Coming to terms with rape: One student’s journey toward understanding

(Photo by Kaila Braley)

Jane jolted awake in a bed that wasn’t hers. She couldn’t remember having fallen asleep. Startled, her first thought was, “I don’t remember where I was before this.”

Looking down at herself, she realized she was naked from the waist up. Clutching her breasts,   she turned to her two friends who were also just waking up and asked, “Guys, where’s my shirt? What happened?”

In the dim light of the early summer morning, feeling confused and still drunk, she thought back to the night before, struggling to figure out what had happened. Jane remembered being invited to a party by Dan, a student from Framingham State University whom she had started to see at the end of spring semester after breaking up with her long-time boyfriend.

She and Dan had hooked up a few times in the spring, and even though they would soon be separated during the summer, Jane had started to have strong feelings for him. When he asked her to come to his house for a party, she was excited but apprehensive to go.

Jane remembered driving to the party at Dan’s house with two of her friends. There were between 15 and 20 people there, mostly men and mostly his friends. She remembered drinking, talking and hanging out. She remembered smoking a “blunt,” throwing up outside on Dan’s porch and then a hazy memory of sitting up in bed, throwing up again into a bowl one of her friends held for her, struggling to speak but not being able to form sentences successfully.

“I don’t understand anything you’re trying to say right now,” she remembered the friend saying. “You’re not making any sense.”

Realizing she couldn’t remember anything else that had happened the night before, Jane needed to talk to Dan to find out. Dragging herself out of bed, Jane found the bag she had brought and threw on a shirt she had packed as a change of clothes. Wanting answers, Jane stumbled to Dan’s bedroom, but he wasn’t there. Her head foggy and achy, because she was still drunk and hung over, she staggered downstairs and found him sleeping on the couch.

“Did we fuck last night?” she asked him, as he groggily woke up.

“Yep.”

Feeling disoriented and sick, Jane went back upstairs and gathered up her clothes, which were strewn around the guest bedroom where she had been asleep. She couldn’t find her bandeau – a stretchy band of cloth worn around the bust – that she had worn under her shirt. One of Jane’s friends, who had driven the three of them to the party, had to go to work, so they left the house early that morning.

On the way out the door, Jane apologized to Dan for puking on his porch and thanked him for hosting the party.

She said goodbye and kissed him on the cheek.

Later that day, Jane texted Dan, apologized again for getting so drunk and throwing up on his porch, and asked him to let her know if he found her missing bandeau.

She asked again if they had had sex, saying she couldn’t remember anything. He responded, “Yep lol.”

“He literally ‘loled’ me,” she said, with an incredulous laugh, recalling the day after the party.

“I was really confused. Usually you know, you know? Usually there’s some kind of evidence, but there was no evidence.

“I couldn’t feel anything. I was literally touching myself, trying to figure it out. There was no moisture. There was no pain. I was like, ‘This is weird. I don’t like this.’”

Jane texted Dan again, asking whether it had been good sex, because she didn’t remember it at all.

She texted him again, saying, “It’s really shitty not knowing what happened. I do not remember anything. Please, can you explain to me what happened?” Dan never responded.

In September, Jane, who asked that her real name not be used, disclosed what happened to her at the party to a Gatepost reporter. Dan is a pseudonym as well.

She brushed off the significance of the actual event, speaking about it as if it were not a big deal and didn’t bother her much, and mostly focused on feeling ignored by Dan since the party. “What really upset me at first was the fact that he didn’t text me back. It wasn’t what happened – it was just that he didn’t respond.”

Jane asked her friends to fill her in on what they knew happened after she blacked out.

Jane’s friends told her that she had felt sick after smoking marijuana, so they led her to the bathroom. She didn’t throw up there, but they then brought her outside for fresh air, where Jane threw up “a ton” on the porch. “He deserved that, because he had to clean it up the next day,” she said with a sardonic laugh.

Her friends gave Jane some bread and water, and brought her upstairs to a guest bedroom. They stayed with Jane for about an hour, they told her, until she fell asleep. Then they went back to the party.

