**Content warning: The following text describes sexual assault and can be disturbing and/or triggering for some readers. Please find resources listed at the bottom of the article.**
I saw him today. It’s a face I’ll never forget.
Ironically, almost two years exactly after the incident, while on my way to interview for a position in a group that strives to prevent acts of sexual violence on campus, I locked eyes with the boy who raped me.
Part of me wants to spare you the details of it all, but a bigger part of me knows the more I leave open to interpretation, the more abstract these incidents will become to those who have been lucky enough not to experience one themselves, and that abstraction would lead to a dangerous step backwards from the empathy we all need to give to victims of such crimes. So here is my story.
After blacking out weekend after weekend in a particularly dark spiral of freshman year, I looked to Fling with excitement. Nothing else in my life held value at the time, so the thought of numbing myself with drinking and dancing held promise. I went out all day and linked up with some friends for the concert before going out even more, late into the night, despite my rain–soaked hair and physical exhaustion. I pushed my body to its limits, and in the basement of a fraternity house at 2:00 a.m., I felt my mind separate from my body in a blackout.
The next day I woke up, head heavy, with a dizzy nausea making the room swirl around me. I staggered down to my best friend’s room at the end of the hall and collapsed on her bed with her, trying to remember the night before, but not really caring, figuring this blackout was no different from any other.
As I came to a bit more, I realized how badly I had to pee. I walked down the hall to the bathroom, sat on the toilet, and began to pee. It hurt. When I wiped, there was blood. Not a lot, not like my period. More like after the first time I had sex. And then it hit me. Someone was inside me last night, and I don’t remember it.
I couldn’t breathe, and yet I had a weird sense of calm, an elevated panic that went beyond physical representation. When I got back to my friend’s room, I didn’t hesitate to say, “I think I might have gone home with someone last night.”
In response to these vague words, she raised an eyebrow and coyly asked, “Ooh, who with?”
“No,” I told her. “I mean I think I went home with someone and hooked up with someone, but I don’t remember any of it.”
“Oh,” she said.
It’s only after this exchange that I thought to open my phone and look through my photos, to find a trace of what exactly happened. I saw progressively drunk selfies and wobbly videos taken of my surroundings at various time points. The last pictures taken were at 2:32 a.m. of my coat in the fraternity house basement, perhaps in an effort to remember where I’d put it when I left.
Then I opened my Facebook app, and it all rushed back. At the top of my screen was a notification for a friend request. When I viewed the profile, the face in the picture appeared as the face of the person thrusting on top of my motionless body in a moonlit dorm room. I remember having a moment where I briefly came to, shaking in this stranger’s bed, and somehow had the wherewithal to leave—thank God he didn’t try to stop me. I remember running home, and getting under the covers with my clothes on, hoping and praying that I would wake up the next day with the memory of a nightmare instead of reality.
But there was no denying the soreness between my legs, or upon closer inspection, the small bruises on my hips—I had been raped.
For a long time, I told no one about it. I thought because seeing a picture of his face triggered memories that helped piece together that night, it meant that I wasn’t fully blacked out, and that it couldn’t be rape, because since I wasn’t fully blacked out I must have been sober enough to consent, right? Looking back, I think I told myself this because I didn’t want that label of a victim. I see myself as strong and beautiful and deserving of only the most respect, and I didn’t want to think that I could let myself be in that position. I blamed myself and my irresponsibility. I didn’t want to be broken, and for a while, I let this experience poison everything that I loved about myself.
I thought that if I didn’t talk about it, it would go away. When I did have the courage to tell a few people in my life, they would be surprised. They would tell me it didn’t make sense. They would ask why I wasn’t more upset about it, why I was quiet and serious as I told them, instead of red–faced and sobbing. I don’t know. I don’t think there is a right way to react to something like this.
But in some moments, it does hit me. Oddly enough, at the beginning of this year, I started seeing someone new that I really liked. We had so much in common and it seemed from the start that it could potentially be the kind of happy intimate connection I had ruled out finding in college. Then I found out that he was in that fraternity from that night, and that he lived in that fraternity house. I remember waiting for him to fall asleep the first night I spent at his place before quietly crying. I didn’t want to leave, but it hurt to be in that space again. I thought about telling him, but things ended with us before I had the courage to, so I kept those feelings to myself. In hindsight though, I think a part of him could tell something was off.
I don’t know what I want this story to say. I’m a big fan of critical analysis. I love to take a poem or a story or a work of art and find the big meaning. But when it comes to this, I can’t do it. Maybe it’s because I still live in a fear or denial about this event that I have yet to fully confront (hence my anonymity), or maybe it’s because I will never be able to see this situation from the outside, but I don’t know what value this story could impart to a reader.
And yet I feel it must be told. I don’t want my name or details attached because I don’t want people who know me, tangentially or familiarly, to use my personality as justification for this boy’s violence against me. Because this is more than just a story about me. This is something that has happened to someone you know.
So, if I had to attach a motivation to this story, I would say that I finally decided I wanted to say something about my experience. Because I am tired of hearing only statistics associated with sexual violence. I am tired of looking around at the crowd of students at Take Back the Night, and thinking to myself “Is this it?” I am tired of having to listen to my own father trying to make an argument about why he thinks we should thoroughly question victims of sexual violence when they make an accusation against an employer, because “how do we know they aren’t simply vindictive?”
I’m sorry I am not yet brave enough to put my name on this piece—I promise I am trying to get there. But for now, especially because April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month, please read the dark details of my experience, and never allow yourself to deny that this isn’t real and that this isn’t happening here at Penn, because it is. This is a moment I think about every day of my life, a moment that I know will never leave me. But the biggest source of pain for me right now is the knowledge that this could have been prevented, that a whole roomful of people saw this boy take me home in a nearly incapacitated state of drunkenness and did absolutely nothing but watch.
Be an active bystander. Protect each other. And please, please, be careful.
The HELP Line: 215-898-HELP: A 24–hour–a–day phone number for members of the Penn community who seek help in navigating Penn's resources for health and wellness.
Counseling and Psychological Services: 215-898-7021 (active 24/7): The counseling center for the University of Pennsylvania.
Student Health Service: 215-746-3535: Student Health Service can provide medical evaluations and treatment to victims/survivors of sexual and relationship violence regardless of whether they make a report or seek additional resources. Both male and female providers can perform examinations, discuss testing and treatment of sexually transmissible infections, provide emergency contraception if necessary and arrange for referrals and follow up.
Reach–A–Peer Hotline: 215-573-2727 (every day from 9 p.m. to 1 a.m.),A peer hotline to provide peer support, information, and referrals to Penn students.
Penn Violence Prevention: 3539 Locust Walk (Office Hours: 9 am – 5 pm), (215) 746-2642, Jessica Mertz (Director of Student Sexual Violence Prevention, Education)firstname.lastname@example.org, Read the Penn Violence Prevention resource guide.
Sexual Trauma Treatment Outreach and Prevention Team: A multidisciplinary team at CAPS dedicated to supporting students who have experienced sexual trauma.
Public Safety Special Services: Trained personnel offer crisis intervention, accompaniment to legal and medical proceedings, options counseling and advocacy, and linkages to other community resources.