It Has Taken Years

Written By: Dani Blum

Image By: Anne Marie Grudem

Content warning:

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.

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The shame hit first. Before I realized where I was, before I catalogued the bruises on my head and legs and the quicksand in my stomach, I woke up on a pile of crumpled paper towels and felt ashamed. Embarrassed. Reality came to me in pieces: the spirals of hair on the walls, the smell of shit, the aches. I’d hobbled into a mens' bathroom in the hours after my assault. I didn’t have my shoes or socks or wallet, but I didn’t know where else to go.

That morning feels more like a beginning than an ending. It started a new phase of my life, a new self–understanding. I look at photos from three years ago and don’t recognize myself—the girl who could hear the word “rape” and think of someone else, who brushed aside abstract warnings about frat parties and didn’t walk clutching her keys. But it’s taken a lot to acknowledge the impact of assault on my life.

It’s taken years—three of them, almost—to be able to say that I was assaulted. It’s taken patience and frustration and trudges to CAPS, nights nestled with my roommates and days I shut out the news. It’s taken relationships with men I could trust and support. More than anything, it has taken Street: this magazine that has become my home at Penn. Street gave me a purpose and a passion, a way to remind myself of who I am. In this tiny, overheated, grease–crusted, beer–littered office, I am more than a survivor. I have a voice.

There is no template for surviving rape. I have spent hours, entire days, Googling how to live through it; there are no concrete answers. But Street has shown me, again and again, the seemingly endless pool of survivors on this campus. I routinely edit narratives of sexual violence. I line–edit trauma, add commas to descriptions of assault. I have watched friend after friend send their stories. And I’ve seen how shame corrodes us—how we internalize the sense of rot and dread and fear,until it becomes a part of who we are.

I’m angry now. That, too, has taken time; it wasn’t until this semester that I felt more than sting and shame. But the longer I spend on this campus, the more survivors I meet. I’m terrified to find out who will be hurt next. A freshman told me the other day that almost every girl she’s met here has been assaulted. She’s been on this campus for less than four months. Rape is an epidemic at this school; it's a crisis, one that’s tucked out of sight because we demand it goes unseen. I love Penn, and I love it more fiercely because I’ve had to fight to build happiness here. But this school, this institution that’s supposed to be home, could do more: more education, more assault awareness, more support for survivors.

I’m a survivor. But I’ve done more than survive. I’ve architectured my own healing. I’m fighting, and I’m winning. And I refuse to be shamed.

I wish I could reach back to that version of myself on the bathroom floor and tell her it’s not her fault. I wish I could show her how powerful she’ll become. I wish I could tell her about the moments when the lights will blush on Locust, when the bricks and leaves look ripped from an admissions brochure, and she’ll feel something close to peace.

This is the issue I wish I could hand her. Look, I’d say. You’re not alone.

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Campus Resources:

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), 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.

Penn Women's Center: 3643 Locust Walk (Office Hours 9:30 am – 5:30 pm Monday–Thursday, 9:30 am – 5 pm Friday), PWC provides confidential crisis and options counseling.