“Which, I think, is a pretty crappy thing of them to do,” she said. “I was really unhealthy drunk and I should have had someone there to watch me. I shouldn’t put that on them, but at the same time, it’s like, if my friend couldn’t make sentences and was puking and passed out, I probably would sit with them.

“They were drunk, too. Everyone was drunk. Not that that gives excuses, but,” she said, trailing off with a shrug.

Later that night, Jane’s friends said Dan told them he was going upstairs to check on Jane. He came back downstairs about 45 minutes later. When Jane’s friends went up to check on her later in the night, she was passed out on the bed completely naked.

They tried to put her clothes back on, which she said they told her was “a real struggle. I did not wake up. I did not move. They were able to get some shorts on me, and that was it.

“So I highly doubt that I was awake when it happened because if they waited an hour for me to fall asleep and then I was not moving when they came up – I don’t know, but I think that’s what happened.”

In a phone interview in October, one of Jane’s friends, who asked to remain anonymous, recalled what happened at the party that she attended with Jane that night in June.

She said that Jane drank “fast” and wasn’t feeling well, so she and her other friend brought her upstairs to put her to bed. She said that Dan came upstairs with them, but that the two women sent him back downstairs until Jane went to sleep.

She said she and her friend then returned to the party. Back downstairs, some of Dan’s friends were making fun of Jane for being so drunk. “They were calling her, like, ‘Puke Girl,’ which didn’t sit right with me.”

She said Dan didn’t call Jane names, but he also didn’t tell his friends to stop.

“I talked to them. I said, ‘You know, we’ve all been there,’” Jane’s friend said.

When Dan got up and went upstairs, she said she didn’t think much of it.

“He came back downstairs and just sat back down. And, I don’t know, everything seemed OK. So we asked him if she was awake, and he was like, ‘Oh yeah, she’s awake.’”

Jane’s friend asked if she seemed OK, and Dan said she was fine.

Jane’s friend said she stayed downstairs because she thought Jane was “probably sleeping, because she was passed out. I mean, she was gone when we left her.”

She said an hour or so later, she and the other friend went upstairs to make sure “she hadn’t thrown up more or anything. … We walked into the room and she was just like completely naked, lying on the bed, like no blankets or anything. So we kind of like freaked out.”

She said Jane was lying on her stomach. “She wasn’t in a disturbing position or anything.”

Jane’s friends tried to put her into pajamas, “because she was like dead. I mean, the girl was out. My God, she was passed out so hard. I was like, ‘OK, that’s kind of scary.’”

Jane’s friends wanted to leave right away and take Jane home. The two women were drunk, though, and decided that they were in no condition to take care of Jane or to drive. They also didn’t want to make a “big deal” about what happened by leaving so abruptly, so they stayed in the guest bedroom with her.

Jane’s friend said Dan came upstairs later that night and asked how Jane was doing. The two women sent him away and went to bed.

Jane’s friend said she didn’t have any reason not to trust him because she didn’t think it was her place to question Jane’s judgment, and “he seemed really nice. … I was getting really good vibes from him and from everyone around us. So it definitely wasn’t something we were kind of worrying about or anything, but it definitely was kind of really sketchy when we just found her like that in the room later that night.”

She said she thinks it’s possible that Jane was awake when Dan went upstairs, but “there’s so much uncertainty.

“I think it still bugs her – like the fact that she doesn’t remember it. … It’s hard to give her all the details of what me and my friend remember from that night. The only person who would remember, you know, is [Dan], and what he says is that she was awake and that he would never do something like that.

“Something like that – a night like that is not going to go away anytime soon.”

She said, “Obviously, if we were there, that never would have happened. I do wish I had stayed with her because, you know, these weren’t people that we knew, and it probably would have been a better judgment call to stay with her.” But, she said she doesn’t feel guilty about what happened to Jane that night.

“I don’t blame myself for it happening. It’s not my fault, but I wish that I could have prevented it.”

Jane’s friend said she wouldn’t necessarily label what happened as rape or sexual assault, but rather a “gray area.” She also said she doesn’t condone two really drunk people having sex, and that she doesn’t really know what happened.

