Riggwelter would like to preface this work with a strong content and trigger warning. If you are in any way sensitive to detailed discussions of the aftermath of sexual assault, this is not the essay for you.
Waking up in a bed that isn’t your own is off-putting, to say the least; there is a brief
moment of panic before you feel solid again; you remember you’re just on a friend’s couch or in a hotel on vacation.
It was the second semester of my freshman year of college. Specifically International Women’s day, a Sunday. I woke up in a bed that wasn’t mine; unfortunately, was not greeted with a temporarily forgotten environment. I did not know where I was. And boy did my head hurt.
According to the American Addiction Center, a blackout “involves memory loss due to alcohol or drug abuse. It is most common with drinking too much alcohol. Blacking out from drinking is specifically associated with binge drinking” (“Blackout Drinking”). When a person is ‘blackout drunk,’ their brain is unable to make new long term memories: why a side effect of blacking out due to drinking involves memory loss. Typically, adolescents and young adults are more likely to binge drink, and when they do, they are more likely to drink more alcohol per binge (“Binge drinking”). The National Institute of Alcohol abuse and Alcoholism reports that people who take sleep and anti anxiety medications are more prone to blacking out (“Interrupted Memories”).
I was hungover and couldn’t remember a damn thing, great.
After a quick investigation of who was in the house, it came to my attention that the bed that I woke up in belonged to one of my sorority sisters; my “Big” no doubt. I had only met her the day before. I was grateful that I was with someone I at least knew the name of, but simultaneously I was humiliated to have just met her the day before and this being her first interaction with me. I was hungover, hungry, and nauseated all at the same time. All I wanted to do was crawl into a hole and never come back out of it. I sheepishly asked exactly what happened the night before. She kindly explained to me that I was way too drunk to stand and obviously not good enough to get into an Uber home so she brought me to her place down the street. I felt better knowing it wasn’t a long journey to get me to her house.
She also explained that I probably felt super gross because I had vomited the night before… a lot. I could feel how hot my cheeks were getting. I couldn’t remember. But all I knew was that I had made a complete fool out of myself. A few flashes came back from the night, people I didn’t even recognize helping me walk. Honestly, I hope I never see them again.
I gathered what I could find of my things; my wallet was missing, though. My sorority sister said she knew the guys who owned the house where the party was so she would go ask about it for me. I took an Uber back to the freshman dorms. The poor Uber driver could probably tell how hungover I was. I still couldn’t remember much about the night before.
I barely made it through the dorm lobby and to my own bathroom before collapsing over the toilet and vomiting.
As I hugged the bowl of the toilet, the night started to come back to me. I remember sweaty bodies bumping around the garage of an assumed frat house. The once oddly comforting smell of weed and beer washed over my body as I heaved.
The next part was blurry.
I was stumbling down the hall. It was dark. My vision kept going in and out. The light pouring out from under one of the doors hurt to look at.
It felt fake. I felt like I was watching myself and I couldn’t do anything.
And the next thing I saw was him unbuttoning my button jeans. My arms felt weighed down as I tried to push his hands away but it was no use, they just flopped around and were easily pushed aside. My head was too heavy to lift up to see him. He reached for the zipper and pulled it down.
I heaved into the toilet again as tears stung my eyes. I don’t remember when I started to cry.
The sound of my ringtone startled me, muffled in the back pocket of my jeans. I flushed the toilet, the yellow stomach acid swirled down the drain. I took in a shaky breath and saw it was my mom calling, like she always does Sunday mornings, and I knew she wouldn’t stop calling until I answered. I realized I should tell her that I lost my wallet, meaning my driver’s license and insurance card. I reluctantly answered on the last ring and put the phone to my ear to let out a shaky “Mom.”
At first, she didn’t hear my muffled cries as she rambled on about something. When she finally noticed and asked what was wrong I simply said, “I lost my wallet last night.”
Her next comment:
“Were you drunk?”
80% of all sexual violence crimes go unreported. Interviews from survivors of sexual violence years cite many reasons as to why they did not report what happened to them. Some of these reasons include the fear of being blamed, not believed, or punished because of it. There is also the obvious emotional pain that comes with sexual violence. The idea of talking or even thinking about it is scary so it is easier for people to avoid the topic altogether. (Kimble)
Others might feel partially responsible for the assault against them; they may feel as if they “contributed” to it by being under the influence of drugs or alcohol. Also, the fear of getting in trouble because of the use of drugs or alcohol before the assault occurred prevents teens especially from reporting. ( Why Don’t They Tell? )
I have friends who were sexually assaulted; most of them didn’t tell anyone until months after it happened.
