The following text describes sexual assault and violence, and can be disturbing and/or triggering for some readers. Please find resources listed at the bottom of the article.
It’s my senior year here at Penn, and I could not be more ready to graduate and leave this place forever. While many of my peers are already starting to reminisce about their time here and are happily making the most of senior year, I'm dealing with my PTSD diagnosis and going to therapy twice a week. This year has been stressful, but unlike the rest of my time at Penn, I’m actually getting support and treatment.
My freshman year, I was raped by a guy who I had considered to be one of my closest friends at Penn. I met him during NSO, and he lived in my dorm and quickly became part of my friend group, of my Penn family. He would tease me and hug me and tousle my hair and make sure I got home safely after a night of partying.
One time, a group of us went out and a guy got too aggressive, and he got me away from him and made sure I was okay. He was a good friend and someone I trusted. I would go to his room to hang out with him and his roommates. I was happy and naive and trusting. And then, one night, he raped me.
I remember that night so vividly. I remember jokingly reminding him about his girlfriend and laughing and saying no. I remember realizing that this was not a joke and that he was actually forcing himself on me. I remember him taking off articles of my clothing and me quickly grabbing them and attempting to use them to shield myself. I remember trying to push him off of me. I remember saying his name and crying and begging him to stop. I remember sobbing and shouting no. And I remember eventually giving up. I remember lying there passively as he did whatever he wanted to me. I remember my head repeatedly hitting the headboard and I remember looking into his eyes and seeing nothing.
That night changed me. Everyone says that your rape doesn’t define you, and while I know that’s true, I'm a different person because of that night. I don’t trust people. I have anxiety. I’m depressed. I’m scared of intimacy. It’s been years since that night, and I still have PTSD. And it’s fucking frustrating. I want to be over it. I want to be enjoying my senior year, and I want to be focusing on my thesis and job hunt without having this horrible trauma lingering in the background.
Since my rape, I've had other bad and sometimes scary sexual encounters. I wish people discussed the different forms healing processes can take. Because of that night, it’s hard for me to set boundaries, and it’s hard for me to say no. I’m always scared that people will ignore my wishes and keep going, and I would rather just go with it than be violated and ignored again. It’s degrading and dehumanizing to say no and then have blatantly ignored. I don’t want to go through that again. I don’t know if I could handle it.
The summer after my freshman year, I studied abroad in London. My first weekend there, my cab driver took me to an abandoned park instead of to my dorm and sexually assaulted me. I ended up pressing charges, mostly because I found out he had done this to a few other women, and the police had been looking for him. Even though the assault was caught on CCTV, and even though a few of us accused this man of assault, the case lasted my entire sophomore year. I came back to Penn and on top of dealing with schoolwork and extracurriculars and my trauma, I also came home to emails and phone calls from London about my case.
Sophomore year was rough. In the spring, I became overwhelmed and asked for an extension on a paper. I told my professor about my case, and he was nice and gave me the extension. That was that. A few months later, I won my case. I feel extremely fortunate to have won, but I am still disappointed with the sentence. Because I was unable to go back to London and testify, the man was deported from England and put on a sex offenders list.
Junior year, I was a fucking mess. Depressed, suicidal, skipping classes, not finishing papers on time. I eventually told a professor about my situation, and he was actually so helpful. Unlike my pre–major advisor and other professors, he reached out to Special Services and got me in touch with Paige (who is my literal hero). He also checked in with me and talked to me in person. Thank you Dr. Nishino, for being the only Penn professor to give a shit about my well–being and for introducing me to resources that could have helped me so much throughout my case. I had no idea Special Services could have helped me navigate my case. I had no idea I could go to Penn Violence Prevention for advice. I had no idea advisors are supposed to direct students to resources.
Flash forward to senior year. I'm still learning about different resources available to me. I'm finally in touch with Jess Mertz, who is a badass and an angel. I’m in touch with Malik Washington who cares more about students’ well–being than anyone else I’ve met here at Penn. Sanjana from the Women’s Center has been my best advocate. And I got a CAPS referral for an incredible therapist in Center City who is helping me get me better. I feel like I finally have the tools to heal, or at least get better.
Despite this feeling of support, and despite making it to senior year and winning my case and accomplishing a lot during my time at Penn, some days are harder than others. Sometimes, I feel like I will always be that crying girl, realizing that I can’t trust anybody and that people can be monsters. Sometimes, I feel like death would be easier than trying to push on and keep going. Sometimes, I feel like I will never be able to fully trust my friends or anyone else, and that I'll never have a successful relationship because I'll always be waiting for that person to betray me. Sometimes, I feel like I'll forever be that girl on February 21, 2015.
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.