Back at FSU on the day before classes began, Jane met a few of her friends at the Black and Gold Beginnings Barbeque in Crocker Grove. She caught up with those around her in the late summer heat, talking about what they’d been doing the past few months, as she disinterestedly nibbled at chicken and watermelon.

Glancing over the crowd, she saw Dan from behind as he walked past with his friends.

She felt a sickening jolt – a feeling she said was akin to waking up suddenly and realizing she was late for work or had failed a test on which she really needed to do well. She felt horror twist in her stomach, and in a way that she couldn’t explain, she felt as if she were the one in the wrong – the one who should be embarrassed.

Then, Dan turned and looked back at her. They made eye contact for a moment and then he turned away again.

On the verge of tears, panicking, Jane got up and without telling her friends where she was going, ran back to her room. She began crying. As soon as she could choke back her emotions, she “packed a bowl” of marijuana and left her room, headed for a nature spot about a mile or two across Route 9.

Before the incident in June, Jane had smoked marijuana occasionally with friends. After returning to school and seeing Dan around campus, Jane began smoking marijuana on a daily basis, sometimes multiple times a day, to help deal with her feelings of sadness and confusion.

Almost every time she ran into Dan, she would smoke marijuana immediately after to repress the emotions she felt when she saw him.

She often went on walks to smoke marijuana and to get away from campus. She believed being in nature helped “center” and calm her.

A week later, having lunch with another group of friends, Jane saw Dan again from across the dining hall.

Offhandedly, she told her friends about her experience at the party that summer. She said she wasn’t really sure what happened, but that even if she were awake, she didn’t know why he would have thought she was attractive after she had just been throwing up. She made light of the situation by saying he’d gotten pudgy since she had last seen him.

One of her friends asked whether she had considered reporting the incident. Another friend said she should consider whether he might do “something like this” to someone else. She said she didn’t know – he might.

Jane said she didn’t want to report it, though, because so much time had passed and she “didn’t want to ruin his life.”

As the conversation turned to more trivial matters, Jane couldn’t really focus on what was being said. She found herself sitting rigidly and trying to stop herself from looking in Dan’s direction.

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In late September, a female student reported two sexual assaults, and Jane saw first-hand how the FSU community reacted to the report. She first saw the email about the report in her room, and didn’t feel much impacted by it. However, as she walked around campus and attended classes that week, she began to feel strongly affected by what people were saying about rape and sexual assault.

It seemed as if everyone on campus was talking about it – some students victim-blaming and slut-shaming the student who reported the attacks, especially on social media sites such as Facebook and Yik Yak.

Jane herself even wondered whether the report was true. She said she got swept up in her peers’ conversations in which they speculated that the student might have been lying about what happened.

She felt hypocritical judging or questioning the student who reported the incident, though, because something similar had happened to Jane herself and she didn’t report it. Jane felt a kind of kinship with the student and wanted to defend her.

While she was “proud of her, whoever she is,” for reporting the assault against her, Jane couldn’t help looking around, seeing her peers’ reactions and feeling as if she didn’t want to be subjected to that type of backlash. She felt hurt or insulted by some of the comments she overheard, even though she knew they weren’t directed at her.

At the time of the first reported sexual assault, Jane was having a hard time sleeping. One night in the week after the report, she was up until four in the morning because she was feeling “bummed out,” so she called a friend who is an insomniac whom she knew would hang out with her at that time of night.

The night before that, she said, “I was just feeling really bad. I was trying to sleep, but I couldn’t get it [the incident from the summer] out of my head. I texted – I can’t even tell you how many people I texted until someone gave me a number of someone who could sell me weed.”

She had been going to the Counseling Center on campus since the summer, and she said her counselor helped her acknowledge that what happened to her was a “legitimate thing” that she could report if she wanted.

At this point in late September, Jane had confusing emotions about what she had been through. Some days she was angry at Dan and wanted to look into reporting the incident. Other days, she rationalized what had happened to her so that she could more easily pretend that it didn’t bother her.

She said she didn’t think it was right for this one mistake or bad judgment to define Dan for the rest of his life. She said she wished he had some sort of punishment, but not as drastic as being labeled a sex offender.

