester, and remembers thinking she could use the break from school.

The weekend started enjoyably enough — Ortmeier and her friends mingled with other fraternity members and guests while drinking alcohol and playing games.

But as the night went on, she found that she couldn’t remember certain parts of it. While there’s no proof, Ortmeier suspects she could have been drugged.

“It’s literally like this black rectangle in my mind,” she said.

Ortmeier does remember asking her friend if it was safe to hang out with one of the men that she ended up spending time with that night. She had seen him on campus before – she even had a class with him – but didn’t know him very well.

“I said, ‘Is it safe to hang out with this guy? Is it okay?’ And he said, ‘Yeah, yeah, you’re fine. He’s a good guy.’ ”

From there, things got hazy, and the next thing Ortmeier remembers is vomiting in a hotel bathroom. The man she asked about earlier in the night was there — he gave her a glass of water and told her she’d feel better after a shower.

“… I remember being in the shower, and I was facing the front. I was standing there under the water. I turned around and he was there, too,” she said. “I remember thinking, ‘This is wrong. There he is standing in the shower.’ ”

In a matter of seconds, the man pushed Ortmeier against the wall and started kissing her. She froze. He pushed her over in front of him and raped her. He got out of the shower and gave her a shirt and a pair of shorts, because her clothes were soaking wet on the floor next to the bathtub.

“The next thing I remember is waking up Saturday morning, and I was laying in bed. His arm was around my neck. It was the most confusing thing,” Ortmeier said. “I just laid there thinking, ‘What now?’ ”

It was early in the morning. At one point, a group of senior members of the fraternity came into the room with shots. Ortmeier didn’t take one; the man next to her did.

“I was thinking to myself, ‘Okay, I need to get out of here now.’ I rolled away from him, and he started to put his hand down the shorts I was wearing. I pushed his hand away and said ‘No, I don’t want to do this.’ I said that very clearly. He stuck his hand down my pants and touched me for like maybe five or 10 minutes. It was the most awful thing to feel helpless and out of control. It was like I was watching everything happen – like I wasn’t there.”

Soon afterward, Ortmeier recalls the man stood up, and told her to come shower with him. She said no. He took a step toward her, looked her in the eyes and said, ‘You owe me.’

“That is just something I will never forget, I will never be able to get past,” she said. “What sort of person can do that to another human being? Like, I owe you for what? For when you got me a glass of water when I was throwing up?”

Ortmeier got up and followed him to the bathroom. For a split second, she thought about screaming or running out into the hallway.

But she didn’t know where her friends were, or even where she was. She said she didn’t know if the floor was full of his fraternity brothers or not, and if they would side with him or her. So she followed him into the bathroom, where he repeated what he had done the night before.

“It felt like I was a puppet, like I had no control over anything,” she said.

A number of minutes passed, and someone knocked on the door. The man left the shower and put his clothes back on to go to lunch with some friends.

“And so I sat down in this chair, and he started to leave,” she said. “But then he turned around to look at me. He had this look on his face like ‘What are you doing? I’m finished with you.’ Then he walked away and left.”

Eventually, she found her way back to her hotel room, where she laid down next to her friend.

“I remember at first feeling rage, the most anger I’ve ever felt,” she said. “But then I was so confused. I couldn’t remember everything that had happened yet, and there was so much.”

Story continues below video

Telling an uncomfortable story from The Volante on Vimeo shot by Malachi Petersen and produced by Rachel Newville. 

Reporting: Easier said than done

It took about two weeks for Ortmeier to fully accept what had happened to her. She said it overcame her while she was on the phone with a friend.

“It was so dumb, because I was so upset and bothered by what had happened, (but) I didn’t feel like I had a right to be,” she said. “I was explaining to my friend on the phone about what had happened, and he was like “Well, Jackie, that’s rape. You were raped.’ ”

Ortmeier stayed silent about the incident for about four months. It wasn’t until January 2014 that she began making regular visits to the Student Counseling Center at USD.

