Til it happens to you

Written By: Haley Collins

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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An unsent letter written to my rapist four months after the assault:

To the boy that changed my life,

Sometimes I still think it was my fault.

I went into the night feeling bad because I had just broken up with my boyfriend. We met at a BYO. You sat next to me but didn’t speak until you were too drunk to care who you were talking to. You kept refilling my cup. You put me in an Uber, and I was so drunk that my previous plans to go home and change before the party left my mind.

When we got to the house, you took me straight to the basement. Within seconds we were against the wall. I remember thinking, “I don’t even want to be doing this,” but I kept doing it. I remember falling on the ground twice because of how drunk I was. You told me you’d bring me back to the Quad. I figured you’d help me get home safely and that there were no expectations. I remember seeing all of my sisters and not knowing how to ask for help because I didn’t know them well enough yet. I remember the two girls at the exit that asked YOU if I was okay. On the walk back, you didn’t walk next to me. When I dropped all of my belongings in the middle of the street, you didn’t help me. It’s obvious that you had firm intentions to me now, but not then. Near the Compass, you asked me if I knew my Penn pin number and if I could walk in a straight line. I remember feeling successful when I punched those four numbers in, and I remember wanting to ask for help from the guards but failing to find the words.

You brought me back to your room, and everything seemed like a routine. My mind and body were completely disconnected. I remember when you pulled your phone out to take a picture of me. I remember when you pushed me into the shower and then back to the bed. I remember you asking me if I was on birth control when the condom came off. I remember your hands all over me and telling you to stop. I knew it was bad when I felt the pain even through all of the alcohol. I remember the sound of someone knocking and how you told me to be quiet and hide. Once they left, you walked me to a place I was familiar with and left me there without saying a word. I remember all of this, and I always will. It blows my mind that to you, this was probably just another one–night stand.

As soon as I reached my floor, I broke down crying. My RA found me and took me to the police station. I remember being questioned by the police and them telling me that these things are hard to fight. At the station, I remember being poked and prodded. I remember trying not to look at what the nurse was doing. I remember her taking pictures of the damage and her telling me that there were several cuts inside and outside of me. I remember how it even hurt to sit down because of the bruises I had. I remember the pain I felt during the exam. When I finally got to go home and shower, it was probably the most painful of all. My body was raw and it physically pained me to stand under the water. I remember looking down at myself as if it wasn’t my body. After that I knew I had to call the one person in the world that I can tell anything to: my mom. As the phone rang, I knew I was about to crush her world. I cut right to the chase, as if saying it more would make me realize it’s my reality. I’ll never forget the silence on the other end and the internal hysteria I could sense.

I recently heard from our mutual friend that you had been bragging about it, that it was a one–night stand, and that I said it was rape just because I regretted it the next morning. People that I barely knew were taking your side without even hearing the whole truth.

Sometimes I still think it was my fault, but that’s only because society tells me it was.

The fact that I chose not to follow through with charges doesn’t mean it wasn’t rape. The fact that some nights I want to sit you down and ask you why you did this doesn’t mean it wasn’t rape. The fact that I allowed some things and said no to others doesn’t mean it wasn’t rape. The fact that I remember everything that happened doesn’t mean it wasn’t rape.

The fact that I said no makes it rape. The fact that I said stop makes it rape. The fact that I was drunk to the point that I could not speak makes it rape.

Because of you, I had to feel the doubt and accusations of my family, friends, and peers who didn’t understand. Because of you, I had to reconsider with whom I surround myself. Because of you, I had to question myself in more ways than one. Because of you, I had to start all over again.

But because of you, I have found a support system. Because of you, I have found that there are more people like me than I thought. Because of you, my best friend was able to tell her story because I empowered her by telling mine.

I won’t go as far as thanking you, but I can’t deny that you changed my life. What I am thankful for is that I am better and stronger because of it.

Your survivor

Even in submitting this letter I questioned myself almost two years after my assault. I remember sitting during the NSO presentation about sexual assault and feeling bad for all of the survivors. They kept repeating “one in four,” but that number means nothing until you know that one. Never once did I think it would happen to me. You are not the exception, and you won’t understand until it happens to you.

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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) jmertz@upenn.edu, 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@pbox.upenn.edu. PWC provides confidential crisis and options counseling.