She believed there was a spectrum of sexual assault, where some cases were worse than others, and that hers was not as bad as other situations.

Jane understood they were both drunk, which she said doesn’t excuse what happened, “but it makes more sense, because when you’re drunk, you make stupid decisions. So I feel like, it didn’t validate it for me, but it’s not like he found me in an alleyway and raped me. He wasn’t doing it trying to hurt me or trying to be, like, dominant – like, I know a lot of the time rape is, like, a dominance thing.”

She added, “I don’t think it is something that would define him, whereas if it was someone who went out with the intent to rape someone, like that kind of defines them as a person.”

She thought that what happened to her doesn’t fit the way rape or sexual assault is typically portrayed in the media. “What happened to me was upsetting, but it wasn’t scary.”

There are a lot of factors that have influenced Jane’s decision not to report what happened, including what others would think and the consequence it would have on Dan’s future.

“I have very mixed feelings on it. I really, ideally, would just like to talk to him and have him apologize. … I don’t think it’s right for him to get away with it, and I don’t want that to happen to anybody else. But at the same time, it’s really nerve-wracking to report it because I waited so long, my parents have no idea, and then there would be people who would say, ‘You shouldn’t have drunk so much.’ It shouldn’t matter, but people will still say it.

“I know I shouldn’t have drunk so much,” she said, “but regardless, it doesn’t mean he should have done that.”

The night before the party at Dan’s house, Jane and her ex-boyfriend attended a concert together. The two had met at a high school dance and dated for years, breaking up last spring. Feeling unsure about the breakup, Jane began spending time with her ex again at the beginning of the summer.

The day after the concert, Dan texted Jane, saying he was excited to see her that night. She texted back “half-heartedly, ‘Me too.’”

Jane felt uneasy that she was spending time with both men, but reassured herself that because she was single, she should explore her feelings and see what happened. She still loved her ex, and believed she would always love him, but she also really liked Dan.

She even bought Red Sox tickets for Dan’s birthday so they would go to a game together later that summer. After the party, she sold the tickets without ever telling him she had bought them.

When planning the party, Dan asked what day she was free before choosing the date and repeatedly told her he couldn’t wait to see her. Looking back, she said she wished she hadn’t gone to the party because it seemed to be implied that Dan expected she would have sex with him, even though she wasn’t sure she wanted to.

Thinking back on that night, she said she didn’t believe what he did was meant to hurt her, “but I just felt like, he was just doing what he thought was going to happen. And he just wanted it to happen.”

Jane’s ex asked her to hang out the night of the party, but she said she couldn’t, lying to him about where she was going.

She didn’t tell him what had happened at the party for a while after that night, even though she was uncomfortable being intimate with her ex after what happened. “Being with him after that made me pretty uncomfortable, but I couldn’t tell him that because I didn’t want to tell him what happened. So when he went, like, making the moves, I didn’t really want to do anything, but I didn’t want to say why, so I just went with it.”

Jane also said she had a hard time drinking alcohol after the party. When she went out with her ex to another party that summer, she almost couldn’t make herself swallow her drink. The thought of drinking wine now makes her sick.

Eventually, she did tell her ex what had happened. At first, he was furious at Dan, listing the different ways he wanted to kill him. But after she told him when the party was, the night after Jane had gone to the concert with him, he was hurt and lashed out at her. They talked for hours that night, she said, trying to work through what had happened.

The two tried to make a relationship work for the rest of the summer, but she said her ex “wouldn’t let” her be sad about what happened to her because it was a point of tension in their relationship. She largely pretended it didn’t bother her to avoid a fight.

For most of the summer, she was able to suppress her feelings about what happened by staying busy. She was working two jobs and spent little time alone. When she drove to and from work, however, alone in the car, she would often not be able to stop herself from thinking about the night of the party and crying.

Before Jane and her ex broke up last spring, they often talked about just leaving everything behind and going somewhere together. One night in August, Jane’s ex joked, “Let’s just run away.”

She said, “Let’s do it,” and went out the next day to buy food for the trip.