Despite the passing of more than two years in counseling and the support of friends, family and a fiance, Ortmeier said she still thinks about that weekend often.

“It took me a year to talk to my sister, and then another six months to tell my mom,” she said. “That was the hardest thing ever, was to tell my parents. I think because it took me so long to realize what it was, it was so hard to be able to tell my family. But I needed their support. I couldn’t do it on my own anymore.”

The Student Counseling Center at USD operates under a confidentiality policy, meaning in most instances when a student reports having been sexually assaulted, its staff aren’t obligated to report it to USD and/or police. The option to report remains with the student in most cases.

Ortmeier said she was hesitant to report her experience to police because of how difficult it was to relive. But with counseling and support, she decided to report being sexually assaulted to the Vermillion Police Department in January 2015.

“I was so sick of holding it in, and knowing he was out there living his life and being totally fine,” she said.

According to a copy of the VPD police report, Ortmeier provided a detailed recollection of what happened back in October 2013.

But because the incident had happened outside of VPD’s jurisdiction, authorities said the case would need to be forwarded to the appropriate police department, which was out-of-state.

From there, the case was sent to the State’s Attorney’s Office, and then to the county attorney.

After a few weeks, Ortmeier said she was contacted by the county’s victim witness coordinator, who told her it would be too hard on her to pursue charges, because she’d be “hounded” with questions on the stand about a lack of physical evidence.

“That was the most insulting thing to hear,” she said. “I went through this awful thing, and now it would be too much for me to go up and fight for justice?”

Ortmeier said the case is still open, and wasn’t able to speak directly with a lawyer, despite calling the office weekly, asking them to reconsider.

But Ortmeier said the county attorney’s office remained firm, saying there wasn’t enough physical evidence for her to defend the case.

“…it’s like if you don’t report it right away, it must not have happened to you,” she said.

Ortmeier said the victim witness coordinator told her that her attacker was sent a letter, asking him to come and tell his side of the story. There were no repercussions when he didn’t show up for the interview, she added.

Ortmeier said she wasn’t allowed to see a copy of the letter – something that still angers her.

“It was just impossible, it was like punching a brick wall,” she said. “Like nothing was coming out of it.”

The county’s victim prevention coordinator couldn’t comment on the case to The Volante.

Evidence: A ticking clock

VPD Lt. Crystal Brady said from an evidence-gathering perspective, the sooner a person reports a sexual assault, the better.

“I understand all of the reasons why people don’t do it right away. But from a perspective of trying to identify the suspects and collect evidence to arrest and possibly convict that suspect, it’s so very important to report it right away,” she said. “Because once the incident has happened, the clock starts ticking on your evidence being destroyed.”

Physical evidence may already be gone in a week’s time, Brady added.

UPD Lt. Jef Rice also stressed the importance of reporting early, as this allows law enforcement to both collect evidence as well as provide victims with any resources they may need. It also increases their chances of locating and apprehending a suspect, he said.

Electronic evidence also plays a role in sex crime investigations, Brady said. But if texts or phone calls are deleted, it’s “almost impossible” to get them back after a few days.


Despite the challenge of a delayed investigation, Brady and Rice said victims shouldn’t hesitate to come forward and report their experiences, even if it isn’t right way.

“Just because you were sexually assaulted three days ago or a week ago or a month ago, does not mean you should not come in,” she said. “We will do everything we can to follow up on the case and gather as much as we can.”

Ortmeier said before this happened to her, she always thought she would report the incident right away, complete a rape kit and whatever she needed to do. In reality, though, she said it’s not always that simple.

“… I wish I would have gone earlier – I wish I would have gone that day,” she said. “I would encourage people to go to the police and to report it and to go to the university, but you also need a support system, there’s no way I could have done this on my own, there’s no way.”

The fact that Ortmeier was drinking the night she was assaulted doesn’t help either. She said because she was drinking, she’s felt expected to defend every single decision she made that night.

