I was sexually assaulted twice at Princeton, but I refuse to let it define me
This story contains a graphic description of sexual assault
by Landon Funk
The first time I was sexually assaulted, I had just turned twenty, and a friend of a friend picked me up from the Princeton Junction train station to take me back to campus. It was just after midnight, and I quickly realized that this friend of a friend was not taking me back to campus but to a hotel on Route 1.
At this point in my life, I was a sophomore at Princeton University and had experimented in every sense of the word. Everyone lets loose at some point during college, and I was well versed in alcohol, sex, parties, and everything in between. I took pride in my sexuality, and I still do. This friend of a friend knew this about me, assuming immediately that I would be okay for any possible activity he suggested. I am still baffled by his confusion when I uttered the word “no.”
I remember thinking that I would just have sex with him. It was bound to be over quickly, and I thought he would take me back to my dorm when it was over. The first time he was done, I got up to use the restroom. God forbid I get a urinary tract infection. Alarmed, he raised his head, “Where are you going?” I went into the bathroom and closed the door. He was taking the semen-filled condom off when I came back out. He threw it next to the coffee table as I started to pull my underwear up my pale legs. “What are you doing?” he asked with wide eyes. “Putting my clothes back on..?” I responded still confused. “I will take you back in the morning” was all he needed to say to jail me in that dirty hotel room.
Forty minutes later, he plunged headfirst between my legs. I tried to clamp them shut, an oyster who failed to protect her pearl. I was dry, and his long fingernails scratched my insides, burning them. “Stop.” “Please.” “No.” His left hand reached for my neck, silencing my protests.
I did not sleep that night. The room smelled of stale cigarettes, and, after the third and fourth time, I just gave up fighting, knowing that he was stronger than me and that I was not going anywhere. The taupe walls stared back at me, unrelenting and bare. The used condom was put on over and over, and, by the time the sun rose, I do not think it was even serving a purpose anymore.
The friend of a friend took me back at nine the next morning. I had told him that bicker, Princeton’s version of rush, was at eleven o’clock, and I needed to get back. This was the only request he honored. When I got back, I showered and covered my bruises with pink corduroys and a scarf. I was such a good actress that I was fast-tracked into the club.
The second time I was sexually assaulted, I was on campus. I was on a sports team and my teammates were having a party in one of their dorm rooms. Whenever we all drank together, we all got very drunk together. I texted one of my closest friends to walk me back to my room. He did before climbing into bed with me.
I knew he liked me, and we had an on-again off-again relationship. That night, I told him in person at a dining hall and over text that I did not want to have sex with him. Because I trusted him, I believed him when he said he would not try anything. What a fool I was.
I was drunk. I was weak. I was falling asleep when he put his fingers inside me. Thinking I still could have a say in the matter, I slapped his hand away. “Come on,” his smooth, distinct voice was an attempt to persuade me as he reinserted his fingers. “I know you want this.” I didn’t. When it was over, I got up from the bed and vomited in the bathroom adjacent to my room. The cool tiles sobered me enough to hate myself, “Twice. What is wrong with you?”
It takes a split second to realize you are no longer invincible.
Post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a very active player in my life. My first “warp,” a term I use to explain a flashback, happened a month after the first incident. They followed me everywhere, each time begging me to take notice of what had happened, until I was in the middle of the coat room at my eating club with tears streaming down my face. A friend took me to get help, and I am forever grateful.
Warping is like having a nightmare when you are awake. I am able to see the taupe walls and smell the old cigarettes, but I cannot stop what happened. All I can do is watch, immobilized. At most, eleven warps have danced through my mind. After the incidents, my therapist urged me to continue to have sex, claiming that if I stopped, I would be forever afraid and the warps would only persist and get stronger. I do not know if she was right, but I do know that sex does not scare me anymore.
However, I attribute most of my recovery not to my therapist, my studies, or my sport, but to a person who patiently helped me overcome nearly all of my hurdles. For the sake of anonymity, he will be referred to as John.
John was one of my dearest friends from our first day on Princeton’s campus. We started dating at the end of my sophomore year. When I told him about my incidents, he listened, offering me a space free of shame and ending the evening by saying, “I hope you know how beautiful you are.” I didn’t. How could I when someone had stripped me of my sense of self?
Almost a year after we started dating, I had a meltdown. We were in my room, and, out of nowhere, I started panicking. The more he tried to comfort me, the more I started to lose my senses. I no longer saw this gentle being as someone who loved me but as a man who might try to hurt me. I cowered in a corner and held a lamp in front of me, a makeshift shield, as he called my best friend, not knowing how to proceed. I got up from the corner and went out into the courtyard. Snow fell from the sky and encased my bare feet. I do not know how long I stood there before going back inside. John was still in my room, tears streaming from his eyes.
He quickly pulled it back together as I grabbed my toiletries and went into the bathroom shower. I sat down on the sticky tiles and ran the hot water. My pink razor dared me to bring it out. I did, and, for a few minutes I held it to my wrist as it begged me to make the first cut. I thought that I might feel something if I did. Anything was going to be better than the empty void in which I found myself. I knew I could end my life. In that moment, I thought it would be worth it if that meant the warps and constant state of fear would stop.
The door to the bathroom opened, and I knew it was John. I dropped the razor and started to wash my hair. It scares me to think about what I would have done if he had not come in. When I got out of the shower and went back to my room, he was watching television on his laptop. He collected himself because he knew I needed him to be strong. When he thought I fell asleep, he silently cried, his shaking body giving him away.
Each year, life gets a little bit easier, but I am in no way cured of PTSD. Once in a blue moon, I will warp or fall into deep moments of depression. Every day, I think about my assaults. It is not something survivors “get over.” It is something we learn how to handle for if we let it take over, it will quite literally kill us. Instead of cowering in fear, I have decided to look it head on. The loneliness and fear have tried to overwhelm me, and, at times, they almost succeeded. It has taken me four years to come to terms with what happened to me, and these events will always haunt me, a shadow that will forever be sown to my heel. But, for the first time, I no longer feel alone.