Shame prevented me from telling my mom everything. I was embarrassed that I was drunk, which she obviously didn’t condone. I wasn’t allowed to go out late in high school, let alone get drunk. She was going to give me a hard time about losing my license anyways, I didn’t want to give her more to be upset about.
My parents had always had high expectations for me; I was the ‘good kid’; I got a 4.0 GPA throughout high school, and I got into my early decision university. I had always had to push through my problems to not let them down. I was supposed to be strong. And I felt like I was too weak to protect myself. Who would let themselves get into a state where they couldn’t protect themself?
Talking about it made it real.
I sat on the other end of the phone for what felt like an eternity. I don’t remember saying yes out loud but on the other side of the phone, my mom was already lecturing me in that “I am disappointed” tone. I already felt another wave of vomit coming but I knew there was nothing left for me to do. I interrupted-
“I think someone touched me last night”
She got quiet.
“What do you mean touched you ?”
My response to that question was just more crying.
“You need to go to the ER”
I froze. Leaving? I barely made it back to the dorms. I didn’t have the words to describe how badly I just wanted to take a shower and go to sleep. My mom’s voice sounded sped up as she just kept saying what I needed to do but all I could hear was the sound of a gentle knocking on the bathroom door. I opened the door to see my poor roommate staring at me, her face was panicked and confused. I simply said “okay” into my phone and hung up. I felt another wave of tears coming.
“I need to go to the Emergency room. Last night someone-”
Without much talking, I grabbed a hoodie and I called an Uber to take us to the nearest emergency room. My roommate called my friend, Emily, and told her to come with us. I spoke to my mom on the phone off to the side as the three of us waited outside of the dorms for the car. When we got into the vehicle, I realized I smelled. The smell of beer and sweat engulfed me. My favorite pair of jeans reeked of beer; I probably spilled it on myself. I felt bad for the driver. And my friends.
We walked into the emergency room lobby. It was quiet. I stood in the entrance, I could just turn around and leave. Forget it happened. But I felt Emily squeeze my hand. I’m not alone. I walked up the window and mumbled,
“I think someone sexually assaulted me.”
The nurse behind the glass didn’t even bat an eye as she passed me a clipboard with paperwork and a pen in the slit of the bulletproof glass that protected her from the outside world.
I grabbed them and sat down in one of the emergency room chairs.
I went to grab my license to then remember I didn’t have it. It was in my wallet. That was in a frat house. Somewhere.
1 in 10 female college students is sexually assaulted in college. (Rich) That basically means there will probably always be a survivor of sexual assault in each of your college classes. 25% of female sexual assault victims in college were members in Greek life. (“Greek Life.”)
They gave us sorority homework in January when I first joined. A training video, if you will. We had to watch videos about the safety precautions taken at Greek events, rules of living in Greek housing if we did, etc.. There was even a video in the program about protecting ourselves from sexual assault. Watching our drinks and friends. They were practically telling us it was going to happen.
College campuses have taken the issues of sexual assault very seriously by mandating programs to be developed to teach college students the importance of consent. The talk of consent often comes from presentations about drugs and alcohol. Instead of telling the boys not to put drugs in our drinks, they tell the girls to always watch what we’re drinking.
They talk about safety in numbers, how to never take Ubers alone, they sell us pink pepper spray bottles to attach to our keychains. But these assemblies don’t even just say “Do not sexually assault anyone.”
There was one of these assemblies involved in freshmen orientation. They sat us all down in the big lecture halls and spoke to us about consent and the effects of alcohol and drugs at party scenes. What the signs of date rape drugs were and how to make sure someone doesn’t die of alcohol poisoning.
They’ve constantly drilled this type of information into our heads from the moment we enter high school and we’re old enough to understand drinking culture. And yet, here we were.
Emily and I sat in the waiting room for what felt like forever while my roommate went to tell the nurse that I didn’t have my insurance card and how I was worried about payment.
She even called my mom for me so my mom, the nurse, and she could make sure I was still treated.
