illustration by Kate Towsey for Varsity

Content note: this article contains detailed discussion of sexual assault and the aftermath of sexual assault.

Was I sexually assaulted? This is the question I have spent the first half of term grappling with. I know I feel violated. I don’t know what sexual activity happened. I know I was too drunk to understand what was going on. I don’t know if he realised that. Even if it wasn’t sexual assault, occupying that grey space is still difficult.

Waking up the morning after a night out in someone else’s bed is normalised at university. Promiscuity and having fun is seen as part of the university experience, and that freedom can be empowering, choosing to have those experiences with other people. Not knowing whose bed you’re in when you wake up is not.

Not knowing how you got there, why you’re naked, why there’s a condom packet on the floor. At first, waking up believing you’re safe, assuming the person lying next to you is one of your friends who took care of you when you were black-out drunk. Then realising it’s not. In that moment all I wanted to do was leave. Him asking if I was alright. Me telling him I didn’t know what had happened. When you finally get out it hits you. All I wanted to do was sleep.

“I began to process what had happened: I hadn’t been able to consent”

Going to my lecture that day was a blur. My friend asking me if I had a good night. Me telling them what happened. Me spending the rest of the day curled up in their bed because I couldn’t bear to be on my own. Them sitting at their desk, not knowing what to say, trying their hardest to cheer me up. It wasn’t until I asked a male friend how he would feel if a girl told him they didn’t remember what had happened the previous night, and his response was that he would be worried that he raped her, that I began to process what had happened: I hadn’t been able to consent.

Knowing that someone has been inside you without truly knowing that it happened is awful. From what I woke up to, my vagina bleeding in the shower, the condom packet, I think that sex happened. Only he knows for sure if it did. Having that agency taken away from you, feeling like your body isn’t yours, like someone else controls you, makes me feel physically sick. The thought of him being inside me makes me feel sick.

The anxiety of seeing him in college hasn’t disappeared yet. I don’t know if it ever will. I’m at formal and my friend has to hold my hand the whole time because I can see him on the other side of the room. I go to check my pidge and he’s inside plodge; I can’t go in. He comes up to me in the club, saying ‘Hi’, running his hand over my torso; I leave the club, I feel unsafe. My friends, not knowing who it was, questioning my sometimes irrational behaviour. Seeing him on nights out dancing with his friends and just being angry at the unfairness of it all. He will never feel the same consequences as I did. He gets to carry on his life whilst I’m dealing with the emotional fallout. He doesn’t feel dirty and disgusting knowing that it happened. It’s not fair.

“He will never feel the same consequences as I did. He gets to carry on his life whilst I’m dealing with the emotional fallout”

When my friends asked me how that first night out was the next day, expecting the standard gossip and instead being greeted with me bursting into tears, the first reaction I got was “have you reported him yet?”. In those first few hours when the evidence would still have been on my body, I couldn’t face it. Even now I don’t think I could go through any kind of disciplinary process about it. I’m shaking writing this, never mind being questioned about an act that women are not believed about anyways. I don’t know if he realised how drunk I was. None of my friends did – I asked someone the next day how drunk I seemed and he said “you were just normal drunk, fairly standard”. The lines are so blurry. Is it my place to ruin someone’s life because of a mistake? What if he does it to someone else?


Mountain View

Talking trauma at Cambridge

The main reason I still haven’t reported it is because I don’t want people to know that it was him and that it was me. If there were any kind of repercussions for him, the college environment means that people would know that I reported him. Would people think I was making it up? I can imagine people saying I was only doing it because I regretted sleeping with him the morning after; that I made a drunken mistake and was taking it out on him. Thinking about what people would say fills me with anxiety and for my own sanity I don’t think its worth taking that out on myself. Being here is hard enough without putting myself through that.

I don’t know if it’s ever going to go away. I don’t feel safe anymore in college, especially on my own. I do my best to avoid it, avoid him, but I can’t escape it. It happened. Did I become one of the 20% women who get raped in their lifetime? I don’t know. Will I ever want to recognise that? I don’t know. What I do know is that it has left a mark on me, a memory I can’t erase.

If you are affected by any of the issues raised in this article, the following organisations provide support and resources: