Trigger Warning: This post will be discussing sexual assault and coercion (along with mention of r*pe). Please read at your own discretion and/or pace
Like most college-aged groups, my friends and I have a list of rules (unspoken and not) that we always follow whenever we go out: 1.) Never go alone 2.) Leave with whoever you came with 3.) Make sure that everyone is in your line of sight 4.) Text the group chat when you make it home 5.) Ask someone in the group to hold your drink if needed 6.) If someone is making you feel unsafe, let the group know 7.) Protect each other at all costs
With these magical seven rules in place, my friends and I were ready to have a good time during our first “Unofficial St. Patrick’s Day” weekend. Friday night was somewhat of a bust because I was only able to go to one party. Saturday, however, was a completely different story and while we slept through most of the day parties, the lineup was still promising. The first party we went to that night was probably the best one I had experienced all school year. As we were in route to the next party, my new friend Steve* (*not his real name) let me know that it was shut down and sent me the address for another one at a nearby apartment. My friends and I decided that we weren’t ready for the night to end, so we made our way over there. When we got there, it was packed to the point that the host was barely able to close the door or let people in. While we were still discussing whether this party seemed worth the trouble, the smallest member of the group managed to wiggle her way inside and we squeezed our way inside after her.
As soon as we walked in, we pushed our way through the crowd so that one of my friends could use the bathroom. After she came out, we decided to stay in that general area because it was the only area that didn’t feel like it was hazy with smoke. The six of us barely had space to dance or move but we were still ready to have a good time. However, with the party being as packed as it was and the knowledge that there were a lot of people visiting our school for that weekend, we were more cautious than ever. But, as I would soon learn in the next 15 or so minutes, caution can only do so much when you’re living on a college campus.
It all started when I heard one of my friends shout “Um, that’s my ass you’re grabbing!” at this tall guy in a dark jacket. I never saw his face, but without hesitation, I pulled her in front of me so that she was away from him. Next thing I know, I am swiftly pulled by my hips from behind and I lost sight of the guy my friend had just yelled at seconds earlier. I tried to squirm my way out of his firm grasp, but my slight intoxication and small stature was no match for his strength. I heard him yell as loud as he could over the music “On God, I’m going to *you already know what he said* this bitch!” Everything was happening so fast I could barely process it. I could feel my body being controlled by him, moving in ways I didn’t want it to as he kept thrusting on me. This was the moment I had prepared for in high school, I was sure that all those years of self-defense classes were going to come in handy…they didn’t. I was frozen and the only person that had control over my body was him. I looked around and saw people in the party watching what was happening in confusion. As a psychology major, I have always known about the Bystander Effect, but I was still humiliated by the fact that this was happening to me in front of people I knew with nothing being done.
My friends were pulling my arms desperately trying to release me from his grasp, but he was stronger than all of them combined. He then pushed my head down and the upper half of my body dangled with my friends still pulling my arms as he’s tightened his grip. I was horrified at how easily I was able to be tossed around like a ragdoll. My friends were eventually able to pull me off him and we were reunited. I wanted to go home, but I didn’t want to ruin everyone else’s fun. A song came on that made everyone bounce around and start pushing each other like some sort of mosh pit. I was trying to move forward through the crowd so that I wouldn’t be pushed back into him again. As I was shoved further and further backward, I kept pleading with a crowd that I knew couldn’t hear me. I felt his hands slowly wrap around my waist again and all I could say was “No…please.” He caressed my butt twice, grabbed one side and squeezed, then hit it before setting me free, as if he was saying goodbye. My friends embraced me once again, this time, very much ready to leave the party as I just stood there and cried.
When I got back to my room that night, one of my friends asked me if I was okay. I told her that maybe I didn’t know and that I would see how I felt the next day. I wanted to shower because I could still feel his body on mine, but I couldn’t move to do so. The next morning, I had a leadership training, I said I couldn’t make it due to a “head cold”. I just stayed in bed, only getting up to use the bathroom. I didn’t go to class for the next two days because I didn’t want anyone touching me. I responded to the group chat every now and then when my friends had news but other than that, I only spoke when spoken to.
I texted Steve whenever I felt that I could because I was too embarrassed to speak to anyone who saw what happened that Saturday. I figured that having someone older than me around would be helpful after that incident. Also, he works at one of my favorite places to get food on campus which I was also hoping would work in my favor because I love the wings there. Ironically, when I bought food before the party on Saturday, he was the cashier that rung me up. We decided to hang out after he got out of class that Tuesday and I didn’t tell anyone where I was going which was very unlike me. After we met up, we got the food first then headed to his place nearby. I thought about texting my friends to let them know what I was up to (we update each other about our days in the group chat a lot) and that I was making more friends. If I could go back in time, I would have told them. They would have reminded me that I knew better than to go off somewhere by myself like that… I would’ve listened.
