A woman who says she was drugged and raped in the bathroom of a popular Lower East Side bar last week has made her story public in an effort to spur a larger conversation about how society treats victims of sexual violence.
"Every woman I know in my life has been a victim of violence, sexual or otherwise, at the hands of men," Pepper Ellett told us. "These crimes are so visible, and with sexual violence you're made to feel this stigma and shame and it keeps people from healing. It just perpetuates the problem. I feel compelled to say, this isn't right."
Ellett, who is 25, says that she and a friend had a few drinks on the Lower East Side last Tuesday night before heading to Happy Ending on Broome Street around 1 a.m. According to Ellett, she was followed into the bathroom by a male employee of the bar and raped.
Ellett believes she was drugged because she remembers very little of her time at Happy Ending, despite being careful not to drink too much because she had to be at her job at a Chelsea art gallery the next morning.
Alarmed that something had happened to Ellett in the bathroom, Ellett's friend alerted the bar's management and security, and tried to confront the employee, who fled.
The next morning, Ellett said she went to work, but her colleagues urged her to go to the Lenox Hill Healthplex on 7th Avenue, where a rape kit was administered. Nurses confirmed her injuries were consistent with sexual assault, and after she told them she wanted to press charges, she was interviewed by three male police officers, two of whom she described as being "in training."
"One of them just kept asking me, 'Why don't you remember?' And the nurse had to step in and tell him, 'Well, that's normal for trauma victims to block out the event, it hasn't even been 24 hours,'" Ellett says. "But he said, 'That just doesn't make any sense. Maybe you're a party girl. You know regrettable sex is not the same as rape.' You think I'd choose to be here in the hospital? Do you see the bruises all over me?"
Ellett tells us that while she was using the restroom a man entered. "I just saw this dick in my face and I heard a man tell me to suck his dick," Ellett recalls. "And then I said no and I remember feeling trapped and I remember feeling like I was being held against my will, and then I don't remember anything after that."
"I just felt like the entire time I had to keep retelling my story to a dude who didn't even care, and who kept asking me to prove that I wasn't some whore who forgot that I said that this guy could have sex with me," Ellett tells us.
She was taken to the 5th Precinct, where she says more male officers questioned her account, before police brought her uptown to speak with an investigator from the Special Victims Unit.
"[The officer] said, 'Maybe you led him to believe it was okay in some way?' I kept repeating myself and I got so frustrated. He told me, 'If it's his word against yours it's gonna be years of an uphill legal battle, a lot more strife.' He was basically deterring me from doing anything about it. I just asked him, 'Well isn't rape a crime? Isn't it a felony?'"
Ellett says the entire ordeal lasted more than 10 hours. The next day, she says her father called Happy Ending to see if they had video surveillance that would prove her case and identify the suspect. She says her father was told by Oliver Stumm, one of the owners, that management had reviewed the video that night and that they fired the employee on the spot.
"Happy Ending takes these allegations very seriously and the employee in question was fired immediately that evening when management was made aware of the situation," a spokesman for the bar, Will Davis, wrote us in an email. "We will not comment any further so as to respect the privacy of the alleged victim and not hinder the police investigation. We have fully cooperated with the authorities."
An NYPD spokesman told us that Happy Ending "doesn't have the responsibility" to report their employee to the police. "As good business? Yeah they might want to say that we have a worker who did this. It behooves the bar to cooperate with investigators, that's a different story."
Davis has not indicated whether they have turned over any evidence to police. The NYPD's press office could not provide a name for the suspect, and said that no arrests have been made. Nor have they distributed a request for media attention, which is common for investigations of this nature.
In May, Happy Ending's manager Teddy Perweiler, was arrested for assaulting his ex-girlfriend, Julia Fox, in the bar. Perweiler, who runs the club with Stumm and Max Levai, later took an ACD in the case.
"The lack of security in there, it's just not okay," Fox, who says she is an investor in the bar, told us. "They should have replaced their security in there after the first incident. They didn't, and that's why this happened again. They're misogynists, they don't understand."
Ellett says she wrote a detailed Facebook post about her experience so that other women might feel empowered to share their own, and to make them aware of the resources that are available to them. "Learning that the state covers emergency contraception and the cost of preventative STD drugs made me so grateful I was pushed to go to the hospital, and I think many women don't even know that that kind of support exists," she says.
After her Facebook post went up, Ellett said her inbox is "flooded with girls telling me their stories, girls who have just had to carry it."
"They were raped in the military, or raped ten years ago, or some people are like, 'I told the cops and they told me to go home,' or their families toss them out. It's so much to take on, and I don't know what the resolution is. This isn't some sociopath that's out there, this is the norm, there are conditions that allow this type of thing to happen. What are those conditions? What makes men feel entitled to women's bodies?"