Her parents, conservative Catholics, didn’t want her going on an overnight trip with a man, and threatened to kick her out of the house and stop paying for her education if she disobeyed them and went anyway.

Feeling as if she had to take a stand for her independence – an ongoing struggle she had been having that summer with her parents – she went on the trip, which lasted about a week. Jane and her ex drove his brother’s VW Jetta, which was good on gas but didn’t have working air conditioning, all the way to Washington, D.C. and back.

The trip was fun, she said, and filled with memories she will cherish forever, but also tainted with the anxiety of what she might face on her return home.

Every day during the trip, she felt anxious about what her parents might say, and whether she even had a home to which to return. Her ex offered to let her stay with him if her parents didn’t allow her to come home, but because their relationship was “rough,” she said she didn’t want to have to rely on him for a place to live.

On the last night of the trip, Jane was worrying about what her parents might say when she got back, and said she felt as if her father sometimes thought she acted like a slut.

Her ex replied that she shouldn’t act like a slut if she didn’t want people thinking she was one, referencing the night of the party.

In the argument that followed, he said that he had no sympathy for her because she had put herself in a situation in which she would likely have sex. She began yelling at him, and he said he didn’t want to be her boyfriend because he couldn’t trust her.

She said he shouldn’t act as if it had been her choice to have sex at the party that night. She didn’t make the decision – the decision was made for her. She felt so betrayed that he blamed her, because in reality, she had been the victim of rape that night.

After the argument ended, and their anger faded, the two of them became sad and quiet. They both realized they couldn’t be together – that this was the end of their relationship. They went to bed in their tent that night without much conversation. In the morning, they drove for nine hours back to Massachusetts.

Jane said she has never felt as alone and abandoned as she did that morning. “I didn’t have my parents, and it felt like at that point, I didn’t have him either because he didn’t want me.”

Jane said she didn’t know whether she really wanted to date her ex again last summer or whether she was just clinging to the one person whom she felt really cared about her.

Jane’s house was empty when they got back to Massachusetts, so she waited anxiously until her parents came home. When they arrived, they told her to never do something like that again, that it was the worst week of their life, but that they wouldn’t kick her out.

Jane and her ex have talked briefly since the summer, and they saw each other over Columbus Day weekend when he drove back to his school and stopped by FSU on the way.

She didn’t want to invite him into her dorm room, so they smoked marijuana together outside in the cool fall air. They hugged when saying goodbye.

“I’d like on stay on good terms,” she said, “but I can’t ever be with him again.”

About a month into the fall semester, Dan messaged Jane on Instagram.

Dan said he had gotten a new number, which is why he hadn’t been receiving her messages, and asked her to text him so he would have her number.

She texted him and asked if he wanted to get lunch, and he said, “Maybe, but what are you up to tonight?” He asked if she wanted to go out with him that night. She said no and that she wasn’t feeling well, so he asked if he could “hit her up” when he got back, and she said if it wasn’t too late, he could.

He said, “I missed you. I just didn’t have your number.”

She didn’t text him back, thinking, “You don’t miss me.”

He texted her “a bunch of times” that weekend, but she didn’t respond, because she knew she had to talk to him about what had happened that night at the party, but felt as if she wouldn’t have time to fully discuss the issue until Monday, when she was back on campus.

Dan texted her Sunday night. According to Jane, he said he understood she was upset about what happened, but he didn’t think he had done anything wrong, and didn’t know what she wanted him to say.

She said she just wanted to talk to him about what had happened and asked to meet up. He agreed.

She was nervous to meet with him, so when she walked by him leaving the cafeteria one day, after they had messaged each other, she just nodded in his direction and kept walking, rather than stopping to talk then.

She was on her way to a nature walk with a friend. The conversation could wait.

Jane texted Dan later that week and they planned to meet in her dorm room after they both got out of their respective labs, which happened to be scheduled at the same time. She was nervous to be alone with him because she didn’t know how he might react to the conversation she had to have with him.

“I really had no idea how he felt about the situation and how he would react to what I had to say. …  Just because of the fact that I totally didn’t expect what happened with him to have happened, I had no idea what to expect in any situation with him.

“I don’t know what he’s capable of or what he’s willing to do.”

