7:00pm PT by Jackie Strause
'Bachelor' Contestant Opens Up About Being a Sexual Assault Survivor on TV
The Bachelor devoted a significant portion of Monday night's episode to contestant Caelynn Miller-Keyes so she could share her story, and the result was a powerful conversation between the Miss USA runner-up and star Colton Underwood. During a one-on-one date, Miller-Keyes opened up about being a survivor of sexual assault, revealing in detail how she was drugged and assaulted in college.
"That moment is a moment that very rarely happens on The Bachelor or The Bachelorette, where it’s bigger than the show — it’s bigger than anything this show has probably seen or done before," Underwood told The Hollywood Reporter ahead of the episode's airing.
Miller-Keyes, now 23, is the first contestant to share a story of past sexual abuse while appearing on the franchise. The Miss North Carolina beauty queen first came forward about being a sexual assault survivor after the 2018 Miss USA pageant, explaining the difficulty she faced when trying to report her assault long before the #MeToo and Time's Up movements. But on the Jan. 28 episode, Underwood, who isn't given online access to research contestants, was hearing her story for the first time.
Ever since Miller-Keyes met Underwood on the Jan. 7 premiere, she has been gearing up to tell him her story. On the premiere, she bonded with Underwood by saying, "I've gone through so much that it's aged me, so I'm more than ready for marriage." Underwood, whose decision to remain a virgin at age 27 has become a constant source of conversation, replied, "I'm the same way — my life experience has made me more of a man than most 30-year-olds."
When show drama reared its head between Miller-Keyes and one of her former beauty queen competitors, Hannah Brown, who also is a contestant on Underwood's season, Miller-Keyes again told Underwood on the Jan. 21 episode that she has been through enough adversity in her life that to be targeted by Brown now is frustrating. "There are things I haven't talked to you about that have been traumatic experiences in my life that have deeply hurt me," Miller-Keyes told Underwood at the time. "It's stuff I've wanted to talk to you about as the relationship progresses. It's real life shit, it's not just...it's something I had intentions of bringing up to you because it's some stuff that has affected my life. But not tonight and not right now."
During their one-on-one date on the Jan. 28 episode, Miller-Keyes found her moment, revealing to Underwood that she was sexually assaulted when she, then a sophomore in college in Virginia, attended a fraternity party in 2014 with three friends. "They drugged our wine," she told Underwood. "I woke up the next morning completely naked in my bed and had no memory of the night before. I had a small vision of a guy in my bed and I just had this pit in my stomach that something really bad happened last night. My girlfriend called and said three of us were all sexually assaulted."
Her friend told her that after her two friends passed out in a bed at the party, two men allegedly had sex with them, in the same bed, while they were incapacitated. "The girlfriend who didn't drink the wine called me and told me that not only did a guy come home and have sex with me, another guy — I was passed out on the couch from the drugs — said, 'Watch what I'm about to do' with all his fraternity brothers around me and he lifted up my dress. They watched and laughed and took photos" and shared the photos on Snapchat.
"It was horrible. It was absolutely horrible," Miller-Keyes told Underwood. The next day, she reported the assault to the police but when she first went to get a rape kit, she was turned away by the hospital — "which is illegal," she added of being told she had to file the report first. By the time she arrived at the second hospital and spoke with police, the results ended up being inconclusive because too much time had passed.
"The men got away with it, except for one," she said. "One did get expelled and the rest got away with it."
She added, "I was determined to get justice and seek justice. It's something that will always be a part of me. I struggled with the shame and guilt that I had felt. It's the most difficult thing in the world. It's so painful and it screws up every ounce of you."
After listening to Miller-Keyes open up about the assault and traumatic impact it has had on her life, the Bachelor told her, "I want you to know that with me, you're safe. I can't even imagine going through something like that. I know talking about it is not easy. The fact that that happened to you is devastating."
He then told her that he understands her struggle with intimacy because of a past relationship. "I have had a situation in my past where I was in a relationship in which she was sexually abused," Underwood explained. "For me, that was the hardest thing I ever had to watch, going through something with someone. Looking into her eyes and just knowing the pain associated with it. Who am I to feel the pain when I wasn't the victim?"
Miller-Keyes disagreed: "I see how it's affected my family, every single person in my life. It's something everyone in my life went through with me."
Then turned talk to Underwood's virginity, something that both he and host Chris Harrison had teased would arrive at some point in the season. "I think that's one thing people never understand is the intimacy that goes along with what you've experienced, and I've been on the other side of it," Underwood explained to Miller-Keyes. "And for me, for that to be my first love and the first person I found for me and it didn't happen — and opening up last year about my virginity wasn't the easiest thing to do."
He added, "But I think the thing I realized is that everyone who asks me why I'm not a virgin, they expect this simple answer. They want a reason. And my reason is complicated."
Heading into the #MeToo era, the long-running franchise has had a complicated relationship with consent after the Bachelor in Paradise shutdown in 2017. Arie Luyendyk Jr.'s season of The Bachelor was criticized for being out of touch in the current climate and a contestant on Becca Kufrin's recent season of The Bachelor was convicted of sexual assault after he was cast.
After Miller-Keyes and Underwood's conversation ended and before The Bachelor cut to commercial, the ABC series ran a PSA for RAINN, prompting anyone who has experienced sexual assault to call 800-656-HOPE or visit rainn.org. On Monday, before the episode aired, Underwood took to Twitter to ask viewers to "please to be kind, respectful and understanding to everyone involved."
Franchise host Harrison, speaking to THR ahead of the episode, said it would be up to viewers to watch and determine how the show handled the moment. "But it definitely was a meaningful, really emotional conversation that prompts a lot of things in the show," Harrison told THR. "There is a definite turn in the show where Colton opens up about why he is the way he is right now in his life. How did he get here? What prompted all this? And part of that is why he has remained a virgin. If you can figure there’s a lot of layers to something, that’s just one of the layers of Colton."
The three-time franchise star said his conversation with Miller-Keyes was the first time in all of his experience on the reality show that he was truly present. "While I was with her, I forgot everything that was going on, and I don’t know if I can say that about any other moment on my time on The Bachelorette or on Bachelor in Paradise," Underwood told THR. "I was always aware there was a camera on me and that I was doing a TV show and in that moment with Caelynn, all of that went out the window."
About the decision to reveal more about the reasons behind his virginity, Underwood told THR at the time, "I can only speak on my experience and I just stayed true to who I was."
At the end of Monday's show, Miller-Keyes thanked Underwood for opening up and told him she feels safe in their relationship. She then said to the camera, "I feel like I've been through hell and back, but every time I open up, it makes me stronger and I'm able to take a little piece of me back that was broken by it. I'm way stronger than I ever imagined. I wouldn't open up with him about this if I didn't feel so safe with him."