“As if I’m drinking, that it’s an invitation to take advantage of me. And that’s not OK,” she said. “It’s so frustrating.”

Brady said sexual assaults involving alcohol are encountered often at VPD, especially with binge-drinking college students.

“It’s really unfortunate, because I’ve had females that come in and they say they wouldn’t have made this decision to have sex if they had been sober, but then in the case, the male is just as intoxicated as the female was, and maybe didn’t have that intent to physically assault a person, but the female feels sexually assaulted because she wouldn’t have made that choice if she had been sober,” she said.

In the case of ‘he-said she-said,’ VPD has to simply go wherever the evidence leads, Brady said. Once the investigation is complete, evidence is presented to the State’s Attorney’s Office, which makes the final call as to whether a case can go to trial or not.

Ultimately, Brady said the criminal case is second priority to the victim’s well-being.

One way this can be handled is for a sexual assault victim to complete a “Jane Doe rape kit.” Brady said these serve as a resource for people who’ve been sexually assaulted, but aren’t ready to tell their story or aren’t sure if they’d like to pursue a criminal case, which is their decision.

“Which means they want the evidence collected, but they don’t want to give their information or tell their story yet,” she said. “And that way at least the evidence is secured so that we have that in case two weeks down the road they decide yes, I do want to go ahead with some type of criminal case.”

The Sanford Vermillion Hospital declined to disclose to The Volante how many rape kits were completed in the past year.

Education: ‘Something needs to change’

A couple months after reporting to VPD, Ortmeier shared her experience with a university faculty member.

In accordance with Title IX federal law, the faculty member was obligated to report the incident to USD’s chief Title IX officer, which at the time was Roberta Hakl.

Upon the notification in March 2015, Hakl initiated an investigation to look into the matter – even though the incident didn’t occur on campus. In an email, Hakl explained to Ortmeier that both she and Dean of Students Kimberly Grieve would “need to address this matter since he is a current student.”

The officials interviewed Ortmeier, and then interviewed the student who allegedly sexually assaulted Ortmeier.

Ortmeier said Hakl and Grieve were “extremely sincere” and “very empathetic” throughout the investigation process.

Throughout the next couple months, Ortmeier waited for the results of the investigation. In May, she received a letter from Hakl and Grieve with their conclusions on the investigation.

“Although, (the student’s) recollection of the weekend events did not match yours, after reviewing all of the information in accordance with the policies of the University of South Dakota and the South Dakota Board of Regents, we concluded that (the student) would be required to participate in a mandatory sexual assault training, attend counseling sessions which will include an alcohol assessment and would not have any contact with you,” the letter stated.

While Ortmeier said she wasn’t disappointed with the investigations, she also wasn’t completely satisfied. Though her advice for other victims is to report sooner rather than later, she feels a shift in thinking is also necessary on the other end for there to be real change.


“Of course I absolutely encourage people to come forward and to tell their side of the story, because it doesn’t happen often enough,”  Ortmeier said. “But something needs to change because it’s so difficult to come forward, especially when you hear about stuff like this. People say, ‘Why don’t sexual assault survivors come forward?’ Because of things like this.”

Since then, Hakl has retired and Khara Iverson was hired as USD’s new chief Title IX officer. Iverson has been in the position since February, and hopes to implement some changes soon.

“I think it’s become very clear that we’re all aware that sexual assaults do occur on all college campuses, but how are we going to respond to that?” Iverson said. “I would say we (Title IX office) are very busy, but I don’t know if we’re at a place where it is known to all students that this is what you would do if you wanted to report through the university.”

Iverson said she believes her office is lacking in the area of outreach and informing students of their rights guaranteed under Title IX. She said more can be done to effectively educate students of their options.

“There are many barriers, and one of them is knowing what to do,” Iverson said.

Ortmeier experienced that barrier first-hand as she considered what to do following the incident in 2013.

