- Young Kwak
- After dozens of women sent Alyssa Bodeau their own #metoo stories, Bodeau says she's starting to see the "bigger picture."
Alyssa Bodeau's phone won't stop buzzing. It's Tuesday, a day after coming forward to say that former Washington State University quarterback Jason Gesser groped her and tried to kiss her against her will. She leaves her last TV interview and scrolls through her Facebook messages — hundreds of them.
"There's more," she whispers to her husband. "Oh my gosh, there's more — there's another one."
Another woman with her own experience as a victim of sexual assault or harassment. Another woman frustrated that institutions won't hold her abuser accountable. Another woman wanting to be heard, but searching for her voice.
Bodeau, 27, reads each one out loud, feeling the weight of each woman's experience. All told, out of the hundreds of messages of support she received, around 30 are women who themselves were victims of sexual misconduct, many at WSU. (None were related to Gesser, she says.)
"It's started showing me there's a bigger picture to this," she says.
Gesser, who was assistant athletic director at WSU, resigned last week in light of the multiple allegations of sexual misconduct. For Bodeau, however, it doesn't end there. She expected a media firestorm. She expected internet commenters to attack her character, for friends and family to defend it. She may have even expected Gesser to resign due to pressure created by her allegations and others.
But she didn't expect the wave of women trusting her with their own stories.
"There were just so many girls with their own stories across the nation, and I just felt it, and it was so heavy," she says. "They're coming to me with this, and most of them haven't told anyone yet. And I'm a stranger, and they're coming to me.
"I want to do something, but I don't know how. I don't know what."
FINDING A VOICE
Besides those closest to her, Alyssa Bodeau, née Wold, says she never thought she'd tell anyone about the night she says Gesser groped her and forcibly kissed her.
"I thought I'd take this to my grave," she says. "This was something that was my personal hurt that I would bury deep and take with me."
Bodeau grew up a volleyball star at West Valley High School in Spokane Valley. She went on to play at WSU, where she met Gesser's wife, a former volleyball player herself. Bodeau took care of Gesser's children.
After Bodeau graduated, Gesser, now 39, asked her to attend a fundraiser in Tumwater. It was after that fundraiser when Gesser allegedly tried to force himself on her.
- Young Kwak
- Bodeau spoke out after reading about other allegations against Gesser.
It was similar to other allegations against Gesser that WSU investigated earlier this year. When she read those allegations in the newspaper two weeks ago, she realized she was not alone.
Bodeau shared her story on Monday, Sept. 17. A day later, another woman named Lindsey Streets detailed to the Spokesman-Review how, in 2015, she called police after a sexual encounter with Gesser while she worked as a masseuse.
Gesser resigned. In his resignation letter, Gesser apologized to WSU President Kirk Schulz, Bill Moos, former athletic director, and Pat Chun, the current athletic director, for his private life creating a distraction for WSU. He then addressed "the young woman that I made feel uncomfortable," saying, "I truly never meant to cause you harm," though he did not admit to any allegations.
Bodeau quickly issued a statement saying she was happy Gesser resigned from his position of power at WSU.
And having already received messages from dozens of women, she also issued a call to action: "If my story resonates with you, come forward. Bring it to the light so that we all — as a community — can begin the healing process."
That healing process is just beginning for herself, Bodeau says. It would have been easier to be quiet, she says. Making the decision to speak out, she can't overemphasize, was "not the easy route." But the overwhelming support of those close to her has helped heal properly, she says.
Seeing how many other women this happens to has hit her the hardest. It's one thing to read about something like this in the news, or see it on TV. It's another thing entirely when women are sharing and trusting you with their story. It was devastating. She thought turning off her phone and unplugging for an entire day would make things feel back to normal, but that only made it harder, she says.
It wasn't even her own pain she was feeling. It was the other women's pain.
Her husband, Stephen Bodeau, has tried to support her.
"She's sad that this is going on and has been going on for so long," he says. "And these girls are just afraid to come forward."
So far, she's messaged the women back, thanking them for sharing. She knows if she had to do it all over, she would definitely share her story publicly again. But what about them? What if they don't have the same kind of support system?
"I'm trying to think of how I can help support these girls to find their voice," she says.
And then there's the bigger picture. What about the institutions, the power structures that let this go on for so long in the first place?
"Institutions have a responsibility to protect their employees, to protect those who are under them from these things happening to these girls," she says. "From men."
For Bodeau, Gesser resigning isn't enough.
Bodeau won't be satisfied until the dozens of women who messaged her are comfortable sharing their experiences with institutions like WSU. Bodeau says she's received messages from women who are afraid of filing a complaint at WSU because of the way the university handled the Gesser allegations.
Since Bodeau called for other women to come forward, WSU spokesman Phil Weiler says he is not aware of any new complaints of sexual misconduct against any other WSU employee.
- Courtesy of WSU
- Former WSU QB Jason Gesser is accused of sexual misconduct
"Seeing how previous allegations were handled sparked fear in them to stay quiet," Bodeau says. "Because they may not have felt like they had the support to speak their story."
Bodeau, who says she was never called as part of WSU's original Gesser investigation, questions whether WSU truly wanted to find out the truth, or if investigators instead were going through the motions in an effort to clear Gesser.
She's troubled by reports that WSU football legend Jack Thompson told WSU employees to "fall in line," chiding WSU employees who reported rumors about Gesser that made it to President Schulz.
And the fallout of that investigation doesn't sit well with Bodeau. Of those who reported rumors to investigators, many have since left the university for reasons that are unclear. That includes Uri Farkas, director of the Cougar Athletic Fund, and Gil Picciotto, executive associate vice president for the WSU Foundation. Mike Marlow, WSU deputy athletic director, accepted another job days after President Schulz was notified of the Gesser allegations. A WSU employee, who the Inlander is not naming and who reported that Gesser tried to kiss her, has also since left WSU.
And Matt Almond — who explicitly told WSU investigators that he was told to "stay in my line" by Thompson — no longer works at WSU IMG, which contracts with WSU to broadcast games, his wife confirms to the Inlander. Almond's name was taken off the IMG website a week ago. (None of those named above have responded to messages from the Inlander seeking comment.)
When asked for her thoughts about this, Bodeau struggles to find the words. She holds a mug filled with tea. It's something to do with her hands so they don't shake during interviews.
"So many thoughts," she says.
Her hand clenches the mug handle. She gazes toward her feet, shaking her head, quietly processing her answer. She thinks of the college she loves. She thinks of the messages on her phone.
Twenty seconds pass. So many thoughts. So many questions.
"How seriously are these allegations really being taken?" she asks. "How many does it take for it to become an issue?" ♦
National Sexual Assault Hotline: 1-800-656-4673.
Lutheran Community Services 24-hour sexual assault crisis line: 624-7273.
Frontier Behavioral Health's 24-hour First Call for Help line: 838-4428 or toll free at 1-877-678-4428.