Despite feeling nervous, she wanted to meet him in her room because she was concerned about becoming emotional in public. She also felt safer because they were meeting during the day and she had her phone with her, just in case she had to call somebody.

Before he came over to her room, she tidied up. She said she almost didn’t expect him to show up, but only about 15 minutes after she got out of her class, he texted her.

He joked that she was going to “pop his Ho Mann cherry,” since he had never been in that residence hall before – which she said made her less nervous.

They met outside her residence hall and hugged, which also calmed her nerves.

“It was a caring gesture, so it made me feel better about everything, I guess.”

Both students sat on Jane’s bed as they talked.

She told him “how shitty it was for him not to ever respond to me and let me know what happened.”

She said Dan told her he knew she was upset, but he was upset about the night as well, because it was the first time she had met his friends and she had gotten so drunk. He said he was embarrassed by how she handled herself.

He said he was really “fucked up” that night, too, and that’s why he just wanted to “drop it.”

“But dude, I don’t even know if I was awake when it happened,” she said.

“Of course you were awake. What kind of creepy person do you think I was?” he asked. “What do you think – I’m some kind of pedophile?”

They began to make awkward small talk. Dan got off the bed, where Jane was still sitting with her legs crossed. He rested his head on her knee and said, “I missed you.”

She told him she was seeing someone new to deflect any advances – a half-truth since she was in a nonexclusive relationship with someone she mostly considered a friend. He said he understood, but they should still “chill sometime.”

They hugged when they said goodbye outside the building.

A friend of Jane’s, who knew about what had happened at the party, saw them leave the dorm building together and hug. She told Jane if she hadn’t known better, she would have thought they were old friends just catching up.

At a round table in the McCarthy Center Starbucks, Jane pushed her hair back and held a cup of tea as she recalled the conversation a few days later.

Jane felt Dan was being genuine and she “understood where he was coming from.” She didn’t insist on an apology because she wanted them to be “cool” with each other.

She was relieved the conversation was over, and said she was less anxious when she saw Dan around campus. However, she didn’t say all of the things she wanted to, or really explain the extent of how hurt and upset she was about what happened.

She spoke thoughtfully, and occasionally, there was a flash of frustration or anger. She seemed to catch herself in her own inconsistencies as she spoke, saying she was happy with the way the conversation went – but only if she pretended she got a genuine apology.

“It was a pretty brief conversation, actually, because I didn’t get into details because he was pretty defensive already about it. And I got him to just say that he should have just texted me. But I honestly don’t even remember if I got him to say sorry, but I like to pretend that he did, just in case.”

She said she felt better being on a good terms with him, even if it meant she had to pretend that he had apologized. In one sense, she seemed to understand that Dan’s response wasn’t good enough, but she was also willing to justify what happened, and his response, in order to put it behind her more quickly. She said she was glad she no longer felt uncomfortable seeing him on campus, and that they weren’t on bad terms, but she wishes she had “been harsher” and explained how hurt she really was.

He texted her a few days after they talked and said, “Just saying, I wish that you were still single.”

She replied that they could just hang out as friends, but he said, “I don’t think I’d be comfortable with that because I’d want to make a move on you.”

As she reflected on the meeting in her room, Jane realized she was still struggling to understand how she felt about Dan. Some days, she was angry, but other days, it was hard for her to move past the feelings she used to have for him.

Feeling uncomfortable about her conflicted emotions, she said, “I’m never going to hook up with him again, because that’s just creepy.”

She added, “We’re on good terms now, which makes me feel a lot better.” She admitted that she sometimes caught herself wishing she could find a way that they could date, “but then I remember what happened, and I will never do that.”

After the conversation in her room, Dan texted her frequently, at least once a week, asking if she were single yet and whether she wanted to hang out. She largely ignored his texts unless she was looking for someone to buy marijuana from, because he knew people who sold it.

In mid-October, Jane was prescribed Prozac for depression that occurred after she was raped.

“It’s definitely made a difference. … What I’ve noticed, since I’ve taken it, is the things that upset me kind of pass more quickly. I don’t get into these huge mental breaks over anything anymore. So, it’s pretty good.”

