More than a victim: One woman speaks out after Alex Lim sentencing

One of the Wheaton students who was secretly video recorded by former student Alex Lim between October 2014 and February 2015 agreed to share her story anonymously with The Wheaton Record.
Studying abroad during the spring semester of 2015, she received a phone call telling her she had been identified in some of Lim’s videos. She is not one of the five women included in the charges Lim pled guilty to. Rather, she is one of many whom Lim recorded on and off campus.
This interview is edited for length and clarity.
 
What was your relationship with Alex before finding out about the videos?
We lived on brother-sister floors, and that friend group stayed together into junior year. I had spent a lot of time around him, but not one-on-one. I spent Thanksgiving with him and a couple other of the guys junior year.
 
What was it like to be studying abroad when you found out? How was the transition back onto campus?
The program I studied with was through another Christian college. I told the leaders of the program and I told a couple really close friends. I got so much support and love and prayer, which made it possible to process through things on my own. I got a call from Allison Ash — she was the one that broke the news to me. She let me know that if I wanted I could come home, Wheaton would bring me home, would cover the cost, and she gave me the option to get home to my family if I wanted. I chose not to, because I didn’t want to let his actions determine how I was going to live my life. I’m glad I stayed.
Transitioning back the next school year though, it was really strange because it was like Wheaton wanted to forget everything bad that had happened before. What I remember A-Quad of fall semester was everyone tip-toeing around everything. Nobody wanted to bring it up. I did not feel like there had been a proper space of mourning.
 
Do you think there are attitudes or ways of living at Wheaton that, to some extent, played a role in what Alex did or allowed it to go unnoticed for so long?
Yes. We don’t talk about sex. The biggest thing is the [web-based] sexual assault training that we have at the beginning of the year, which is literally you just click a button. I trust that most Wheaton students are reading some of it. But you’re clicking a button for however long and your eyes are glassing over.
The same dangers that other colleges face, we face. Pretending that we don’t leads to people getting hurt. It leads to stuff like this. Sin exists in Christians too and when we pretend that it doesn’t, we blind ourselves to those things. The silence just builds on itself. Even just thinking about Alex as someone who’s experiencing that kind of temptation and sin, he’s not about to go and tell someone about it because it’s such a shameful thing. Sexual sin is such a shameful thing in the American church. If we didn’t have that culture of shame, maybe he would have told someone before it got that bad. If we didn’t have the pressure to be perfect at Wheaton, maybe he would have told someone that he was struggling before it got that bad.
If Wheaton College — the student body — and really the church in general would really believe in grace, we would tell each other about our sins. We would tell each other about our temptations. We would heal sooner and our relationships with one another would be damaged way less often.
 
Part of what influenced the judge’s sentence was a medical examination that revealed Alex had a brain lesion. How does that influence your thoughts about the sentencing?
I understand giving a more lenient sentence because of a psychological or medical issue. To give the minimum sentence is to take that a little too far. It’s to put too much of the responsibility on the medical issue. A brain lesion did not force him to hide a spywatch in his friend’s apartment over the course of five, six months. There is a problem with the way our society values women’s bodies.
Our justice system operates on the assumption and on the value that my body is not worth as much as a man’s comfort. I don’t feel safe in a world like that. I fear for all of us, because that’s the way the world is. I don’t want to have a daughter if that’s the way the world is going to be. I can’t imagine the frustration and fear that my parents experience as the mother of somebody who is going through this.
And then the other victims, that they’re experiencing, that their parents are experiencing. The ones who read impact statements at the sentencing, for them to know, “My daughter has laid so much on the line, has laid so much bare for that judge to see, and now this man is still not really paying much for what he did.” For them to know that “there is so much pain in my daughter’s life; my daughter’s life will never be the same.” That’s not right.
 
What would it take to make you feel like justice has been served? How do you cope with something like this as a Christian, especially when the perpetrator is someone who says they are of the same faith?
A longer sentence would be a start. I feel like six months is the very minimum, and the prosecutors asked for five years — they asked for the maximum and he got the minimum. That bothers me. I don’t know what justice would look like. Allowing for justice to not be done — whatever justice might look like — would be doing him a disservice as a Christian.
I personally do not have a very Christ-like response when I think about him still. But talking to a friend, talking to my parents and hearing them say, “I hope he’s being genuine,” — not even “I trust he’s being genuine,” because we have no reason to trust that he’s being genuine. But even to say just, “I hope he really understands the gravity of what he’s done, and I hope that he’s as repentant as he says he is. I hope that he recognizes the weight of his sin and is trying to live in the grace and redemption of Christ.” Even just to say, “I hope that that’s what’s happening,” I’m trying to get to that point right now, where I can say that and mean it. Right now the best I can do is, “I hope he never does this again.”
 
