Alleged rape victim tells her story after two-year struggle

By Zach Thomas
Arizona Daily Wildcat
November 26, 1996

Colby Nordheimer will carry heavy mental baggage for the rest of her life.

She alleges she was raped on Halloween in 1994 after she drank too much during a party at the former Delta Chi fraternity house.

"I went into a friend's room who I trust. I got sick in his room. I passed out, and when I came to, it was happening to me," she says. "I would have never thought it was possible for that to happen to me there. I felt safe there."

Her attacker, Peter Hart Pisciotta, was sentenced to three years probation Friday after he pleaded guilty to felony aggravated assault after an initial sexual assault charge was reduced as part of a plea agreement. He admitted to detectives after the assault that he had sexual intercourse with Nordheimer but said it was consensual.

Pisciotta did not return numerous phone calls from the Arizona Daily Wildcat to comment on the incident.

Nordheimer vividly recalls the morning after that party.

"When I got home from that place after being raped, I wanted to crawl in my bed and throw the covers over my head and never wake up ever again. Just to have everything go away," she says.

"I knew it wasn't something I could just pretend didn't happen, but it wasn't going to work like that. Then, all of a sudden I was afraid he was going to do it to somebody else, so I knew that I had the right to follow it through the system as best I could."

Now a sociology junior, Nordheimer works as a phone counselor at the Tucson Rape Crisis Center and hopes to get a master's degree in social work after graduation.

This is her story.

Wildcat: How have you altered your life since the incident?

Nordheimer: It's still hard for me to get out of bed a lot of days. It's like constant pain and fear kind of. But if I give in, my world will just become so much smaller.

When I was little, I used to be afraid to go into our basement at night. So my mom would make me go into the basement at night. She told me, 'Because you are afraid, you have to go down there, you have to overcome the fear. That's the only way it will go away.'

So I think my life's kind of become a constant facing-up to fear.

WC: What would you have done differently that night?

Nordheimer: I definitely wouldn't have had that much to drink. I don't think that it would have happened if I'd been sober.


If I hadn't moved from the spot I was in and just used the phone to call 911. I think a lot of evidence was probably lost during the shuffle to get me out of that room, to get me home.

So those are two things I would have done differently. If I couldn't have stopped it by not drinking, I would have called 911.

WC: Who do you blame?

Nordheimer: I blame Peter, because there's no way he misconstrued what was going on. I had vomit everywhere, on my hair, on my shirt, on the floor next to the bed, and I was completely unconscious. There's no way to mistake those signals.

Then I blame myself for making myself vulnerable; for putting myself in a position where somebody could do harm to me like that.

But I believe you have to get past that blame. I don't think that all men are a bunch of rapists, but this is the prime environment for one just 'cause it's easy for them.

WC: How much does the Greek community play into this?

Nordheimer: I am a Greek, but I think that because of the alcohol being present ... I don't think all fraternity men are rapists necessarily, but I do think that at times, there's a certain disrespect for women. It becomes a game, and sometimes they cross the line without necessarily knowing they've crossed it.

Certainly that's not every fraternity male, and you're going to find men outside in society who were never Greek that are like that. I think that the 'group think,' you know the group dynamic, can kind of play in at times.

WC: Do you drink anymore?

Nordheimer: Socially, but not like that. I didn't touch alcohol for a year. I didn't have a sip. Afterwards, I realized it wasn't the alcohol. It played a part, but it wasn't why I got raped, but it made it possible for him to rape me.

I definitely know my limits now. You'll never see me put myself in a vulnerable position.

WC: What do you advise to avoid being raped?

Nordheimer: Know your limits. Always be aware of your surroundings.

WC: Does 'no' mean 'no'?

Nordheimer: Yes, 'no' means 'no', and that goes both ways for men and women. I think men need to just assume 'no' means 'no', and women need to always make sure it does so that men can't say that in the past, 'no' has meant 'yes.' Make sure 'no' always means 'no.' That way there's no confusion. What is the Mad Hatter's saying? 'Say what you mean and mean what you say.'

WC: What have you learned while working for the rape-crisis hotline?

Nordheimer: I think it really made me look at how the system perpetuates the rape.

WC: How so?

Nordheimer: The rape trial. If you look at who's really on the defense, it's the woman. Like if somebody stole my purse, I wouldn't have to go into court and prove that I didn't give them permission to steal my purse. But here you do, and it becomes one person's word against another's.

WC: Judging from your experience on the rape-crisis hotline, how does this happen, and what can the general public do to be more aware?

Nordheimer: I think that they need to be aware what a large part alcohol plays in the whole thing. Know exactly what you're getting yourself into. Think ahead, plan ahead. Know how many drinks you've had. Know what your limit should be. Know when you've had enough, have a friend take you home.

Know your limits. If you choose to go to a room with someone, how much are you going to feel comfortable doing with that person?

WC: Is there anything else, like your surroundings?

Nordheimer: Once you're not aware of your surroundings, that's a good indication that it's time to get out. In my case, I didn't see it coming. Even so, looking back I can say I definitely should have gone home. But that was never even presented as an option.

I just think people need to be aware of the situation they're putting themselves into. Just don't be too trusting, and don't be too naive.

WC: Is there anything else you'd like to add?

Nordheimer: I think that gender stereotypes have a lot to do with it. I think that men are taught to be strong, be aggressive, don't take 'no' for an answer. Women are taught to stay in your place.

I think those are very dangerous stereotypes because we play into those and have created an entire rape culture. Of course that's just my personal feminist perspective.

I think that a lot of it is media and violence. Men grow up watching Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger. Look at how they handle their problems - they shoot each other. It's got to take a toll. They learn to handle their aggression with physical violence.

I don't see rape as an act of sex. I see it as an act of violence.

I think people need to realize that if it does happen, that they are not alone. You shouldn't blame yourself, even though it's normal to.


I don't think that just because a woman is drunk and passed out and used poor judgment. I don't think she deserves this.

WC: Do you think that's a big problem, people not reporting rapes?

Nordheimer: Definitely, definitely. People don't come forward. People assume no one is going to believe them.

WC: What would you say to that?

Nordheimer: I'd say 'I believe you.' It isn't easy coming forward. I was made to defend every action in my life. In the end, waiting two years for him to admit it and then finally getting it made the wait worth it. It made every ounce of pain worth it. I think that it made it possible for me to get on with my life.

WC: Do you encourage your callers at the Tucson Rape Crisis Center to report the crimes?

Nordheimer: I think each situation is very different, and I think each person, what they're willing to withstand, is different also. It varies with the individual. What it did for me might not be right for someone else. But for me, I think it was the only option.