She said memories of the incident set her off before she started taking medicine.

After taking the medicine for about a week, Jane said she was not sure whether she liked the way Prozac made her feel. While it helped to curb the depression and sadness, it left an “empty” feeling in its place, and dulled many of her emotions.

Jane also didn’t know whether the combination of marijuana and her new prescription would have adverse effects. She was still smoking marijuana multiple times a day to help repress feelings of anxiety and depression she felt when she couldn’t stop thinking about what happened.

Jane also said that she was not doing well in most of her classes because she often went to class high and really needed to push herself to catch up.

Jane discussed how she would label what happened to her. She was surer of her assessment than she was a month earlier, but she still tempered her responses with some rationalizations.

She said she believed what happened to her was “kind of like date rape, I’d consider it. Because we had sex in the past, and it was kind of implied that it was going to happen, but if I’m in that state, it’s not OK regardless.”

She was beginning to blame herself less, but she was having a hard time fully admitting what had happened to her. “I don’t think that because you’re drunk, it’s going to completely excuse that. So I do see it still as rape … but I won’t say that to him. I’ll admit it to my friends and myself.”

She said she still wouldn’t tell her family that she had been raped. “And to him [Dan], I wouldn’t say that’s what it was. I don’t know – with him, I guess it’s just because I don’t want to cause any more problems, but with my parents, it’s kind of like a mix of I lied about where I was that night and also a shame sort of thing. I don’t know,” she said.

“It’s not – I guess it’s not something that I want to admit has happened to me because it’s not something that I would ever have imagined happening.”

Jane leaves her room on the way to her classes in late November, thinking about how she can turn her grades around, about how she can try to get her chemistry assignment done during her free time at her new part-time job, about how she really wants to end this semester on a “positive note.” She locks her door and walks down the hall with her backpack slung over her shoulders, passing by posters and banners hung all over the lobby of her residence hall.

“SEXUAL ASSAULT IS NOT OKAY,” is written in huge letters on a white banner stretching across the top of a window.

Smaller signs posted around the lobby read: “If they aren’t sober, they can’t consent.” “’We’ve had sex before’ is not consent.” “Silence is not consent.”

The emotions she has been repressing all semester surface for a moment. Most days, she pushes them away.

A few weeks ago, she had mistakenly believed she was beginning to put what happened behind her. Now, she didn’t care about being on good terms with Dan anymore. She realized, as he continued to text her, asking whether she was single, that he did not care that she needed space. “There’s no respect here. It’s just about the sex. So like, I don’t have any respect for him, either.”

But some days, or even weeks, are still difficult – even more so now that she has been trying to stop smoking marijuana.

Jane is trying not to smoke marijuana for a two-week period as a type of “experiment.” She hopes that after these two weeks are over, she won’t feel so dependent on marijuana, though she isn’t sure she will be able to quit. It’s been difficult for her not to have a crutch to lean on when her emotions are overwhelming, when she can’t stop thinking about what she’s been through or when she can’t sleep.

“I can’t lie now and say it doesn’t bother me anymore,” she said a few evenings earlier, after she had stopped smoking marijuana for a few days, “because I guess the only reason it didn’t bother me is because I didn’t allow myself to think about it.”

After not smoking marijuana, she said she felt as if she had woken up for the first time this semester, but she was also feeling irritated and anxious. The emotional pain she was keeping at bay was now surfacing frequently and the closure she had convinced herself she had attained, she was realizing, was not real.

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Now, as she reflected on the incident, she said, “I want to be able to be comfortable in my own skin sober. That’s the ultimate goal. I just don’t know if I can do that or if it will just take me a long time to get there,” she said.

Jane was on edge as she spoke that evening. She seemed restless, agitated, and pain was visible in her eyes. She wasn’t joking about the incident anymore, as she had been earlier in the semester. She spoke about her family and friends whom she felt she couldn’t turn to when she was alone and hurt.

She recalled a car ride back to school a few weeks earlier during which her mother had asked if she had ever been forced to have sex.

Jane was taken aback by the question, but she immediately and impulsively said, no, she hadn’t.