What would it look like for Wheaton to strengthen its response to helping victims of sexual crimes?
Having a space, like a permanent, anonymous space for [victims] to speak out or connect with one another. A counselor or times that are specifically set-aside for victims to talk about it. Something like that needs to happen, because it’s like this weird darkness.
There’s this secret that you have from the entire student body, and 85 percent of them don’t care. You don’t care that it’s a secret you have from them, because you’re not going to tell them anyway, but then there are people who you get to know, who you’re kind of getting close to, and you’re like, “Do I tell you that this is a thing that happened to me? Do I tell anyone that this is a thing that happened to me? What are the rules for sharing this?” It becomes this barrier almost to how close you can get to someone — specifically in this context, because college, undergrad, is very clearly a brief period of time that you have with specific people. It’s like, “I don’t know. I feel really close to you, but also we’re in college. Who knows what’s going to happen next?”
There are some really wise people at Wheaton, and I have learned so much from so many of my friends. But also they’re not counselors. There is a limit to what they can do.  The only reason I went to the counseling center was because it had been shared with me, “We have a counseling center! It’s good to go to. It’s free, it’s covered by your insurance, they’re there for you. You’re not committing to anything. You can just go once if you want.” Because it was made so public, put in my face so much, it was like, “Okay, yeah, that’s an option.” We need to make counselors like that, opportunities like that, that public, that in-your-face.
Other colleges, where sex is a normal thing, where people are not ashamed to talk about it, they’re more aware that that kind of invasion of your privacy is possible and that it happens regularly. It’s standard practice to carry your drink with you. So many times at parties in on-campus apartments here, or even like the T5 Root Beer Kegger, you can put your root beer down and pick it up later, and nothing’s happened to it. You don’t do that at other schools. At other schools, if you put your drink down, you dump it. I want to believe that because this is a Christian school, we can put our drinks down and nothing’s going to happen. In most cases, that’s true. But if we allow ourselves to believe, “That’s not something that would ever happen here,” then we’re putting ourselves in danger. We’re setting ourselves up for danger later when we go out into the world and we go to parties where not everybody is a Christian, and we spend time at people’s houses where not everybody is a Christian. It’s a skill, thinking ahead in that way, planning ahead in that way is a skill that we don’t teach.
 
What do your relationships look like now, especially with young men?
It’s hard, it’s terrifying. I was using the bathroom at some of my guy friends’ house off-campus last year. I trust these guys, I’ve known them since freshman year, I love them so much. I’m using their bathroom, and I look up and somebody has left a watch in the shower. I feel like my heart has stopped, I start breathing really quick. I have to say to myself over and over and over again, “These guys are not Alex. You are not in that house. This is a different place; these are different people.” I felt so bad being so afraid there, because I know that these guys wouldn’t do that to me. In that moment, everything logical does not matter. You see that and you’re just like, “Who knows?” We all thought that about Alex. It’s really sad, because it does affect your relationships with other guys.
 
What has healing looked like for you, and what does it continue to look like?
When I first got the news, I couldn’t react. I just froze, and Allison Ash was so gracious. She was like, “Take a minute, I’m going to keep talking just so you get the full story.”  As soon as I hung up the phone, I fell apart. I didn’t sleep in my own room for the next two nights. The first day [I went] back to classes. We did devotionals every morning, and the girl who was doing it that day played a song that she wrote about healing and moving on from things. Something about not being able to control what happened to her, but she was going to be okay, because Christ made her okay. I just sobbed.
Healing has been like that: allowing myself to break down in front of people who I know care about me and allowing them to come in and speak truth to me and remind me that my value is not found in the actions of others. My value is not even found in my own actions. It’s found in Christ. They have seen me at my worst, they’ve seen me at my best, and they can still look me in the face and say, “I love you.” That has been really healing. The other victims were more affected than I was. For a long time, I was like, “I don’t get to be upset about this. Other people had it worse.” Other people did have it worse. That doesn’t mean that I didn’t have it bad.
Recognizing that my immediate feelings and reactions to things weren’t necessarily indicative of what I believed about myself or even about the people around me, it was just, “A bad thing happened to you, so now certain things make you afraid. That’s okay, as long as you realize you are safe ultimately. These people do care about you and they are going to stick with you. You’re allowed to be afraid. You’re also allowed to be happy. Just let it all happen.” That was and is continuing to be a really healing thought. You’re allowed to feel how you feel.

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