Community Content: How Penn State Made My Sexual Assault Experience Worse
After reading “How UHS Handled My Sexual Assault,” written by an anonymous reader of Onward State, I felt the need to address the topic. This author targeted how UHS specifically responded to their assault, but I want to acknowledge the bigger issue here: how Penn State as a whole deals with sexual assaults.
After being assaulted at a frat one night, my roommate encouraged me to report the incident, which I did the next day.
First, I told my RA. I didn’t have any idea how to report the assault, and I thought that my RA would know –that’s sort of their job, right? My RA didn’t know and had to ask her residence life coordinator what my options were. If we’re keeping track, that’s three people who know what happened to me so far: my roommate, my RA, and my residence life coordinator. They told me my options were to talk to the residence life coordinator, who would then report to someone above him and then to the police, or I could go directly to the university police myself. To avoid having to talk to my residence life coordinator, who I knew I’d see all the time, I went straight to the university police.
When I got to their office and said I wanted to make a report about a sexual assault, their initial question was whether it happened on-campus or off. I explained that it happened at an off-campus fraternity, but assumed since it is affiliated with the university that the police on campus would take my report. They did not. They told me (insensitively) that I have to report it to the State College police. So, I walked down to the State College police and told them I wanted to report a sexual assault. They had me recall all the information I knew to an officer over the phone and that they would send someone to talk to me after I told them what I knew. This was my fourth time recalling this traumatic event within 24 hours of it happening.
After telling an officer what happened, a detective came in and told me she was going to take my case. She had me tell her everything that had happened, in excruciating detail. I told her everything I remembered, which was EVERYTHING — I was 100% sober. I fought back tears the entire time I told her and watched her write it all down with absolutely no emotion or sympathy in her eyes. She proceeded to tell me what my options were moving forward. She said I could press charges, which at this point, I blanked and couldn’t hear anything she was saying. Press charges? Ruin someone else’s life? Go to court? Tell my parents, my family, my friends, that I was sexually assaulted? Let this horrible, horrible experience stay in my mind for months on end when all I wanted was to pretend it never even happened? Being at the State College police station and being treated as if this was just another case, like I was just another girl who asked for it, made me regret reporting it. It made me think my life was worth nothing.
I left the police station with no comfort or closure. The detective would call me within a week to ask me my decision on the case. I was lost with nowhere to turn and no idea who I could go to, because I already felt like this was all my fault, even though I was sober. I hadn’t had a single drink that night. I felt isolated and alone and just worthless. I had no idea if I could even go anywhere on campus for support since the university police made me feel like my incident was unwelcome on campus since it happened off-campus.
I eventually reached out to CAPS and they gave me an emergency appointment because of my situation. The counselor I talked to tried to sympathize with me, but she had nothing to say to help me other than she was sorry that this happened to me. At this meeting, it was my fifth time recalling that night. I didn’t want to talk to someone who barely knew anything about me. I felt like this counselor did nothing for me. She just asked questions that made me feel like I did everything wrong. “How much did you drink that night?” “Were you alone?” “What were you wearing?” I didn’t want to stick with the counseling. It was useless. To add to my already bad experience with CAPS, it changed my counselor halfway through…another time that I had to recall that night. After going to the Centre County Women’s Resource Center downtown months later, I realized that CAPS actually made my anxiety and trauma from the event worse.
Two weeks after that night, I got an email from the Title IX office asking to meet with me to discuss the incident. I was still upset, and just agreed because I knew I didn’t want to let the guy who did this get away with it. I went in to the Title IX office and had to tell every detail. Again. I can’t say enough that this was a completely horrible experience. The Title IX coordinator did his best to make me feel comfortable and kept apologizing for not talking to me sooner. He told me that this was not how a report should go and acknowledged that the system is flawed. He gave me all of my options and time to think it over. Once I decided, I had to tell the incident, again, to someone from the office of student conduct. Recall number seven. When the process was finally over, I felt safer, freer. But at the same time, I was angry at the university for not making me feel like my report was just as important as everyone else’s.
I love Penn State. That’s why I’m here. But after this experience, with my RA not knowing what to do, the university police shooing me away, the State College police making me feel at fault, CAPS not helping me in any way, and having to recall my experience over and over again, I lost respect for the university. They claim to take sexual assaults so seriously, yet I write this 3 months after the incident with PTSD, still feeling scared walking on campus. There are technically all these resources for us to go to, but are they effective? This was something I couldn’t leave unnoticed, especially after reading about someone else feeling a similar way when going to UHS. We can’t solve the issue of sexual assault, but the university could make the aftermath so much easier. No student should have to go through what I, or what the author of the UHS article, had to go through. Penn State, please revise this system. Please treat everyone as if they are the first person it happened to. Please actually live up to your word of caring so much about sexual assaults.
I could never put into words how deeply this experience affected me. But it wasn’t just the assault, it was the university and the way they treated me and the assault. I feel this article does not even explain how terrible the situation was to go through, but it needs to be said. I commend the author of the UHS article for bringing it up and giving me the courage to do the same.
[Editor’s note: The student who submitted this asked to remain anonymous.]