Reading the community content posts about other students’ experiences with sexual assault at Penn State made me want to share my own. I was assaulted during the Fall 2014 semester, and I remember running to my friend’s apartment after the assault because I was downtown with nowhere else to go. I didn’t call the police to report what had happened, but they still showed up to my friend’s apartment because one of the girls in the apartment called them. I remember saying very clearly to the officer that I didn’t want to talk. I was feeling insecure, vulnerable, and the only way I could handle this overwhelming situation was to retreat within myself — at least until the morning.
But the officer wouldn’t let go, and she continued to ask me the typical questions. Had I been drinking? Where was I? What time did I leave the party? I answered them as best I could, but I was having trouble remembering the details. I didn’t want to, and couldn’t, talk about them. The officer wrote down everything I said, and I hoped that would be the end of it.
I was wrong. The next morning I received a call from University police. I had to go the station and give a statement. I took my friend for support, and thank goodness I had someone to go through that experience with me. When I walked in, they took me to a small, gray room with a singular table and two chairs. It looked like an interrogation room. I asked to be taken to another room, so we ended up in what looked like a conference room. I had to give the same story to the detective, and then I had to write it all down. The officer asked me if he could take me in his car to identify the scene of the sexual assault. When we got outside, he started walking over to a marked police car. I immediately felt uncomfortable. I didn’t want people seeing me riding around in a police car, so I had to ask to be driven in an unmarked car. Once we got to the scene, he made me get out of the car and walk around it with him. Less than 24 hours since I had been attacked, I was back at the scene, reliving the experience. I just wanted it to be over.
A couple weeks later, after working hard to put the assault behind me, I got a call from the university police. They wanted me to go back to the station and answer “some more questions.” I said I would go when I had the chance, but for the previous couple days I had been lying in bed. I couldn’t bring myself to go to class or hang out with my friends. I ended up forgetting to go back to the station. Instead of receiving a call with a reminder, I was woken up one morning by my roommates telling me the police were at our door.
Now I lived on campus at the time, so the officers were standing in a hallway where everyone could see them. In fact, I was questioned by a couple people afterward about why the police had been there that morning. They told me they wanted to take me back to the station. I could not believe what was happening. I forgot to go back to the station and they were there to take me in like some sort of criminal. I said no and that I preferred to stay in the comfort of my room.
They then proceeded to question me in the following way: “Now we all know that this didn’t happen.” I was taken aback. Were they accusing me of making up this story? Were they suggesting that the most traumatic event of my life had never happened? They also showed me several pictures taken from camera footage of that evening. I saw myself in the street, I saw myself in the elevator, I saw myself in the hallway. They were basically taking me through a play by play of that night, as if just talking about it wasn’t bad enough. After I had run out of the room crying, one of the officers told my roommate that this type of questioning was a “technique” to weed out the people who were making up their stories. This is horrifying.
From this experience, it was clear to me that there needs to be better training for how to deal with sexual assault victims. Everyone handles trauma differently, and to be accused of making the whole thing up because I wanted nothing to do with the so-called “investigation” just added to the violation that I felt during this entire experience. I still feel uncomfortable when I pass the university police station because I’m afraid of seeing the officers that showed up at my dorm. I don’t think I will ever feel comfortable reporting anything to the police because of how they treated me during my most vulnerable time.
[Editor’s note: The student who submitted this asked to remain anonymous.]