Jane wanted to tell her mother about the party, waking up naked and how she had been feeling over the past few months trying to cope with not remembering what happened to her. She felt her mom would probably have been able to console her, as she had when Jane confided in her about the difficulties of being away from home as a freshman.

“I wish there was some way I could try to tell her, but I know that would have to be something I felt like I could bring up. I would never answer her if she just asked me … because I know it’s not something I could just say, ‘Yes, that happened,’ because there’s everything else that goes along with it.”

She had confessed to her mom over the summer that she had had sex with multiple men. Her mom had known that she had had sex with her ex when they were in a long-term, committed relationship, and she had disapproved. Jane’s mother said she thought it seemed out of character for her to have sex with more than one person, which is why she asked whether she had been raped.

Jane also considered how it would devastate her mother to know what had happened to her. How her father would find out, and probably insist she report the incident, which she didn’t want to do. And how she would have to admit to lying about where she was that night, and drinking and smoking marijuana at the party.

So in that moment, Jane said no, that had never happened to her. She doesn’t know if she will ever tell her mother that she was raped.

At school and at home, Jane feels alone and not really understood by those around her. She realizes that her friends don’t really know what she’s going through.

“Being who I am – I’m generally a pretty funny person, and I try to stay positive, make people happy, make people laugh. So people don’t check in with me. My friends don’t say, you know, ‘How are you doing?’

“That weighs on me, too. I come off as a different person than I am inside, so it’s kind of hard. I feel like a lot of people don’t really know who I am.”

When she is busy, as when she is hanging out with friends or at work, it’s easier for her to pretend nothing is bothering her. But at night, alone, she has a hard time sleeping, staying awake until two or three in the morning most nights.

A few days after she stopped smoking marijuana, Jane found one of Dan’s old T-shirts, which had been in her dorm room all semester. She had even worn the shirt to bed a few times without thinking much of it. But when she saw it that night, she burst out crying and threw the shirt away.

One night, very late when she couldn’t sleep, Jane considered calling Dan and really confronting him. She thought about bluntly telling him, “What you did to me was rape.” But she put the phone back down and blocked his number instead.

As she continues to assess what she’s learned about herself and what she’s been through since June, Jane is beginning to recognize that her story is part of a larger social dynamic. She has begun to think about “rape culture” and what that phrase really means.

She is thinking about who she is, and how being a victim of rape might define her.

“It feels like – almost like it’s a part of me,” she said.

Jane said she now understands how “easily” someone can be sexually assaulted or raped – how someone who seems trustworthy might disrespect or violate someone else when that person is most vulnerable. How friends and loved ones may not be supportive in the aftermath of an assault in the ways that the victim needs them to be.

On this November morning, standing in the lobby of Horace Mann, Jane has a hard time pushing away the memories that surface when she sees the posters.

The posters promise a community willing to accept and support a victim of rape or sexual assault, yet she is still fearful of telling people what she experienced.

They offer resources to find information about how to report an attack or receive guidance and support, but she still feels alone in her struggle for understanding.

Jane reads the punchy slogans again, and recognizes that the posters were made with good intentions. But it is difficult to reconcile these simple statements with her confusion and the complexity of the emotions she has been trying to understand this semester.

Hiking her backpack up, she turns from the posters and leaves the building, wondering when she might find real closure for the trauma she has experienced since that morning in June when she woke up in someone else’s bed.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s website, about one in five women “reported experiencing rape at some time in their lives.” Approximately 19 percent of undergraduate women experience attempted or completed sexual assault. Over 50 percent of the perpetrators were intimate partners and 40 percent were acquaintances.

According to RAINN’s website (Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network), victims of rape or sexual assault are three times more likely to suffer from depression, and 26 times more likely to abuse drugs.

According to the FBI’s website, “Not everyone has the same reaction [to being the victim of a crime]. In some people the reaction may be delayed days, weeks, or even months.”

If you or someone you know has been a victim of sexual assault or rape, there are resources available at FSU. The Counseling Center is available to all students. Additional resources can be found here:

http://www.framingham.edu/shape

Photos by Kaila Braley

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