Stop Doing This When Talking About Sexual Assault

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‘My Sexual Assault Wasn’t That Bad’—and Other Normalizations That Need to Stop

I remember the day clearly: it was a hot, humid summer day in Philadelphia, between my sophomore and junior years.

I decided to stay near campus for the summer to be with my friends before we all went to study abroad programs around the world. Every night we had long dinners with wine and in the mornings, we exercised to make up for our long nights.

One particular Saturday morning, I decided to take a run. As I was jogging down the Walnut Street bridge from campus to Center City, I saw a man walking toward me. He looked like he’d had a rough go for a while, wearing a dirty white tank top, smudged and baggy jeans, a pick stuck in his hair. He was limping and taking up too much space on the sidewalk. From a distance, I could see him marching forward in the middle of the sidewalk so I reminded myself to choose a lane. I ran on the right. As we approached, he came into my side of the walking lane so I ran on the left side. Just then, he grabbed my body and touched me everywhere. Instinctively, I elbowed my way out and shouted profanities. He restrained me, and still standing, I wrangled out of his hold. I made eye contact with a UPS driver stuck in traffic and motioned for him to call the police.

The man seemed startled that I’d fought back and I sprinted away. I ran a block to some sort of meeting house and nobody seemed to care when I came in and said I needed help. I darted out and ran a couple blocks further to the main Post Office building and recalled seeing postal police standing guard. The officer took a look at me and asked if I needed help. Perhaps it was the intense look in my eyes and I started to tell him the story. I described the man in detail and told him what had happened. He called for backup to look for the guy.

Within a few moments, I felt tears burning my eyes and my throat was dry and scratchy. Then, my body turned hot. I was worried and thought I did something wrong (tell the police). Maybe I was wearing the wrong outfit (shorts and a t-shirt). Maybe I did something to provoke him (running?). Beginning as soon as I told the police officer, a new mantra started swirling around my head: It probably wasn’t that bad so I should just drop it. The police officers encouraged me to drive with them to the station and file a report. I was worried that I would not be able to get home, and they assured me they’d drive me back to my apartment.

Concurrently, two other police officers drove around the area looking for the guy and ironically, he was found across the street from my apartment. (This was random; he was likely not stalking me.)

At the station, I remember mistakenly coming into contact with the guy as was getting out of the police car. He flailed his arms and shouted gibberish. It appeared that he had a mental disorder. The police asked me if I still wanted to file a report and I said yes.

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