Author and activist Jamie Margolin comes forward about being a victim of sexual coercion, abuse, stalking, and harassment at the hands of a student at her university—and how Title IX and reporting systems failed her
As a climate activist, I have become used to fighting for the planet, but my freshman year of college, I had to fight for myself. The first semester of my freshman year of college, I made a friend who ended up being abusive. I was afraid to leave them for fear of them retaliating and trying to hurt me. When I gathered the courage to finally stand up to this person and leave them, my worst fears came true. I soon realized that this person was obsessed with me and was not going to let me go without a fight.
To try and make the abuse and harassment stop, I had to:
File a complaint with my university’s office of student conduct.
File a report with campus police at my university.
Obtain a restraining order from the domestic violence court.
File a report with the police.
File a Title IX complaint with my university.
When my school’s Title IX office chose not to investigate my claim, I filed another one. When they chose not to investigate my second complaint, I appealed their decision. They then denied my appeal.
I have exhausted every official level of reporting. I am telling my story today, for everyone else who has been failed by these systems that are meant to help.
Let me start at the beginning.
My first semester at my dream school became a nightmare. I started college in the fall of 2020. Making friends in the age of coronavirus is difficult, so I was excited when a friend put me in touch with someone at my school she thought I should meet. After being introduced, we started hanging out and studying together, and we soon hit it off.
After a short time of getting to know each other, I let her know I had two friends coming into town for their fall break. I was getting together with them for a small, COVID-safe Halloween hangout. I invited her to join us. What I thought should be a fun, safe hangout with three friends soon turned into anything but.
The new friend brought over tequila and encouraged everyone to partake. I had never been drunk before in my entire life, but I thought I was in a safe environment with people that I trusted to try alcohol for the very first time. When the hard liquor she brought ran out, she quickly ordered more. Though I had no romantic feelings for this person, she soon started kissing and touching me in her intoxicated state. Soon she was saying things to me like “I want to go all the way” and “I want to have sex,” and although I felt okay kissing, I was not comfortable going any further.
I turned away from her and said that I was feeling kind of sick, and that I was tired and wanted to go to sleep. She would not leave me alone, insisting and pressuring me to go further, saying things like “I’m not done yet” and raking her nails along my back, while I continued to tell her how tired I was.
I expressed how anxious I was feeling, how uncomfortable I was, how there was this pit in my chest that wouldn’t go away, that I didn’t feel good. She did not care. One of my friends was worried about me and, knowing that I was drunk for the first time in my life, wanted to get into the room to check on me. My friend tried to open the door to enter the room we were in, but my abuser shut the door on them and told them to leave me alone, not letting my friend into the room.
I had never been under the influence before. I felt helpless, verbally making my discomfort known, barely able to stand up. It did not matter. She wanted what she wanted and eventually, I gave in.
The next morning, I knew I didn’t feel right. I wasn’t sure what words to assign to what happened to me, but I knew that I was uncomfortable and not okay. That night, I called a trusted adult and told her everything. She was extremely worried. Her main concern was I had been pushed to drink past my limit, and after I had become clearly intoxicated, this new friend—who had experience with and provided the alcohol—made sexual advances. I still didn’t want to accept that anything bad had happened to me. I insisted I was fine, even when I knew I wasn’t.
Despite my desperate attempts to convince myself nothing had happened, something felt off. I realized that even watching TV scenes that reminded me of that night would cause me extreme anxiety and a pit of dread. Later, a mental health professional would tell me that I was experiencing post traumatic stress disorder. But despite my realizations that something bad had happened to me, I attempted to maintain my friendship with this person. I was starting to notice the severity of her mental instability, and her toxic behavior towards others made me fear that she might hurt me if I ever tried to leave her.
I insisted over texts to her that I was fine with everything that happened. I even tried to make sure that she was okay, because I knew I wasn’t: every time I reflected on Halloween night, I remembered how I felt pressured, coerced, and worn down until I gave in to what she wanted. But no matter how much I tried to have an in person or over-the-phone conversation with her so I could express this, she would ignore it.
After I shared that I wanted to discuss something serious, she asked me to use my platform on Instagram to promote her latest TikTok. When we met up to study as usual, she asked me to help her book her trip to the Dominican Republic because she needed someone who spoke Spanish. I tried to go along with it and act like everything was okay. I didn’t want to believe that she was just using me, like she did on Halloween night.
Eventually, I realized that this wasn’t a friendship. I stopped responding to her text messages, but she kept reaching out. She made one last-ditch effort to see me, asking if I could drop off a hair clip of hers that she thought I might have. I declined and let her know that if I found it, she could pick it up from the front desk of my dorm, because I did not want to see her. She finally texted, “So is this it then?”
In response, I sent her a five-paragraph text message explaining why I could no longer keep her in my life and how she had hurt me. She did not take the news well. She immediately became defensive and angry and brought up any and all minor grievances she had with me during our short friendship. She refused to address what I had just told her and the ways in which she harmed me. This aggressive backlash terrified me. In the end, I offered to have one last phone conversation with her to talk over everything, which she declined, saying she had no hard feelings.
Two weeks later, I realized that this person decided that if I was not going to be in her life, she was going to wreak havoc on mine. The same mutual friend who introduced us informed me she had posted a completely false story on her Instagram, claiming that on Halloween, I pursued her and forced myself onto her against her will. I learned about this claim a few days before Christmas. I was in shock, pain, and total disbelief. I barely slept or ate, and had multiple panic attacks so severe I could barely breathe. A person—who at one point, I thought was my friend—had not only physically taken something from me, but now was trying to control the narrative by accusing me of harming her in the same way.
