What I Cost


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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It’s 2 a.m. on a bitterly cold November night and I’m walking down Spruce Street from your house, alone. A sedan rolls out of the blackness and I hear the magic phrase:

“Yo bitch, what do you cost?

Perhaps my feet carried me faster than the speed of the light reflecting off his knife blade, or perhaps he simply grew tired of following a little black dress through the poorly illuminated streets. I am left with the ringing of those words under the haunting street lamps—I have come to consider them a warning of what was to come.

Perhaps if I had been the Sibyl at Cumae I would have seen their prophetic intent. I would have seen what you cost me.

In my insecurity I ignored the warning signs—that nagging, tugging sense of discomfort I felt on top of you. You hurt and it never seemed to bother you when I showed obvious discomfort. It was always my fault. There I was, the little freshman slut. My own desire to have sex with you was all the evidence you needed that I deserved to be violated.

Girls like me can’t be raped. Sluts can’t be raped.

I thought I had won casual sex. I felt invincible up until that night. As long as I never developed feelings I thought nothing could hurt me.

You cost me the sense that as long as I worked to satisfy a man nothing could go wrong. I would never be tight enough that night. I would never satisfy you as much as the porn you forced me to pleasure you to, because even raping me was not enough to make you come.

I said I didn’t want you to touch me there, that it would hurt me too much. The moment between when you flipped me and when you penetrated me anally is the moment that has continued to define my college experience. The moment when I knew what I was about to become. It has haunted my nightmares, it has haunted my climaxes, it has kept me from believing in fundamental trust between human beings.

It has cost me many of my friends who either believed that I made you up or believed that by having multiple partners, that by hooking up with boys, and that by dancing suggestively in tight clothes, I deserved to be raped by you.

You cost me my academic performance during the easiest part of my academic career. The running out of Philosophy class to vomit in the hall bathroom, the chugging of vodka just to leave my room, the tear–filled panic attacks I would have between club meetings that I told my friends were due to sleep deprivation. I have struggled to regain my academic confidence and my GPA in the absence of a socially acceptable excuse. I was out nearly every night because of you, because I would not and could not be alone.

But I was alone, even when I was continuing to have sex. I was throwing myself at people, I was clawing and slurring and imbibing just to function, because I could not let you be the story of my sexuality. I hooked up with anyone able to help me try to flip the narrative, to regain control. I would not accept sobriety for myself. I would not accept intimacy. I would continue to feel the weight of countless bodies pressed against me until I had achieved enough distance to be free from the memory of yours.

I have lost potential friends, I have seen tears well in the eyes of a man that I loved. I have developed a reputation and a bitter mask because you refused to stop when I started screaming.

I have been told that I am the kind of woman undeserving of love.

You cost me the memories of myself wiping the crystalline mask of cocaine off my face in countless fraternity bathrooms, angelic curls and bloody lipstick framing my face. My metal heart tries to find anyone to blame but myself and fails. I see beyond my reflection what a victim should be: docile, sex averse, vanilla, pure of heart and mind.

They do not tell you in the mandatory consent sessions that 45 percent of rape survivors become more promiscuous in the months after their assault. They do not tell you that upwards of 50 percent of sexual assaults are committed by someone the victim has previously had consensual sex with.

You told me I deserved it. You told me I was a slut. I am left with a specter of you in my head every time I have sex. There are places I cannot be touched, places that make me cringe away from contact. There will always be a part of me that feels I cannot adequately satisfy my partners because of you. There will always be a part of me scared of their faces turning into yours.

It has taken me nearly two years to have sober sex again.

You cost me the many paralytic nights where I, like the Sibyl at Cumae, wanted to die. Where I prophesied whether anyone would care if they found me behind a dumpster, where I doubted whether I was worth anything.

I would walk out of the Quad gates and stare at the entrance to the trolley line. In my mind I would walk myself down those steps and watch for the lights of the afterlife, where I would count the guests at my funeral. Where I would wonder who would hold me back from the step off that ledge. I felt like a burden. I felt like a freak. I felt soul–shatteringly alone. When I see the email alerts informing us of student suicides I’m thrown back there. I've been to that place, I’ve stood with them in my own personal hell. There is a piece of myself still down there.

The first Wednesday of February is my national holiday. Every year my mind walks itself back to your apartment. This time I have a response for the catcallers, heckling me in the dark.

I cost more than you will ever know. I cost the price of you watching as I walk out the door. I cost the price of your acknowledgement that you raped me.

I cost enough for a look back before I disappear into the glimmering lights of the abyss.

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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.