Content warning: This piece contains graphic descriptions of sexual assault.
It’s not something I talk about. It’s not even something I think about if I can avoid it. But I think it’s time for that to change.
Last year, just a few months into my freshman year, I became a victim of sexual assault.
It was mid-November, and I was at a mixer my sorority had with a couple of fraternities we have events with. I won’t name the fraternity I was at, because the truth is it could’ve been any fraternity on this campus — and at some point, it probably has been.
A couple of weekends before, I had gotten set up for the date party of one of the fraternities we were mixing with. I really liked my date, but I hadn’t spoken to him since the night of the date party (more accurately, he hadn’t responded to my text or added me on social media), and the realization was dawning on me that he was just going to be someone I had been set up with once.
So, I decided I needed to move on. “I need to kiss a boy tonight,” I remember telling my friends. I remember putting on an outfit that was a little bold for me, a little more skin than I was used to showing, and I remember starting to feel the buzz from the pregame and the boxed wine I had upon arriving at the mixer. I remember feeling confident. Feeling like the night was going to be a success.
I remember looking around the fraternity’s basement, searching for my date, trying to see if he was there. Maybe he was just busy this week; maybe it wouldn’t have been just that one night with us.
Or maybe — and I’m not proud of this — he’d see me with someone else.
I don’t know if the boy from the date party ever showed up that night. But about an hour into the mixer, I found the someone else.
He was standing on an elevated surface and noticed me dancing with my friends. He grabbed my hand, spun me around. It was fun. I felt pretty. I felt noticed. He pulled me up onto the elevated surface with him.
We started dancing, introduced ourselves. He was a year older, and I remember looking down at my friends and getting a look of approval back. “He’s cute,” one of them mouthed at me. We started making out. It was a normal fraternity party experience.
And then it wasn’t. Or maybe — unfortunately — it was.
I felt his hands on my chest, then inside the band of my underwear, and this was too far for a guy I had met 10 minutes ago. I tried to move his hands away, but he had a foot of height and probably 50 pounds or more on me, and he shook me off easily and kept going. He pulled me off the elevated surface and I tried to look for my friends, but couldn’t find them in the crowd.
He started pulling me toward the door, toward the nebulous “upstairs” where I knew enough to know his room was up there somewhere. I knew what he thought was going to happen.
Luckily — so, so luckily for me — I wasn’t as drunk as he thought I was. I dragged my feet as he pulled me along. I started with the typical excuses. “I have a 9 a.m. tomorrow.” I didn’t. “I have to be up early.” I didn’t. “My friend is so drunk, I have to make sure she’s okay.” The friends I was with that night had all had less to drink than I had, and we were all holding up just fine.
He didn’t buy it and kept pulling me upstairs. He stopped for a second in a corner, and I was relieved. Maybe I’d gotten out after all. And then his hands were back, inside my underwear again, inside of me, and I couldn’t get him to move his hands away.
“Stop,” I said. “No, stop, please, I just met you —”
“Come on,” he said and started pulling me toward the door again.
Every single day, I’m thankful for what happened next. We ran into a girl who lived in my hall. She and I were friendly, and had even gotten a few meals at South Quad together, but we joined different sororities and had never been all that close. But she saw us, saw enough to guess what was going on. She came over to me and started talking. To his surprise, the boy let go of my hand, and that girl from my hall led me away from him and put me in an Uber back to West Quad.
We all know what would’ve happened if I hadn’t run into her right then.
The state of Michigan defines what happened to me that night as criminal sexual assault in the third degree, but I knew I wasn’t going to press charges or report it. The system is too broken. No matter what I did, nothing was going to happen.
I knew what people would say. I had been drinking, had been wearing revealing clothes — never mind the fact that I was barely tipsy, just a couple drinks in, and while, what I was wearing was bold for me, it was still pretty standard fare for a fraternity party, and not at all revealing by my friends’ standards.
That night I had done everything I’d been taught. I didn’t get too drunk, I stayed within my limit, I came with friends. It was a fraternity I knew well, a fraternity I felt comfortable at.
It still happened.
What I wanted — what I still want — is to move on, not to let it affect me. I still go back to that fraternity, still have a drink or two (or more) on occasion, even still wear that outfit. That boy doesn’t get to take any of that away from me.
But not every girl is so lucky. Not every girl has the luxury, the luck of getting out like I did. Not every girl can move on as I’ve tried to.
And for all of us, the system is broken. So, so beyond broken that I knew from the moment that I walked out of that fraternity house that I wasn’t going to do anything about it — that I couldn’t do anything about it. Not when this University has a history if instutional sexual misconduct.
That’s how broken the system is. Not just generally, but at the University of Michigan.
So broken that I knew from the moment this happened to me that I knew there was nothing I could do about it but keep moving forward. So I did.
I don’t know what I expect to happen as a result of this article coming out. I certainly don’t expect anything from the University; I’ve learned I can’t expect anything from the University in this arena.
But with all this going on, I need to speak up. Need someone — anyone — to hear me when I say:
Editor’s note: The author’s name was omitted to protect their identity.
This piece is part of the Survivors Speak series, which seeks to share the varied, first-person experiences of survivors of sexual assault. If you are a survivor and would like to submit to the series, please see our guidelines for submissions here.