Update: A previous version of this story included the name of a woman who says she was sexually assaulted by a student at Baylor. The woman requested after publication that her name be removed. It is USA TODAY policy to not identify people who have allegedly been sexually assaulted.
Stefanie Mundhenk entered a safe haven, walled off from the mob online that called alleged victims liars and that defended football coach Art Briles.
Mundhenk, a 22-year-old graduate of Baylor University who reported to school officials she was raped by a classmate in 2012, had just read of the school’s announcement that Briles would be fired and President Ken Starr would be reassigned. The changes were being made after the release of the Board of Regents' summary of a law firm’s investigation on Thursday excoriating the university and its football program for the mishandling of sexual violence. Mundhenk is among 28 women who said they were raped, some by Baylor football players, and for months have communicated in the safe haven — a private Facebook group known simply as “Survivors."
On Thursday, after Mundhenk posted in the "Survivors" group a link to a story detailing Baylor’s decision, a flurry of comments from the other women followed. (The women are not being identified because USA TODAY Sports keeps people who have allegedly been sexually assaulted anonymous unless they agree to their name being used.)
- Holy (expletive). Part of me is very irritated, part of me wants to crawl into a hole and vomit, part of me knows I’m giving a recruitment tour in less than an hour."
- “Have to say stay strong everyone. This is going to be awful for the coming weeks and maybe the coming year."
- “Does anyone feel a weird sense of relief with all this?"
Then there was another comment that resonated deeply with Mundhenk, who remains conflicted about the link between sports and the rape scandal.
“As annoying as it is that all of this stems from the relevance of our football team," wrote another woman, “I don’t think we would have gotten to this point without the sports news sources reporting on the issue."
Mundhenk said she felt the campus-wide problem went ignored until the first news reports identifying football players among the accused perpetrators.
“I remember being really outraged, not only that this had happened, but I really hated that it took someone on the football team before someone cared," Mundhenk told USA TODAY Sports. “I felt like nobody cared about my case because it wasn’t on the football team, that they hadn’t done anything about my case because it wasn’t tarnishing their public image at all."
She said officials investigated but told her there was insufficient evidence to take action in her case.
Mundhenk emerged as one of the most outspoken members of the “Survivors" group after she blogged last fall about the alleged rape she said the university failed to properly investigate. In February, she wrote an even more detailed blog entry that went viral and the “Survivors" group grew from just a handful of members to 28. Not just current and former Baylor students, Mundhenk said, but women from around the country.
One was a woman who said he was raped in 2004 as a 17-year-old freshman and shortly thereafter dropped out of school before re-enrolling in 2015 — at the same time the rape scandal was gaining national attention. The woman requested anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the topic.
“I wanted to face it, where it happened," she told USA TODAY Sports, adding that her alleged assailant was not a football player. “I wanted to know I could overcome it and that I could make it exactly where it happened."
As some Baylor football fans angrily defended the program and took aim at those who said they’d been raped, the woman found comfort in the "Survivors" group.
“You feel like you’re alone until then," she said. “That’s how I felt. Very sadly, there are other people that had the experience that I did. It makes you feel like you’re not alone, but it still makes you angry because you realize that other people have been treated the way that you have."
When she heard of the news that Mundhenk posted on the Survivors group on Thursday, the woman said she sobbed.
“I cried all night," she said.
Yet another member of Survivors group is Jasmine Hernandez. She was raped in 2012 by then-Baylor football player Tevin Elliott, who was convicted and sentenced to 20 years in prison. In March, she filed a lawsuit against Baylor alleging that the university failed to investigate her case.
Hernandez said the news media attention in recent months re-triggered her “emotional damage.”
“These University leaders have known about sexual predators on the football team for years and never took actions to protect students," Hernandez said in a statement. “The University never offered me or other victims any support when we reported these sexual assaults and that lack of support led me to drop out of Baylor and suffer emotionally ever since."
Sometimes, Mundhenk said, she needs space from her Survivors group and to talk about rape.
“We all have our bad days where we don’t want to speak about it," she said. “Some days, even I will mute notifications for the survivors group message and I’ll pretend that it doesn’t exist."
Some days, she found comfort with her classmates at Baylor football games. But after conversations with Hernandez and other women who said they’d been raped by Baylor football players, Mundhenk decided last year to stop attending the football games, as did many of the women in the group.
“I just couldn’t stomach the games anymore," Mundhenk said.