After what felt like forever, Steve and I reached our destination and began eating the food we had just gotten. I was hesitant at first, but I concluded that I could trust him. We sat on the couch and I began to do makeup work for my social psych class that I missed, and he did some work too. I took a break before I would start my psychopathology work and head home. I sat on the very edge of the cough with my arms crossed up, looking at things that I found to be interesting in the room. Steve asked if I was not comfortable and I said, “oh sorry” then moved further back on the cushion; I figured that I was just being awkward. I leaned back with my arms still folded waiting for the right time to get back to work.
Suddenly, Steve’s wrapped his arm around me, and he began to rub my left shoulder. Before I could react, his other arm wrapped around me and he pulled my entire body towards him. I was obviously uncomfortable and never uncrossed my arms, but I didn’t want to be rude. I figured he had just developed a harmless crush on me (which I didn’t understand) and maybe got the wrong idea despite things being relatively clear. I thought to myself: figure out how to nicely let him know it’s not like that and go home.
My plan was to just make my body as stiff as possible so that he can know that he didn’t have my consent while scooting away from him on the couch. Upon him letting me go, I would then let him down gently, apologize for any misunderstandings, and dip. I perfectly executed the plan I set in place, but it didn’t work… he just brought me closer. He started rubbing my chest and went on about how “beautiful, smart, and funny” I was and how great it was “getting to know me”. I noticed that the more he continued talking about my “beauty”, the more his demeanor changed. I watched him morph into a completely different person–one I was becoming afraid of. I realized that there’s no way, he didn’t know that I wasn’t okay with this…he was doing this on purpose. He quickly grabbed my face turning it towards him and started kissing me in the sloppiest way possible. My entire body stiffened up even more, and it felt as if he was suffocating me. I knew that as much as I wanted to fight back physically, I had to be careful. Not only is Steve exactly one foot taller than me, but his roommate was gone (no one to hear me), nobody knew where I was, my phone was out of reach, I was too far to run home, and I didn’t know his temperament. I wanted to scream “no” but I knew that “no” can get you seriously hurt or even killed if you’re dealing with the wrong person. I fought against his force and turned my head to the left so that he would stop. He moved his hands down to the back of my head, started kissing my cheek and worked his way down my neck. When I saw his hands hover over my inner thigh, I didn’t know if I wanted to throw up, cry, or both. I just closed my eyes.
He instructed me to “come on”, got me up from the couch, and walked me into this room by my waist from behind. As soon as I saw the bed, I knew I was running out of time; I needed another plan. I decided that if I couldn’t fight back with my hands or my body language, I could try to talk him out of it. I came up with as many reasons as I could for him to not try to have sex with me. I can only remember saying “Don’t you think this is a little soon?”, “I don’t think this is a very good idea”, “I’m years younger than you so I don’t know”, and “Aren’t you worried about the power dynamics going on here?” After a while, I accepted that he was coercing me, and I grew weary of trying to save myself. I was tired of trying to get him to stop touching me, I was tired of trying to talk him out of potentially raping me, and I was tired of being afraid.
I am so lucky that just as I was ready to give up, he became visibly frustrated and opened the bedroom door. I packed my things and left, not yet sure how to get to the bus stop I needed in the cold and dark. I beat myself up for being so stupid and knew that I couldn’t tell my friends or anyone. I didn’t speak to anybody for the rest of that week, not even my own family when they called or texted. The next day, I went to a photoshoot for my org and had to pretend like nothing happened to me just 24 hours prior. I managed for the most part and looking cute for the pictures lifted my spirits, but in one individual portrait of me, you can see in my eyes how tired I was.
It has been almost a month now and I still catch myself living in a state of denial and fear. I want to start going to parties again and have fun, but I am afraid of being grabbed again. There have been days that I have wanted BBQ wings from the place on campus, but I haven’t prepared myself for what I would do if I saw Steve. Some days, I wonder what is worse: knowing exactly what guy to avoid and who to look out for or the mystery of not knowing who the guy is and not knowing where he could be. Since that unfortunate week, I have learned that both are haunting and I still have bad dreams about each incident sometimes. I am writing my story because while talking about it is hard, I don’t want to live in silence anymore. I have hidden this from my friends, family, and worst of all, myself. What happened to me is not my fault, no matter how many times I try to convince myself otherwise and I am ready to admit that it did indeed happen. I have done little things to take back control of my life like piercing my ears on a whim or randomly taking the blonde twists I wore in my hair that week, but none of those things were going to help until I had an honest conversation with myself. With that being said, my name is Erin, I am 18 years old, I am a survivor of sexual assault, and I know that I am not alone.