Southern Oregon University Program Helps Student Who Was Raped Find Justice

Niki Genthe was a junior when she was raped by a friend.

ByABC News
January 22, 2015, 11:33 AM

— -- Niki Genthe was a typical college junior two years ago. She was engrossed in her studies at Southern Oregon University and savoring her newfound freedom away from home.

The native of Orange County, California, loved her new life in the quaint city of Ashland, Oregon, nestled in the mountains. She said she felt safe here. Genthe’s passion was the piano and she dreamed of being a composer and a musician and spent hours practicing piano and studying music theory.

“I have loved music since before I could walk or talk,” Genthe told ABC News' "20/20."

There was also a boy. Luke Smith, then a sophomore, had been her best friend and confidant for two years before their relationship took a turn for the romantic.

“We met at a music major party. And we just clicked right away. We had similar personalities -- being dorky and loud and silly,” Genthe said.

The pair took almost every class together, sat next to each other in choir, and even lived next door to one another.

But after four months of dating, their relationship deteriorated, she said. The two began fighting as Genthe said she started suffering from bouts of crippling, anxiety. The couple broke up, and tried to return to the friendship they once shared. But Genthe said her anxiety intensified any time she was around Smith in class or in choir. At first, Genthe chalked up her emotions to their break-up and tried to apologize for her anxious behavior around him.

Genthe had written Smith a letter to express her feelings to him and beg for forgiveness in hopes of repairing the friendship they once shared. Genthe read Smith the letter, and afterwards, in a moment of what Genthe believes was extreme guilt, she said Smith confessed a dark secret.

She said Smith told her that one night, while they were still dating, he had assaulted her while she was asleep. She said she had taken sleeping pills that night and drifted in and out of consciousness. As soon as he confessed, Genthe said the memories flooded back to her.

Days later, Genthe was still in shock and singing alongside her attacker at a choir concert.

“I knew that I needed to get help. The moment I knew is when we were on stage front and center, barely a person -- maybe two people between us, singing about love,” Genthe said.

In that moment, Genthe was not only afraid, but also unsure where to get help, she recalled.

She went to the women’s resource center on her campus. They referred her to Angela Fleischer, a confidential adviser at Southern Oregon University, who is part of a program in conjunction with the Ashland Police Department called “You Have Options.” The school has tailored its own version of this program that they call “Campus Choice.”

This is where Genthe’s story takes a different turn compared to so many other stories of victims of sexual assault on college campuses.

Launched in 2013, the program puts the power in the assault victim's hands and breaks down the barriers many of them face. It guarantees confidentiality, giving victims the choice to proceed with a criminal or a campus investigation, and most importantly, partnering closely with local law enforcement to ensure perpetrators are held accountable.

On this Friday’s "20/20," Genthe shares her personal journey after she was raped and her quest for justice through the “You Have Options” program.

With the help of the Ashland Police Department, Genthe was able to obtain a taped confession from her attacker. Ultimately, thanks to the program, Smith was arrested and pleaded guilty to one count of sexual abuse.

“I felt like I was the one guiding the whole [“You Have Options”] process. I didn't feel like I was being dragged along without my consent. What defines rape is this power play of taking away someone's ability to make a choice. And the process that I went through gave me that power back that Luke took from me,” Genthe said.

The “You Have Options” program was also a haven for her while she faced backlash from some of her peers on campus. She said she was emotionally shut out by some fellow students in her the music department. Furthermore, she said two faculty members in the department -- her choir conductor, Paul French, and accompanist, Jodi French -- paid for Smith’s bail.

Luke Smith and Paul and Jodi French did not respond to “20/20” requests for comment and the university declined to comment on this matter.

Today, life on campus for Genthe is not picture perfect. But she believes it’s much better than it could have been without "You Have Options." She quit choir, the class that once brought her so much joy, but has returned to her music with an intensified passion.

“What’s changed about my music is that I’ve taken a lot of the pain that I’ve experienced and channeled it. ... It comes from a dark place,” Genthe said.

Now, Genthe is sharing her story in hopes it will raise awareness about the programs in Ashland that allowed her to be able to hold her attacker accountable and begin the healing process.

“What's most important is that I got to do what I felt, at the time, was the best thing in my heart of hearts for myself and also for him. And I think every single survivor in the world should have that opportunity,” Genthe said.

“I wish this had never happened. I'm going to wish that for the rest of my life. But I'm so glad that it happened in Ashland, because of the programs.”

For resources for victims of sexual assault and for those interested in more information, click HERE.