I walked into UHS on a Friday morning, already unsure of if I was in the right place. I nervously walked towards the main desk and waited in a line to schedule an appointment. When it was my turn, I stepped up and asked for a consultation with a doctor.
“What is this regarding?” the nurse calmly asked. I shuffled on my feet and glanced at the guy waiting in line behind me. I asked the nurse if it was necessary to specify, and she answered with a patronizing ‘yes’. We stared at each other for a few seconds while I choked on the words in my mouth.
“Is it for a cold? An infection?” She listed through different ailments to which I shook my head no, until she asked, “Is this a womanly problem?” Kind of I thought, and agreed, eager to escape this uncomfortable situation. However she started to list different problems that I might have, staring at me with confusion as I tried to say what I kept screaming in my head. Finally she leaned in and asked, “Is this regarding a sexual assault?” I lost all composure and started to cry. The guy behind me took a few steps back and nervously checked his phone.
From there it was a whirl. I was taken upstairs and quickly ushered into a quiet and bright room. A nurse came in and started asking me what felt like hundreds of questions. She jotted down bits and pieces of what I remembered.
The night before had been so normal. I had gotten ready for formal with my friends, met our dates at the pregame, walked downtown to indigo and then…nothing. I had no idea what had happened. Maybe I blacked out, maybe something was off, but the next thing I remembered was stumbling into my friends’ apartment at 1 am missing my bra and underwear and hearing that no one knew where I had been the whole night.
They were interested in all of the wrong things. The nurse explained to me that the average woman would be intoxicated after three shots. She didn’t listen to me explain that I had drank less than usual. She wrote down on her purple notepad that I had consumed 6 shots and underlined it 3 times. She probed questions that I didn’t have the answers to. Why didn’t my friends stay with me? What specific times was I conscious? Did anyone slip something into my drink?
She explained to me that my potential assault wasn’t important enough to alert State College Police. I started to feel suffocated. I watched the clock as the second hour passed since I had been in the room. I guess I was missing classes for the day. After the questioning stopped she explained to me that I was now going to see the doctor. Two hours later.
I switched rooms and anxiously waited while staring at the stirrups on the chair in front of me. After a while the doctor came in and gave me a firm handshake. She pulled up some forms on her computer and started asking me questions again. After walking through the previous night for the second time she started asking me new questions.
The first thing she asked was whether or not I wanted to go to the hospital and get the police involved. She explained that this would include a rape kit that could get more definite answers, but I would have to have more concrete evidence or press charges if I wanted the results. I didn’t even know what had happened the previous night and the thought of telling my parents why I was going to the hospital was terrifying. I declined the offer. After this she let me know that I would probably never know if I was raped or not.
She asked if I wanted a drug test. As I stopped to consider, she told me that it was probably too late and it wouldn’t yield any definite results. I sat there in shock about what was happening, it hadn’t even been 12 hours yet.
We sat there for another half hour going through decisions that she decided for me. I wondered why I was there. At that point she let me know that we were going to do a pelvic exam. I clumsily took off my clothes and laid down on the crisp paper sheet, placing my feet up in the stirrups and trying to hold back tears. As she placed cold metal tools inside of me all I could think about was how I got to this moment. Painful swabs were taken, and I hated myself for not remembering the previous night. Did I even need to be here? Was I sitting here with some stranger’s hands inside of me for no reason? I cried.
After what felt like centuries she pulled everything out of me and perkily stood up. I sat up and numbly listened as she explained that pelvic exams usually don’t hold any of the answers that I was looking for. She couldn’t tell me if I had been raped. She couldn’t really tell me anything at all.
At that point I just wanted to leave. I wanted to go home and sleep and forget the past 24 hours. But for the next half hour I listened as she explained the risks that I could potentially be facing. AIDS, HIV, STI’s…there were no answers. I could take expensive medicine to preempt any diseases, or I could come back in a week. I just wanted to leave. I monotonously answered the never-ending questions. Agreeing that I would just come back later.
A week later I found myself in a different place. With no answers given to me I just wanted to forget about it all. I wanted to pretend it had never happened. The day of my appointment came and went. I shuddered at the thought of having another exam, and screened the calls from the health center asking why I hadn’t come in.
Fast forward to the Sunday before finals. I still remember everything but it has become less of a lump in my throat and more of an unpleasant memory. I woke up, went to the gym, walked home, and stopped to check my mailbox. Sorting through the junk and flyers I came across a letter from UHS. I opened it and found that I was being fined for missing my appointment. The fine would go straight on my tuition, a bill that my parents pay and meticulously scrutinize. A lump reemerged in my throat. How would I explain this? How would they understand unless I told them the awful truth of the situation? I felt sick to my stomach. At no point had I asked for another appointment, shared my interest in a second exam. I had wanted to leave and not come back. With everything that was going on I thought that reaching out for help was the right thing to do, what I was supposed to do to overcome such a situation.
I understand that people who go through sexual assault and rape all handle it differently. Reaching out for support is a really important step for a lot of survivors, and they all hold different needs for the kind of help they receive. For some people, UHS may have provided the support they so desperately needed in a time of grief and confusion. I can’t deny that they have aspects of their program that were definitely helpful. They handed me sheets of numbers that I could call if I needed help, the doctor gave me her personal cell phone number, and they informed me that my treatment would be free due to a sexual violence grant. UHS definitely has put in effort to have a helpful program for the 1 in 4 college women who are sexually assaulted.
Unfortunately for me however, I felt like so much was lacking in the system currently in place. My time spent in UHS (around 3 hours) provided no relief, no comfort. I instead obtained a lot of guilt, stress of judgment, and medical procedures that provided nothing but pain and distress. In no way do I think that this is the fault of the doctors or nurses who provided me care, but I do believe there is a more overarching problem that deserves attention and concern. My hope is that speaking out about my experience can shed more light on something so private yet broken. If I were to have to experience something so awful again, I wouldn’t be comfortable returning to UHS for support, and I think that is a problem that needs to be addressed.
[Editor’s note: The student who submitted this asked to remain anonymous.]