Eventually, a nurse came out and called my name.
I went back alone.
I was embarrassed. I am embarrassed.
We walked through the double doors to another lobby-like area. I sat down and she took my heart rate, temperature, blood pressure, etc. It was like a doctor’s visit. But it wasn’t. I gave her the list of medications I was on which I always have memorized. I explained my anxiety and depression medication to which she hastily took down the names of the list I was riddling off.
Then she asked why I was visiting the emergency room.
I told her that I just wanted to get checked out because someone touched me last night. I didn’t want to say that I couldn’t remember most of my night and the stuff that I do remember is blurry. I didn’t want her to judge me. I just wish I could’ve given her a look that could just tell her what happened so I didn’t have to talk about it again.
But I would have to.
I told her I was drinking the night before.
She said alcohol isn’t recommended to be mixed with the medications I was on. I knew that.
She asked why I came into the emergency room even though I don’t think I was raped.
The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines the word ‘rape’ as the “unlawful sexual activity and, usually, sexual intercourse carried out forcibly or under threat of injury against a person’s will.”
I hadn’t let my mind think of the word rape. It was a violent word. A word I was not ready to think about yet. Had I been? I woke up in all my clothing worn normally so it’s not like someone hastily put my clothes on. Was I overreacting by coming here if I wasn’t raped?
“I just want to make sure I’m okay. Physically.”
I told her that I hadn’t changed my clothing, that I was wearing everything that I had on last night.
The nurse smiled slightly and wrote on the clipboard.
I’ve watched tv, they always talk about evidence collection and how important it is for rape victims to just report it right away so they had evidence. There’s that word again. “Rape.”
I was moved to a private room with a bed. I climbed right on top of it and hugged my knees to my chest. The nurse brought me some blankets.
She told me that the doctor would come by and then I could have one friend come back. I told her to bring Emily because my roommate and I weren’t as close. But the girl I had only lived with for 6 months was on the phone with my mother figuring out my insurance.
The wait for the doctor felt like 2 seconds but when I looked at the clock, it was 20 minutes since I had last checked.
He was a short, grumpy looking, old white man. Perfect.
He pulled up a chair next to me and introduced himself. He asked me to tell him what happened the night before.
I said that I was at a party.
“Oh so you were drunk?”
There it was again. I tensed.
I said yes and continued my story.
I told him that I remember someone touching me down there and that I wanted to make sure I was okay physically.
He asked if I was hurting down there. I said no.
He asked if it felt like I had had sex recently. Like if it was “wet”. I shifted around in my pants. I hadn’t noticed so I shook my head “no”. I felt very uncomfortable talking about the state of my vagina with this old man.
He said that they couldn’t perform rape kits at this emergency room, and from what I told him, he doesn’t think it would be necessary. But he’d like to take a urine sample.
“Forensic nurses who are certified as sexual assault nurse examiners (SANEs) follow scientific and legal procedures to collect evidence and ensure quality of care for the victims,” (“Procedures”).
These types of nurses are specially trained to provide psychological support while also collecting and preserving evidence needed. Nurses use “rape kits” in order to perform their exams. Rape kits can also be referred to as a “Sexual Assault Evidence Kit” (SAEK). These kits include items such as swabs, blood sampling materials, and paper sheets for evidence collection.
If the patient is a minor, the nurse performing the exam is a mandatory reporter to the police. (“What Is a Sexual Assault Forensic Exam?”)
Sexual assault nurse examiners have a general procedure in which injuries are assessed first and then sent to evidence collection. Whether a minor or not, at any point during the exam, a patient is allowed to pause, stop, or skip any of the steps. Some of the steps are quite uncomfortable such as collecting swabs from the vaginal or penile area and sampling of the pubic hair.
I didn’t know at the time that I could say ‘no’ to having the police come and talk to me.
But I knew my mother would be mad if I didn’t. Mad. When thinking about it, it seems ridiculous you could be angered by someone who didn’t disclose personal information to a stranger.
The doctor explained to me that it was a procedure to call the police.
My first thought was “no I don’t want to get him in trouble.”
How fucked up is that? But I didn’t have the energy to fight myself about it.
I nodded and he told me he’d send the nurse in about the sample and my friend in from the waiting room.
When he left the room I felt sick even though I knew there was nothing left to throw up. I didn’t realize I had been crying until I saw Emily walk into the room. She sat down next to me on the bed and let me cry into her shoulder.
