You are doing the right thing. You are drunk; so drunk that your thoughts slap against each other, so drunk that the smack of your Converse against the Quad bricks is a rhythm and your body is on autopilot and every breath you gulp tastes like the Dixie cup of the coconut rum you downed at the last house party. You are clinging to your consciousness. It is a Saturday night, freshman year, and the friend you’ve known for months says he won’t try to kiss you again; he’ll just let you crash on his floor. You are too gone to walk home—you are being responsible. He looks over his shoulder while you swipe in. He opens the door for you and lets you go first.
When he hoists you onto his bed, you scream out the name of every boy you’ve hooked up with in the past few months, so he knows you’re too out of it. So he knows to stop. He doesn’t.
His hands canvass your chest and his knees poke between yours. You shout no, you shout that this isn’t supposed to happen, and when you shriek the word rape, his hands flutter for a moment, and then start again. You tell him you’re a virgin. You’re lying, he says. You promise that you’re not, but then his pants zipper hisses open, and you dig into his back; you are shaking so hard your head slams into the wall.
“Are you okay?” He asks. “Are you hurt?”
When you see him in the morning, you will both cry at the same time.
You’re here. You’re at Penn. You are lucky, so lucky to be here. That’s the last thing you think before you pass out again. You will wake up in the middle of the night, too drunk to hear your heartbeat. That’s when you know that this is real.
You take stock of your body. He touched you, kissed you, smothered you. You can’t remember if he fingered you; you remember strokes, brushes while you cried, but you don’t know what went in where. You know he didn’t fuck you, though. But sometimes, when you are searching for ways to explain what happened to yourself and to friends, you will wish he had. You hate yourself for that.
You will spend months searching for the right terminology: You have been harassed. You have been assaulted. And after months, you will realize you can say it.
You’ve been raped.
In the year after you are sexually assaulted, you will replay this memory dozens of times.
On the way to your 9 a.m. psych class. At parties. By a bar near Wall Street during your summer internship. In the arms of your boyfriend, a week after you start dating.
In the year after, you will read about awareness campaigns. Lady Gaga will sing “Til It Happens To You.” Joe Biden will talk about assault at the Oscars. You will watch friends take the It’s On Us pledge. You will read a report that 30% of women here are assaulted. You will tell huddles of prospective students and their parents, each week on your tour guide shift, that we have the largest police force in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania right here at Penn. You will tell them you’ve never felt unsafe here.
You will watch as friend after friend approaches you. Something happened, she’ll say. I think I was assaulted. By a consistent hook–up. By a friend. By men you know from clubs, from class. I don’t know what to do, they will tell you. It will kill you to not have answers.
And so, so many of your friends will listen when you tell them what happened. The boy you’ve known since high school will let you hurl a deck of cards against his wall; your best friends will hold you and look after you at parties and swear that it’s not your fault. But an administrator will tell you that you need proof of assault to get an excuse for missing class, the nightmares aren’t enough. Your roommate will roll her eyes when she walks in on you crying. I always feel bad after a one–night stand, too, she’ll say. When you use the word “survivor,” she will sigh.
You will get shit–faced so many times in the year after. You will realize how easily this could happen again. Not because of the alcohol, or hook–up culture, or the padding in your lingerie. What scares you the most is that the boy who assaulted you knew the statistics, took the pledges. You both had heard the same horror stories. He had promised to be an ally.
April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month. But what do you do when the boy who assaulted you is aware of the epidemic?
For months, your Google searches read like a plea: What do you do when a friend sexually assaults you? What do you do when you don’t want to report assault? What counts as rape? And, most commonly, how long does it take to get over sexual assault?
Longer than you thought. Longer than a year.
But you are getting stronger. You fight to get back to normal, every fucking day.