There is nothing more despicable than sexual assault. I am an advocate for believing survivors, and this person’s lies only adds fuel to the fire of deniers who will weaponize any examples of a false accusation against true survivors. I was so appalled by her behavior I immediately had a lawyer reach out to tell her to stop.
She did not. She instead resorted to doxxing my attorney by publishing his personal information on the internet. She hinted at my identity online, mocking and ridiculing me. Eventually, I needed to get a restraining order in the hopes she would stop her harassment and lies.
I decided to alert my university to the abuse, online attacks, and sexual coercion I had experienced, and requested they open a Title IX investigation into what she had done to me on Halloween night. They did not take my case and refused to investigate. Meanwhile, one of the two friends who was staying with us on Halloween texted my parents, apologizing for not doing enough to save me from this person. They apologized to my mom and dad for not protecting me.
I was fed up with the online harassment and filed for an order of protection from the domestic violence court. Even after I had obtained a restraining order against her, she hired two men to threaten my lawyer and myself. They told us that if we did not drop the restraining order, they would destroy our careers. They even said that they hope that my lawyer has an “accident” where he would hit his head and die.
I have never received such bizarre emails in my life. They rambled on with conspiracy theories about Ted Cruz and lizard people. I was terrified. My former friend had already harmed me physically; now, she was on a mission to destroy my life because I no longer tolerated her toxic and obsessive abuse. After getting a restraining order, men who were complete strangers were threatening my attorney’s life and making me fear for my own.
In January, she went on Instagram Live, where she told a story about being “dumped by a friend” six weeks earlier. She talked about how sad she was, and how the friend had sent her a five-paragraph text message expressing why they didn’t want to be friends anymore. She talked about being depressed that this friendship had ended. She said she cried all the time over this person, and that she did drugs to cope. I was never in a romantic relationship with this person, but I soon realized that in her mind, we were.
Afraid, I finally decided to file a police report with the NYPD to make them aware of the continuous harassment and threats. Within 24 hours after I filed the report, I received several knocks at my door at 10:15 pm, and then again at 11:15 pm. I was not expecting any visitors, and because of COVID, no one is allowed in each other's dorm room. The person knocking would not announce themselves—they stayed silent and kept on knocking.
All I could do was remember the men that were hired to threaten my lawyer and myself if I did not drop the restraining order. Now I had just reported her behavior to the police and a day later, an unidentified person was at my door late at night. I called the same trusted adult I had first confided in about Halloween, and she advised me to pack a bag and wait until later when I thought the person was gone. At 2:30 in the morning, I got into an Uber and left for a friend’s house.
I stayed at a friend’s house for a few days, and then with another friend. Eventually I even rented a hotel room until my next court date on February 11th. I didn’t want to go back to my dorm until I knew the courts were going to extend my restraining order against her. She was harassing me so much even with the restraining order, so the fear of her not even having one made me feel unsafe to be in my dorm. (A city judge renewed my restraining order for two more months. I have another court date soon to renew it again.)
Friends who had been monitoring her social media behavior then alerted me to something extremely unnerving—that I wasn’t this person’s first victim. After learning about her disturbing history of making salacious accusations on social media in order to spur a mob of followers to attack and threaten, I was even more afraid of what she could do to me and others if she was not stopped.
After my restraining order was extended and I learned that I was not her first victim, I decided to follow up with Title IX with the new information since we had last spoken in the beginning of January. I made them aware of her behavior, her history, my NYPD police report, the banging at my door late at night after I filed my police report. I even talked to my building security.
Despite providing literally all of the evidence to show that I was telling the truth and begging them to finally launch an investigation into my claims of stalking and harassment, Title IX declined. I immediately repealed their decision and made it clear that I have a witness from Halloween night, as well as the trusted adult who I had reported everything to on November 1. Both of these people were willing to provide a statement for the investigation. Still, they would not speak to my witnesses and would not even attempt to give me the justice and protection that I deserve.
I fight for people and the planet every day, and even with my experience in advocacy, almost every attempt to advocate for myself has failed.
After a final gut punch of an email from Title IX, I cried for the rest of the day. I was and still am utterly exhausted. I had been fighting for months, re-traumatizing myself over and over again, and in the end, there was no justice.
It was in that moment that I realized I had no choice but to come forward and tell my story. I fight for people and the planet every day, and even with my experience in advocacy, almost every attempt to advocate for myself has failed. I learned a lot my freshman year of college: I learned that someone’s intentions may not always be pure and that you can be in an abusive relationship with someone who you were not even involved with romantically. Getting out of a toxic and abusive relationship is incredibly difficult, and the victim will likely face more retaliation and threats of harm after they finally leave.
Even if you go through all of the proper mechanisms to report what has happened to you, most systems in place will not even care to listen. I was fortunate to be able to get a restraining order and have it extended by a judge, but the complacency and lack of care from the university I call home is unacceptable. If my school refuses to even investigate my claims, I can only imagine how difficult it is for survivors of sexual abuse, stalking, and harassment to get any kind of justice in the criminal courts.
I may not have been this person’s first victim, but I plan to be her last. I will not be intimated, threatened or harassed into silence.
Photo by Bojana Novakovic
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Jamie Sarai Margolin is a 19-year-old Colombian-American author, activist, public speaker, and filmmaker. She is a founder of the international youth climate justice movement Zero Hour, author of Youth To Power, a plaintiff on the Washington State Youth v. Gov climate action lawsuit, screenwriter and director of ART MAJORS, and a freshman in Film & Television Studies.