“I totally got raped.”
It wasn’t the first time I had heard someone say this in a joking or mocking tone. Nor was it the last.
A freshman guy was saying this to a group of us, other freshmen, about a particularly hard exam. Less than a full year later, I was groped by unseen hands multiple times, forcibly kissed by strangers three times, and raped by a “friend” once. Some of these incidents happened off-campus. Most of them didn’t.
The first person I opened up to about my assault was my then-boyfriend, several months after the fact. His response was a single nod and a gift the next week. He proudly presented me with a mini keychain of pepper spray, never mind that pepper spray wouldn’t have even helped me avoid my original assault. It wasn’t a joke, but it certainly felt cruel. I never brought it up to him again.
It took me nearly a year to get substantial help. The sixth person I told about my assault was the first to tell me to go to Counseling and Psychological Services. At my first CPS appointment, I was told I was exhibiting symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder. My PTSD diagnosis crystallized the reality I had been trying to avoid: my assault had actually occurred, and it had deeply affected me. I was also told bluntly at my CPS meeting that because I was not suicidal, I should not return to CPS. I was told that the Sexual Harassment/Assault Advising, Resources and Education office would be better equipped to help me. With final exams approaching, it was clear that CPS didn’t have any appointment slots to spare. With help from friends and SHARE counseling, I have largely recovered from my PTSD. But I wonder if I could have reached this point much earlier with additional meetings with a CPS psychiatrist.
Our “Orange Bubble” shouldn’t shield the University from entering national conversations on sexual assault and harassment. In fact, we have no choice but to enter the national conversation, given multiple cases occurring on our very own campus. According to the recently released WeSpeak survey results, in the last year:
1. 16% of students (27% of undergraduate women) who responded had experienced nonconsensual sexual contact, stalking, sexual harassment and/or an abusive relationship.
2. 10% of students (18% of undergraduate women) experienced sexual assault.
3. 2% of students (5% of undergraduate women) experienced nonconsensual sexual penetration – commonly known as rape.
I should emphasize that these results only include the experience of students after , not their entire time at Princeton. For those like me who may have needed more time to come to terms with their rape, assault, or other inappropriate sexual behavior, their experience may have been missed by the survey. WeSpeak has only been conducted for the past three years, and the University has now terminated it. Although the University has plans to conduct modified forms of a similar survey in the future, WeSpeak in its current state won’t be continued in the coming years. Some think it should be.
While we have been speaking about professors engaging in inappropriate sexual behavior and harassment within the electrical engineering and German departments, we’ve barely tapped into the conversations regarding sexual assault and harassment on the campus as a whole. While some of those conversations have been happening within the USG presidential election, they have been continually overshadowed by talks about how to make Princeton “more fun.”
Increased access to mental health care — which would help assault survivors and many more — is apparently just an “idea,” not an “ideal,” according to USG presidential candidate Ryan Ozminkowski. In one of his campaign videos, titled “Inspirational Afternoon,” while a voice-over stated that mental health reform was a great thing that every candidate wants, a subtitle visible only when the video is muted reads that his campaign wants to bring back the “the nude Olympics.”
“Put NUDE OLYMPICS REFERENDUM on my platform!” Sadly, Ryan Ozminkowski’s campaign has continually advocated for joke policies more strongly than it has for increasing resources for students in actual need. His tone-deaf jokes have continued even after facing multiple articles lambasting his behavior and comments from insulted friends. One student, another victim of assault, has told me she explicitly told Ryan that his behavior and campaign was insulting to her as a victim of sexual assault. Yet, even after confrontation, he has continually tried to distract students from more serious candidates and conversations through stunts and outrageous campaign promises.
While it will be up to the larger student body this week to elect the next USG president, I hope that I am not in the minority. I want a candidate who actually cares about me, not just about bringing in a big act for Lawnparties or making parody videos. If truly promoting “fun” is the primary goal of one or two of the USG candidates, I ask why they aren’t running for the uncontested Social Chair position?
It has taken me a long time to heal, but with the support of many friends and loved ones, my PTSD-related anxiety attacks and nightmares are less frequent. I can see how someone who hasn’t been in my shoes might not take conversations of mental illness seriously. After all, it’s all in my head. But just because it’s my head doesn’t make it any less real. Mental illness isn’t a joke. My rape isn’t a joke. Stop making it into one.
Editor’s note: The author of this column was granted anonymity due to the intensely personal nature of the piece.