Lisa Sendrow was assaulted many times by different men throughout her younger years. For that reason, as a student at Swarthmore College, she became active in raising awareness for sexual assault and rape. She was part of a hotline for victims/survivors and also facilitated the Clothesline Project on her campus. She led training sessions to teach people how to be active bystanders when they witnessed a potential assault. Sendrow also held sexual assault prevention seminars for incoming freshman.
In 2013, Sendrow and a fellow student found themselves attracted to one another. They had spent some time together; however, as is common with college students, the relationship did not come to fruition. Even though they did not end up dating, Sendrow became friends with him. One night, he visited her in her dorm room and fell asleep on her bed. Since she was comfortable with the friendship, Sendrow decided to let him rest and crawled into bed beside him. It was two o’clock in the morning and she had class in five hours.
Once she laid down, her friend woke up and tried to kiss her. “He started trying to get me worked up,” she says. “I asked him what he was doing. I reminded him that we had decided that we were no longer interested in each other that way.”
“I told him no several times. I was tired and had class very early the next morning. I just wanted it to be over,” she says. “I just let him finish.”
Sendrow reported him. Weeks later, when he found out that she was seeing a mutual friend, he retaliated with threats and referred to her as a slut.
Because Sendrow was the most well-known rape and sexual assault awareness advocate at her university, Philadelphia Magazine approached her with the hopes of including her story in an article which aimed to discuss the 91 complaints of sexual misconduct on the Swarthmore Campus in a single year (“Rape Happens Here”).
Sendrow agreed to take part in the interview. However, when the article came out, it was nothing like she expected.
“The reporter made me feel weak and that’s not how I felt when I told him my story,” Sendrow explains. “It was hard to read how they depicted me.” When being interviewed for the article, she recounted the day that she went to the campus advisor for Greek Life at Swarthmore. “The guy who assaulted me was in a fraternity,” she says, “so I went to the advisor to tell him what happened.” The advisor was not convinced. More than that, he was shocked at her accusation. He stated that the student who assaulted Sendrow was not capable of such an offense because he was “such a good guy.”
In the Philadelphia Magazine article, Sendrow says, “The reporter made it seem as though I fled the advisor’s office in tears because I was so hurt by his response.” However, she recalls that her tears were from anger and frustration. She goes on to explain that it felt like the reporter depicted her as a vulnerable female who was throwing a fit because she didn’t get the answer she wanted from the Greek Life advisor.
The reality was quite the opposite, she says. “I was in tears because I was so angry at his lack of concern. Any time a female cries, she is thought of as thin-skinned and delicate.” In this circumstance, Sendrow was anything but that. She was reaching out for help - something that most people in her position don’t do. Most victims fear the exact same response Sendrow received from a representative of the university - someone she expected to be objective and available.
Sendrow asserts that she was trying to be an advocate in that article. She did not want to appear as a victim, yet the reporter painted her that way with his words. “I didn’t mind sharing my story,” she says. “I was only giving an example of the things that happen on my campus.”
The comments that followed the article added to the sting, Sendrow recalls. “I stopped reading them. They were so bad. People are not willing to hear the whole story. They judge how they want.”
“I had already been victimized many times before that. I was doing my best to be a strong person - someone who stood up for others and showed them how to get past what happened to them.” She goes on to say that she did her best to put the article behind her and to stop thinking about it. “It wasn’t helping anything,” she explains.
Three months later, Washington Post writer George Will wrote an opinion piece on the “supposed campus epidemic of rape.” In that piece, he used the example of Lisa Sendrow and wrote that she had a “coveted status” of “privilege” and proliferation. (“Colleges Become the Victims of Progressivism”).
Still somewhat reeling from the experience of the Philadelphia Magazine article, Sendrow found herself once again thrown into the spotlight. This time, not only was she portrayed as a weak, crying female who had been taken advantage of, but now was made out to be a “professional victim” of sorts. She had been put on display as someone who felt entitled to special treatment because she had been sexually assaulted.
“My skin is thick, but that was hard to read,” she says. “It was so insulting.”
But this time, people seemed to have her back. “It was surprising,” Sendrow recalls. “And honestly it was refreshing to have some support for a change.”
She was contacted by Media Matters, CNN and MSNBC for her comments on the George Will opinion piece. She chose to appear on the CNN show “New Day,” and her interview was televised nationally. “He [Will] made so many grotesque remarks about my sexual assault,” she stated. “He dismissed not only my claims, but essentially used that as a way to dismiss all sexual assault claims, dismissing what it looks like on college campuses as if it doesn’t exist.”
“What George Will did to me is a prime example of why people don’t come forward after they are assaulted,” Sendrow points out. She added in her interview with CNN, “This isn’t a privilege for anybody.”
“It was awful to read,” she says, adding that she thought of all the survivors who were triggered by what Will said in his piece. “I was enraged.”
Today, Lisa Sendrow is preparing to study law, no doubt in hopes to help even more fellow survivors. Since appearing on CNN, she has changed her name on social media in order to avoid the spotlight. “Those articles made me go into somewhat of a hiding for a bit,” she says. “But I’m ready to step back out and become an advocate again. I went through it all for a reason. I think I know what that reason is.”