We sat there for a while. My roommate had worked things out with the nurse and had to go back to campus. Emily said that she called our other friend, Cassie, to come and bring us some lunch. It was already 1:00 and I hadn’t eaten since last night. I told her that the nurse said only one guest could be with me at a time. Emily reminded me that the rule would not stop Cassie from getting back to our room. She was right. We joked how Cassie would burst through the walls if she had to. A patient down the hall started to drunkenly sing the “Star-Spangled Banner.” That made us laugh even more. I started to feel better.
The nurse came back with a cup for me to pee in; it brought me back to the reality that I had temporarily escaped from with laughter. I walked down the hall and into the handicap bathroom. I peeled my favorite pair of jeans down my legs. Sticky. I gagged at myself. I was disgusted.
I looked down at my underwear and everything felt… wrong.
I felt sick again. I wanted to cry. I was peeing into a small cup in the emergency room on International Women’s day.
My urine was dark yellow. I realized how dehydrated I was. I looked at myself in the mirror. I looked about as shitty as I felt. My hair was frizzy and messily put into a bun on the top of my head. My eye bags were dark enough to hide the mascara smeared under them. My eyes were swollen. I took my pee cup out to the nurses’ desk and placed it on the “urine sample tray.” Gross.
When I went back to the room, Cassie was there with Emily holding two bags of fast food. I nearly started crying again. I drank the entire water bottle she brought me. We sat in the hospital room and ate our junk food. Cassie didn’t ask me to explain what happened, I figured Emily told her already. That, I was grateful for. We sat in the room alone for about 3 hours. The doctor came in twice: once to say an officer was on his way, and the other time to say the officer got called away to respond to a different call and would come after. I tensed every time he said ‘officer’; it made it real.
Eventually, a young officer knocked on the door and came into the room. He couldn’t have been older than 25. And I was going to have to talk to him. Great.
He was sweet as he introduced himself. I was starting to feel okay until he said that it was probably best if my friends weren’t in the room while I talked to him. I squeezed their hands goodbye and they gently closed the door behind them.
He sat in the chair that the doctor had been sitting in before.
The first thing I told him was that I didn’t shower and that I had on the same clothing from the night before. He wrote that down.
The officer told me to tell me how everything started and he told me he’d interrupt with questions. I got the usual name, date, address, phone number, etc questions and then some different ones:
Who were you with? How well do you know them? Do you know who was there? Do you still have the address?
Did anyone take a particular interest in you? Did you drink at the party? Who gave you alcohol? What type of alcohol was it? What’s their number?
So many of the questions that he asked I couldn’t answer 100% confidently and the other information I knew, I was scared to give. I didn’t want anyone to get in trouble. I was crying. With every answer I was unable to give, the more and more I felt like he wasn’t going to believe me. I started to not believe me.
He told me this is only going to be an “incident report,” not criminal.
Good to know my sexual assault was just an incident.
He then asked if I had had sex before. An odd question.
I said yes, scared of what he could potentially imply next.
He then clarified to say “so you know what it feels like down there,”
I remembered what I saw in the bathroom hours before and figured he was implying. I nodded and bit my lip.
“So does it feel like that?”
I just nodded. My head hurt so much from crying. I was dehydrated again.
The doctor knocked on the door saying that he had the urine sample results. He flatly said that there weren’t any typical “date rape” drugs in my urine.
The two most common drugs more commonly known as “Date Rape” drugs are gamma-hydroxybutyrate (GHB) and Rohypnol (flunitrazepam). These drugs are typically mixed into alcoholic beverages without the consumer’s knowledge. The purpose of date rape drugs is to subdue victims in order for them to more easily sexually assaulted. Date rape drugs are odorless and tasteless, making it impossible to tell that a drink has been dosed.
GHB and Rohypnol are the most commonly known date rape drugs due to their rapid onset, mind-altering effects and detection difficulties. (“Date Rape Drugs”) The crippling effects of GHB begin only 15 minutes after consumption while Rohypnol takes 20 to 30 minutes to act (“Everything”). Some symptoms of being dosed include nausea, confusion, memory loss, vomiting, blackouts, and loss of consciousness. GHB is also known to have a short half-life and to metabolize quickly, making it difficult to be detected.
