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It was a Wednesday afternoon when it happened. I remember every single detail about that day from the weather to the day of the month. That's how I know it still holds power over my psyche. There were three weeks left in the semester. I had the second speaking exam for my French class. I cried listening to a man talk about losing his entire family in a bombing in the Middle East. My involvement with the student paper was making me miserable, anxious and hopeless. 


We planned to have lunch that day and when I saw him at the table I knew I could spill about how terrible my day had been. Lunch went on and so did our talking. Soon enough I was walking back to his room on campus. I’d been there once before but I’d been friends with him for four years. We’d hung out by ourselves plenty of times and I didn’t think anything of it. He did. 


I was sexually assaulted at the end of my freshman year at Penn State. I was friends with my assaulter. I had no alcohol in my system and I was wearing jeans and a t-shirt. No one warned me that the person who could do the most damage was hiding right in front of me. No one told me that what he did to me was wrong. No one told me I’d been sexually assaulted. 


April is sexual assault awareness month and I wanted to share my story publicly to let people know that sexual assault is no joke. All freshmen are educated about sexual assault when they come to Penn State. They learn about the resources available and how to ask for consent. I should know since I was a freshman and an orientation leader. 


I was the one teaching this stuff to incoming freshmen. 


But when I came to orientation and learned about assault, I never ever thought I would need it, let alone for myself. Fast forward nine months later and I had no idea if what happened to me was assault. 


Sexual assault is defined as any unwanted sexual touching, acts, behavior, etc. Sexual assault is not just rape. It can be unwanted touching, kissing, fondling, exposure, sexual language and so much more. 


That’s the part I never learned about. 


You don’t have to have sex to be sexually assaulted. They don’t have to touch you to be sexually assaulted and you don’t have to be in the same room to be sexually assaulted.


 Every 73 seconds, an American is sexually assaulted. 


That’s millions of people each year, in the U.S. alone, that will have to live with their experiences. Experiences that can literally change their lives. 


I know my experience changed my life. It spiraled me into depression and suicidal thoughts along with the feeling that my body was not mine to own. As I lay on this boy’s bed, being  peppered with unwanted kisses and grabs to my chest, I’d never felt more like an object being acted upon. At that moment, I didn’t own my body. He did. I’d never experienced fear quite like that in my life. The fear that he’d hurt me if I said no, the fear that he’d have sex with me even though I didn’t want to. I still live with those feelings every day and any time I even think about being alone with another man. 


It’s taken me three years to write this and to tell the world that this happened to me. I’m still having second thoughts as I’m writing this. 


Do I want the world to know I’m damaged goods? 


That I had the most horrible thoughts a person could have? 


That I let this person do this thing to me and didn’t fight back? 


Those, I know, are all internalized thoughts that society has put upon survivors of sexual assault. I am not damaged goods but my god it really feels like it sometimes. 


It feels that way a lot and it hurts to know that he doesn’t have to live like this. 


That’s why I’m writing this. 


The person who assaulted me still walks around campus, goes to sporting events and has good times with his friends as if what he did to me never even happened. To him, I’m merely a ghost. A person who used to be in his life. He will go about his life without people even knowing he did this. 


I used to think that my sexual assault ruined my life and that I’d never be myself again. But through all the pain I’ve become a version of myself that I didn’t know was possible. I found my voice, my passion and my confidence. I found a way to help people like me and also help myself in the process. 


Author’s note: I would not have written this without the inspiration from Chanel Miller and for that I’m grateful. If you or a friend is struggling with assault or harassment, contact the Gender Equity Center at PSU.

Hannah Nelson is a senior at Penn State University, double majoring in Print/Digital Journalism and History. She enjoys Marvel movies, anything Harry Potter, books, quoting Vines and watching Tik Toks. In her free time, she is probably watching Try Guys videos on YouTube. She is passionate about mental health, women's rights and the Black Lives Matter movement.
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