One woman’s crusade to bring rape, depression, suicide into spotlight

According to the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention, one in six women will be the victim of rape or sexual assault in her lifetime.

By Melonie Magruder / zSpecial to The Malibu Times

Andrea Cooper spoke Monday night to an auditorium packed to the rafters with Pepperdine students about acquaintance rape, depression and suicide. It is something she has personally experienced through the suicide death of her own daughter, who was raped and never said a word about it to her parents.

Caitlin Johnson, president of the Tri Delta Sorority, and the Pepperdine Panhellenic Council invited Cooper to speak to students here after Johnson discovered Cooper’s Web site. “Suicide is something that happens at every university and we just don’t talk about it,” Johnson said. “At our fraternity alone, over 80 percent of our members knew someone who had committed suicide.”

According to the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention, one in six women will be the victim of rape or sexual assault in her lifetime. In the U.S., a woman is raped every two minutes and the incidence is statistically higher on college campuses.

Thirty percent of rape victims contemplate suicide, and suicide is the second leading cause of death amongst college-age students.


The statistics became a reality for Cooper when her daughter killed herself New Year’s Eve of 1995.

“I thought they would have to put me into a mental institution,” Cooper said of the loss of her daughter Kristin.

But she has dealt with her devastating loss by traveling the country, speaking to students and advocating for rape victims.

“There’s not a campus in this country that doesn’t have sexual assault and depression. Help is available,” she said.

Cooper, who wore a bright orange jacket and her Tri Delta pin, began her presentation by showing a huge, smiling, high school graduation photo of Kristin.

“After her death, I went through Kristin’s things and found a suicide note she had written when she was in eighth grade,” Cooper said. “Some girl friends had dumped her. Children feel things so deeply.”

But Kristin excelled at Arapaho High School near Littleton, Colo. She was in performing arts and the high school band, and worked as a lifeguard in the summers. During her first year on a scholarship at Baker University in Kansas she seemed happy and she found a boyfriend.

But in September of her sophomore year, the couple broke up and Kristin called her mother daily, crying.

“Finally, I told her what all of your parents would tell you,” Cooper said.

The audience answered en masse, “Get over it.”

“When she came home for Christmas break, she seemed so happy,” Cooper recounted. “New Year’s Eve we [Cooper and her husband] went to a party, and I thought it was strange that her car was in the driveway when we got home about 2 [in the morning]. I thought she would be out all night.”

But Cooper found her daughter lying on a sofa in the family room, looking like she was asleep.

“But the music was playing so loud, I couldn’t understand how she could sleep,” Cooper said. “I was a few steps from her when it hit me and I almost threw up. I knew Kristin was dead.”

Kristin had shot herself.

Cooper’s daughter left no suicide note, but the police confiscated a journal lying near her when she died. When her parents finally read it, they were horrified to learn that a boy with whom Kristin worked on the lifeguard squad had raped her the previous summer.

“That was why her boyfriend broke up with her,” Cooper said. “He couldn’t handle it. Her sorority sisters knew, but she never got help for it. They told me how depressed she was that fall.”

Because there was no forensic evidence, Kristin’s parents could never bring accusations against her rapist. But Cooper wrote him a letter.

“I said that I was sure he knew Kristin had killed herself, but that perhaps he didn’t know she had done so because she had been raped and was suffering depression.”

Cooper never heard from the young man.

Cooper credits her will to go on after her daughter’s death to her faith-“I always travel with my daily devotions” -and to her crusade to bring rape, depression and suicide into the spotlight.

“I never dreamed that it would turn into this wonderful mission,” Cooper said. “Our grief brought my husband and [I] closer together. I’ve spoken at 300 colleges, 25 conferences and in three countries.”

She urged students to be on the lookout for signs of depression in friends and to be open to pain they might secretly suffer.

“Rape is a trauma that many [feel they] can’t survive and 46 percent of victims of acquaintance rape never tell anyone. You have to listen.”

Victims of sexual assault can get help at the Santa Monica Rape Treatment Center: 310.319.4000 or online at

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