Of course, these drugs are not always involved in sexual assaults. The more common types of drugs to be in the system are alcohol and marijuana, which are both more easily accessible.
I hadn’t even thought about the possibility of being drugged.
The doctor added the fact that even if I was dosed with something, it would’ve metabolized at this point.
That’s not fair. It’s not fair that my body could possibly destroy evidence like memories or drugs. I didn’t know what to do with that information. I felt my chest start to tighten. The officer noticed I was upset by this news and offered me some water. I just wanted this to be over with.
I finished recounting my night and answering the questions that came with it. He told me he was going to make a call about next steps.
I curled back into the fetus position I had formed when I first entered the room. The pillow was wet with snot and tears. I heard Emily and Cassie come in. They just sat next to me and held my hand.
I felt so tired. I just wanted to forget the whole thing ever happened.
The officer came in and sat down with us. He explained that from what I said, he doesn’t think I was penetrated.
I felt sick of the word but grateful. I could see my friends tense as well.
“But we will need your clothing for testing.”
I understood why they needed it. But I didn’t want to. I shook my head “no” slowly before Cassie reassured me it was the thing that needed to be done. My eyes stung as I choked “okay” to the officer.
He nodded a thank you and went to grab the doctor.
Emily and Cassie reassured me that they could drive to the dorms to get me a change of clothing so I could just go back to the dorms dressed normally.
The officer and doctor returned. I was handed a practically complete see-through disposable hospital gown. It weighed basically nothing.
I looked at him, confused about how that gown would cover anything. I felt comfortable knowing I’d be wearing my undergarments. He handed me a brown paper bag.
“I need everything. Underwear and all.”
I nodded and the officer and doctor left the room. I pulled the curtain around me so Emily and Cassie wouldn’t see me. I took off my top and rolled off my jeans. I started to cry as I stood there naked and gross in the Emergency Room. I took off my bra and underwear. I folded the clothing and set it gently in the bag.
It was evidence. I put my jeans in the bag last, I didn’t want the first thing for some stranger to see to be my dirty underwear.
I wrapped the gown around me. I could still see my exposed body. I put my hoodie over the gown. It barely went past my waist. I pulled back the curtain.
I handed the bag of clothing to Cassie who took it out to the officer.
Emily said she was going to wait with me while Cassie went to get me clothing.
She sat next to me on the bed and I made a joke about how we were ignoring the fact I was not wearing underwear right next to her.
That caused her to smile. I’ve always used humor to deal with my sad moments.
Cassie was back pretty soon with a pair of sweatpants and everything I needed.
She knew jeans were the last thing I wanted to see at that moment. I changed and signed the paperwork necessary to leave. I couldn’t wait to just go back to my dorm and take a hot shower. We left the ER and held my friends’ hands on the way to the car. It was my only way of saying thank you.
I’ve always coped with life using humor. But there aren’t any jokes that could fill the silence of the car ride.
I cried in the shower when I got back to the dorm.
To be honest, I’ve cried in a lot of showers because of it. Maybe because when I see my own exposed body, I remember that someone else saw it without my permission.
I’m in therapy. I’ve talked about it. I’ve forgiven myself, sort of. I understand that it was not my fault that someone took advantage of the state I was in. But it is my fault that I got in that state. Maybe.
About 3 weeks later I got a call from the police station to say that they were going to close the incident report because there was no evidence on the clothing and no “leads” had come up. I got the phone number of the evidence locker where my clothing was if I wanted to get it. I said thank you and hung up the phone.
I sat for a long time. That was it. Incident resolved. Although the case is “closed”, there’s no closure for me, really.
Am I ever going to remember who it was? Am I going to be reminded of him via a smell? What if I see him again and he recognizes me? Who knows if I was actually dosed with something? I’m still left with questions that I know no one can answer.
I’m not the only one who isn’t going to get the answers I want. So many sexual assault cases go unsolved due to many factors. Most cases of sexual assault aren’t even reported, let alone looked into. But there are so many resources out there for people who have become a victim of sexual violence.
I know I’m not alone which is great for support but terrible in the sense that there will always be a group of people who know how I’m feeling.
Jane Simonetti is an ongoing sophomore at Chapman University. She is studying film production but enjoys writing in her spare time. Jane hopes that her work can inspire others. janesimonetti.com
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