The Sexual Assault Scars You Can’t See

My mom recently brought to my attention an article released about the University of Maryland having the highest number of reported rapes out of all college campuses in the state of Maryland. She looked at me and said, “What about the ones that aren’t reported?” I knew that however many assaults were reported, several needed to be added because rape is one of the most underreported crimes. Victims blame themselves, the situation is muddied by alcohol or drug use, or they feel like they aren’t going to receive justice so why endure the reporting process. Not to mention the ones swept under the rug by the school.

At the end of my first year as a student at UMD I was sexually assaulted on campus by a player from the football team. There was no drugging of my drink, he didn’t beat me or drag me by my hair, and I had no physical scars as a result of what happened to me. That didn’t make what he did to me any less painful. The minutes I spent being trapped under his body weight with him holding me down and touching me against my will left scars that will never heal. As I write about it now, 10 years later, tears still come to my eyes.

What made the experience worse for me was the response that I received from the campus police and administration. Their lack of concern and action made me feel violated all over again. The campus police refused to investigate. The coaches on the football team printed pictures from my social media and sent them to the administration to portray me as promiscuous. Then at the end of their investigation, the school administration lied to me about their efforts to discipline the man that assaulted me. It was more important for them to protect the reputation of the money machine that was their sports program than to make sure that one female student received justice.

The body is very resilient, physical scars eventually will heal. The scars that form on the inside are much harder to repair. It’s horrible to think about but when I received a phone call from campus police that there “wasn’t enough evidence to pursue my claim any further” it made me feel like maybe if there was physical harm, I would’ve deserved at least a follow up.

I went from being friends with most of the campus athletes because of a few that I met before attending classes to being afraid to speak to any of them. Some of them would proposition non-students to try and sleep with me in order to prove their theory that I was loose. I was told by a friend that certain athletes were spreading false rumors about my sexual history and STDs. One of their girlfriends even threatened to attack me at a basketball game. I developed anxiety and would have panic attacks in the middle of my classes. I withdrew from attending many school sponsored functions. I went from being at the sports games 1-2 hours early in order to get the best seats to not attending them at all.

As a part of my therapy I attended group session at the campus health center where a room full of women discussed their assaults that happened on campus. Many of them never reported what happened to the school and they had to see the person who violated at least weekly around campus. For those that did report what happened to them, they didn’t feel like they received much support from the school. It turned from them going to the school for protection to having their drinking, clothing, and other personal choices being used as an excuse not to pursue a case against the person that assaulted them.

Our group was tasked with creating t-shirts for the Clothesline Project where victims or their friends and family made and then hung those shirts around campus about what them or their loved ones went through. When I went to look for my shirt it was hung in a section that had dozens of shirts about women who were assaulted by athletes from the school. I had no idea about any of those incidents. These were athletes that went on to play professionally and received countless praise from the school. These women had to be constantly reminded of the men that assaulted them and how they went on to live their lives unaffected.

 

I hadn’t been back on campus until a few weeks ago when I needed to quickly get my transcript printed. My friend offered to come with me because she knew how uncomfortable being there made me. As I drove back to the campus that I hadn’t visited in at least 8 years, so much had changed. One noticeable difference was all of the new housing that had developed. The increase of housing options for students made sense but the liquors store next to the lobby of every building was startling to me. Making liquor so easily convenient to unsupervised college students seemed like an accelerant of bad behavior.

A few months ago while I was at work, my coworker ran off of the floor looking visibly upset. I went to the back to see if she was ok and she told me she needed to stay off the floor because of a man at her bar. He had assaulted her a few years before and she didn’t want to face him. There were no physical scars for her to point out, but the scar he left on the inside was never going to go away. I wondered how many women live their lives not know when that internal scar would reopen. No matter how much you felt like you overcame it, even if you don’t think about it, it can be reopened at any time.

I lost apart of myself that night 10 years ago on campus. I lost a piece of innocence that I didn’t even know existed. I lost piece of mind. I lost the ability to control the tears that form in my eyes when I think about that night. I lost respect for the school that I was so proud to attend for my first year. I spent so much time feeling abandoned, guilty, and damaged that for many years I didn’t talk about it with anyone. So many of my fellow graduates frequently post themselves proudly wearing their UMD shirts or went back to the school for sports games. I never watched another game or had a desire to go back to the campus. Not only was a scar left behind by the man that assaulted me, but the school’s response caused as much damage as much as he did.

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