The Miss USA runner-up was a college sophomore when a group of male acquaintances at a party allegedly drugged her wine glass

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January 28, 2019 04:33 PM

It’s natural to have some nerves on a Bachelor one-on-one date, but for Caelynn Miller-Keyes, a romantic night out with Colton Underwood in Singapore was also the moment she decided to share a very painful and personal part of her past.

After she was raped in college four years ago, “my life was flipped upside down,” Miller Keyes tells PEOPLE. “And even though I’ve moved on, it is something I will struggle with forever.”

She opens up to Underwood about her assault on Monday’s episode of The Bachelor. The Miss USA runner-up, 23, was a college sophomore in Virginia when a group of male acquaintances at a party allegedly drugged her wine glass, as well as the drinks of two of her friends. The next thing Miller-Keyes knew, “I woke up the next morning and I was completely naked in my bed and I knew that something bad had happened,” she says.

Craig Sjodin/ABC

A girlfriend at the get-together, who had not been drugged, alleged that one of the men had had sex with her while she was lying unconscious in the bed. In addition, before the alleged assault, Miller-Keyes says that a friend alleged that  “another guy, I was passed out on a couch from the drugs, and … in front of his fraternity brothers … lifted up my dress, they watched and laughed and took photos and Snapchats. It was horrible,” she told Underwood on The Bachelor.

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“These situations happen when you’re safe,” she tells PEOPLE. “They don’t necessarily happen when you’re walking down a dark alley. It’s when you’re comfortable and when you let your guard down.”

Miller-Keyes went to a hospital but was initially turned away.

“They told me they wouldn’t do a rape kit unless I filed a police report,” she says. “At that point, these were friends of mine and I wasn’t entirely sure what had happened, so I wasn’t positive I wanted to file a police report. But later that night, I did, once I figured out what had really happened.”

She continues: “The reporting process is a lot more difficult than people realize. I had no idea what to do. I was completely stranded, I was completely alone. I didn’t even think it was possible to be turned away from a hospital. Thankfully, I had a good support system and people went to a second hospital with me and I was able to get a rape kit and speak to authorities and go through that process. But it’s a lot more difficult than it seems.”

She points to Law & Order: Special Victim Unit, NBC’s popular procedural about sex crimes. “If you watch SVU on television, it looks so easy, but it’s not. It takes time, and it takes a lot of no’s, and hopefully eventually you can get justice.”

Sadly, “by the second hospital, so much time had passed, the results were inconclusive.” As a partial result, only one of the men was expelled from school; the others were not punished.

“Even though they got away with it, I’m happy that I still fought,” Miller-Keyes says. “I can live with myself and know that at least I tried and I pushed and I went after justice.”

After the attack, “I took the approach of hiding out,” she says. “It weakens you. It really does. It was the darkest time in my life.”

Eventually, Miller-Keyes summoned the courage to move forward. “To allow that weakness to consume you, it will,” she says. “So, I decided to change that and channel it into strength. It took me about two years to be able to speak about it. It was a long journey.”

Despite the fact that Miller-Keyes knew her assailants, she won’t reveal their names and says she’s forgiven them for the trauma they put her through.

“I’ve detached myself in a way from the perpetrators because I felt like that was the healthiest thing to do. I don’t want to have to keep reliving it. I was able to forgive the men. And once you’re able to do that, you’re able to take that power back. I hope they’ve learned from that experience and that they never do it again.”

Caelynn Miller-Keyes and Colton Underwood
Rick Rowell/ABC

Miller-Keyes says deciding when to open up to Underwood was a “heavy decision.”

“It’s always a tough conversation,” she says. ” In some ways it feels like it was a past life, and in situations like this where I’m having to relive it, it feels like it was yesterday.”

Still, she says Underwood’s openness made her comfortable to share her story.

“As soon as I met Colton, there was this immediate connection and safeness that he created. I truly have never felt so safe and so comfortable in a relationship,” she says.” I knew that if it progressed and if my feelings continued to progress, it’s something that he would need to know about. It’s an important part of a relationship. He is such a genuine loving and kind person, and I felt that. And that’s why I was able to open up in that way. I was really grateful how he handled it.”

Miller-Keyes is also grateful for the Bachelor crew for respecting her space during the date.

“The cameras were all kind of pushed back,” she says. “I couldn’t see them. It was just Colton and me. And that was so important. It allowed for that safe space that is so necessary. I felt very comfortable.”

Now, Miller-Keyes is ready for her story to be heard, and to continue to try to help other women, and men, in the same situation.

“My focus is on survivors,” she says. “I want to help other people who are hiding out and feel like their voices are restricted. I really am so much stronger now, in so many ways.”

The Bachelor airs Monday at 8 p.m. ET on ABC.

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