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The Miseducation of Ericka Griffin 

Ericka Griffin figured she was finally getting her big break when she got a teaching job at an exclusive Santa Monica private school. Instead, the school’s elite taught her the lesson of her life.

Thursday, Jan 13 2005
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Page 6 of 9

Griffin did not report the rape right away. Instead, she started calling home, complaining that she did not like it in Atlanta — vague cries for help that went unheeded. "They told me to hang in there," she says of her parents. Griffin says her assailant stalked her for several weeks before attempting to rape her again, this time on the Spelman campus. Griffin escaped the second attempt but reacted by swallowing half a bottle of ibuprofen pills and cutting her wrists with a disposable razor, requiring a trip to the hospital, sedation and an emergency call to her parents. While in intensive care, she told her doctors she had been raped several weeks earlier, by the man who had driven her to self-injury. She did not know his name. No investigation took place. No charges were filed.

Larry Griffin winces as he describes the phone call he received from the hospital. "I was angry, and I felt helpless," he says. "My impulse was to get on a plane and go get my daughter." Yet he didn’t. Instead, he says, he contacted a childhood friend in nearby Decatur to act as his surrogate. However, Ericka Griffin does not recall ever meeting her father’s friend. She recalls going to stay with her mother’s cousin Victor Payton, who lived nearby in Athens, until she could return to California. What’s more, she says, a Spelman representative came to the hospital and discouraged her from filing a police report. "They didn’t want controversy with Morehouse," she says. In a written statement, Spelman officials deny ever discouraging rape victims from reporting to the authorities.

"Ericka came back and stayed with me in Salinas, where I lived at the time," her father continues. "There was a long healing process, complicated by the fact that her grandmother did not believe a rape occurred." When asked whether he had his own doubts, Larry Griffin pauses. "I don’t know," he says with hesitation. "I believe my daughter. Something devastating must have happened."

 

As a rape victim, a college dropout and a directionless young woman in her late teens, Griffin had years of hard knocks ahead before she was ready to throw herself into the rigors of tending to children of wealth and privilege. When she returned to Los Angeles, a year after leaving Spelman, college classes were out of the question. "I could not go near a campus of any sort," she says. "It was too unnerving." Instead, she moved in with her old boyfriend, an activist in the Nation of Islam movement, who lived with his grandmother on 88th Street in South-Central. With help from her mother and aunt, both paralegals, and her uncle, an attorney, she eventually landed a series of clerical jobs at law firms. Several firms would later give her sterling recommendations as a hard worker and charming young woman. One would not.

The early 1990s were difficult, Griffin says. Her grandmother made her feel as though she "couldn’t cut it at Spelman." Such disapproval drove her to become a teacher’s aide at Carlthorp, she says, hoping for approval from her grandmother, a career educator who valued prestige. Equally disappointing, says Griffin, was that her mother didn’t stand up for her. "Ericka felt anger towards me," admits Marks, who was living with her parents as a single mother of three. "I was struggling to get myself established. I wasn’t receiving child support, and I could barely afford rent and food on a paralegal’s salary. I allowed my mother to control everything. Meanwhile, my daughter was on the threshold of adulthood, and I wasn’t physically or emotionally available," she says matter-of-factly.

Just as Marks doesn’t hesitate to blame her failures on her divorce and her mother’s worldview, she is quick to rail against inequality in society in general. Specifically she blames Spelman, Carlthorp and the justice system for grinding her daughter into the ground. "I would like people to know about the brutality, cruelty and heartlessness Ericka has experienced," Marks says. "Why do people in authority seem to have so little conscience? Why, 46 years after my mother graduated Spelman, did school administrators do so little to get at the root of what happened to her granddaughter on campus?"

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