“Honestly, I think a huge problem is that people just don’t understand, there’s not enough information,” Ortmeier said. “We aren’t educated enough on what sexual assault all entails and what a person goes through and experiences during and after that.”

Rape: ‘One person is too many’

As Ortmeier continues to work past her experience from more than two years ago, she hopes that sharing her story publicly can help spark a change in the culture on campus.

“I think it is definitely time, not only at USD but for other universities, to take the step up and say, ‘This happens here and here’s what we’re doing.’ They need to take that step in order to help their students,” Ortmeier said.

She said while there are programs and events in place that help bring awareness to sexual assault, not enough is being done. She especially has a problem with the online sexual assault training program all students are mandated to complete every year.

“There’s nothing in place saying you have to do this or else you can’t graduate or you can’t get student aid or anything,” she said. “I’ve looked at other universities, which have all these lists of programs and dates of speakers and different events where they talk about sexual assault … I think we need to have more of that.”

Bridget Diamond-Welch is an assistant professor in the Political Science Department, and also believes more programming could be planned.

Diamond-Welch has spent many years researching sexual assault and how to effectively educate people on ways to prevent it, as well as how to respond to it when it does occur.

“It’s not just a problem at USD, and it’s not even especially (a problem at) USD,” she said. “One person being raped is too many people being raped. One person who feels like they don’t know what to do, or they’re being silenced, is too many people.”

Diamond-Welch has had a hand in a number of events to raise awareness on campus about sexual assault, but she’s hoping to do more through an initiative called “Coyotes Advocate, Respond, and Educate (CARE) to Stop Violence.”

The project is currently in the works, and is dependent on USD being awarded a $300,000 grant to fund the initiative, which won’t be announced until October.

CARE would create a “central hub” on campus by creating network of people who work with sexual assault to allow for coordinated discussions and purposeful planning. Some of these people would include the dean of students, the Title IX coordinator, UPD and VPD, among others.

Diamond-Welch said a majority of the money would pay for the salary of a coordinator to oversee CARE. The rest of the money would be put toward programming.

“At USD, in my experience, no one talks about the issues, or they’re not talked about very often,” she said. “There’s not a women’s center here. We do have the (Center for Diversity & Community), but there isn’t a women’s center here, which frequently they talk about these issues and keep it at the forefront.”

If USD is approved, Diamond-Welch said CARE could be operating by as early as January 2017.

One goal Diamond-Welch has for CARE is to bring the “It’s On Us” campaign to USD. She believes this is just one way to make people more comfortable discussing this issue.

“We need to talk about it because we don’t. In all reality, we have no idea how much sexual assault goes on at this campus,” Diamond-Welch said. “We know that it’s underreported largely on this campus, and if we start talking about I think more people will start reporting.”

Until then, Ortmeier said she’ll continue to speak about her experience and advocate for victims of sexual assault.

“I feel more like I have a responsibility to do this and to speak out about this. Not just because I’m a victim, because I know now that some of my friends have contacted me and told me about a similar experience they had,” she said. “I feel like that’s the only way I can get back at him sort of, if I take what he did and make something positive about it and not let him shut me up and not let law enforcement shut me up or the administration.”

Editor’s note: The man associated with the fraternity in this story was left unnamed, along with any details which relate to where the fraternity formal was held because no charges were ever filed against him.

Campus resources for victims of sexual assualt

Student Services

Muenster University Center

Title IX Office / Equal Opportunity

 Slagle Hall, room 205

University Police Department

 Davidson building

Student Counseling Center

 Cook House

Psychological Services Center

 South Dakota Union, room 112

Counseling and School Psychological Services Center

Delzell Education Center, room 20

Latitude Employee Assistance Program (LEAP)

Phone: 800-713-6288

Victim Advocacy Services

 Phone: 605-677-5777

Student Legal Aid

Muenster University Center, room 205

Domestic Violence – Safe Options Services

Phone: 605-624-5311

SOURCE: Bridget Diamond-Welch