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about a year ago

Sexual Assault Awareness Month: Telling My Story

Photo: Hannah Lane

As many of you know, April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month, and it is something that means a lot to me personally. Causes like this often gain attention but not a lot of support simply because many people don’t understand. The statistics can hit home, but what does it really matter unless you personally feel the impact of it? More often than not, people don’t begin to take action until they begin to understand.

For months now, I have debated whether or not I wanted to take a leap of faith and make a statement about my personal story. Not because I want the attention or feel that my situation is the worst in the world, no, that is far from the truth. I want people to hear a real story about a real person. I want to put a name and a face next to those statistics and the horrors that Sexual Assault Awareness Month is attempting to fight.

Think of me as the girl who lives on your floor — the one who sits a row in front of you in your class in Forum, your sorority sister, or your best friend. Think of me as a part of the large portion of the girls here at Penn State who have to be prepared for the possibility of something like this happening to them. We deal with these thoughts every single day.

This is my story.

On January 6, 2012, I was at a party back home with a group of my friends from high school. I was out of my element. While I did enjoy partying and drinking here at Penn State, it wasn’t something I ever really did at home. Interacting with people from high school who remembered me as the little goodie two-shoes from a few years ago made me feel a bit on edge, so I began talking to my old classmates as if we had just met for the first time. And in a sense, we had. From the beginning of the party, I had the attention of a guy that I had never met before. He was sweet, funny, and made me feel as though my socially awkward self was capable of intelligent conversation. The night went on and I continued to sip. I could feel my body begin to feel tipsy after just my first drink. The guy I was conversing with was polite enough to scurry away and get me another drink while I continued conversing with my friends.

Halfway through the second drink, an alarm starting going off in my head. Something wasn’t right. His hands started wandering to places they shouldn’t, and for some reason I couldn’t get my brain to tell my mouth to tell him to stop. Before I realized what was happening, he was leading me upstairs. My mind screamed at me that I didn’t want to go, but my body could do nothing to stop it. He threw me on the bed, ripped off my clothes. I was being raped. It lasted for 46 minutes — I stared at the clock in the room for the entirety of the event. He repeatedly told me I was worthless, that I was nothing, and that I deserved this. He put my clothes back on and sent me downstairs to fall asleep next to my friends. I obliged, more from shock and awe than from the drugs he had carefully placed into my drink. Before I started down the stairs, he whispered in my ear, “I will do it again, and I will kill you if you can’t keep your mouth shut.”

It took me three weeks to tell anybody. I didn’t want people to think I was broken, and I didn’t want them to start treating me differently. Most importantly, I didn’t want him to hurt me again. He had gotten inside my head. I started getting text messages from my assailant using different numbers telling me the same things he had said to me that night — that I was worthless and I deserved it. I started believing everything he had told me. I convinced myself that I must have deserved it, that I had to have been worthless — there was no other way for me to make sense of it inside of my head. When I returned to Penn State for second semester, only one person noticed that something was different with me. They pried and begged me to tell them what was going on, and for awhile I refused to do it. Finally, after a night of one too many drinks, I couldn’t hold it in anymore. I caved and told them about my attack. I cried myself to sleep that night as they held me, both from the relief of someone else finally knowing, as well as from the pain of what had happened. I hadn’t let myself think about it again until that night.

After more than a week of convincing, I was persuaded to report the attack to the police and go to the hospital for an examination. I went through the investigation and the trial, and relived my attack over and over again, only for my assailant to be cleared of all charges. There wasn’t enough evidence because I waited too long before reporting the attack to anyone.

I will not lie to you; going through the process of the trial only for it to fail felt terrible. I regretted ever reporting it and had wished that I just pretended that it never happened. Almost a year and a half later, though, I am glad that I did what I did. I am glad that although he wasn’t convicted, my assailant had to go through the same long process that I did. I am glad that I scared him enough by coming forward to stop contacting me with empty threats. Although he probably hasn’t changed as a person, the man who attacked me knows that at least one woman won’t sit back and let him get away with that, and I hope that he remembers this if he ever thinks of attacking someone again in the future.

I didn’t choose to tell you my story because I felt like I needed the attention. I don’t want the people who do know me personally to treat me any differently. Most of you probably didn’t have the slightest clue that this happened to me. It in no way defines me as a person and I should not be treated that way. But I am writing this because as fellow human beings, we need to know that there are people in our lives that are affected by this every single day. Rape jokes aren’t funny. The word itself makes me want to cringe and crawl into a hole. It brings me back to my attack, and the last thing in the world I want to do is laugh. There are thousands of other women on this campus alone that feel the way that I do.

Protect the girls in your life. Not because we are weak, but because often we believe we are too strong for our own good and choose to internalize issues of this magnitude. If I had simply dropped my pride and told myself that I can’t deal with this on my own, maybe the pig who did this to me would be in prison right now. Each of us who are affected by situations like mine have different mindsets and sometimes we don’t choose the right path to take. More often than not, we need help, but sometimes we are too afraid to ask for it. I hope that everyone can take a moment to realize that this is a real problem and needs to be fixed.

If this cause matters to you personally as well, speak out. What will influence people is your story and the chance to make sure that future women never have to tell a story like mine again.

Don’t know where to seek help? Call the RAINN National Sexual Assault Hotline at 1-800-656-HOPE