My Story of Sexual Assault

This is my story of sexual assault. It happened in my fourth year of college, in Bucharest, Romania. I remember some important details about that evening but not others. Such as the exact date. It could’ve been anywhere between October 1998 and March 1999. After it happened, I didn’t think to memorize that certain date so that each year on the day I could revisit this story.

“It’s — just basic memory functions. And also just the level of norepinephrine and epinephrine in the brain that, sort of, as you know, encodes — that neurotransmitter encodes memories into the hippocampus. And so, the trauma-related experience, then, is kind of locked there, whereas other details kind of drift.” (from Christine Blasey Ford’s statement during the hearing of the Senate Judiciary Committee, 09/27/2018)

I remember it was evening, and I was coming back from school with two other girls, talking about assignments and next classes. I was wearing jeans and a sweater, maybe a jacket, too. I was walking in the middle, on the wide path between the Polytechnic Rectorate and the bridge over the River Dâmboviţa that led to the students’ dorms. The campus fence was on our left and a swath of tall trees on our right. It was after sunset, the color on most things a purple-gray.

Where it happened. The Polytechnic Rectorate is at the far end. The bridge is behind the camera. Picture taken on 06/21/2018.

I remember two men—young men, judging by their gait—coming toward us from the direction of the bridge, two dark shadows, one taller than the other. They were walking straight at us, and I remember wondering if I should clear the path for them or just continue like a civilized person on a university campus

Before I knew it, the two men bounded toward us three, my friends scattered, one left, one right, and I was in the grip of the taller one of the assailants, who dragged me toward the thicket of trees, while the other followed us with an excited bounce in his walk, looking over his shoulder.

I remember thinking that this was not really happening.

I remember thinking that this was really happening.

I struggled, but I could not loosen that man’s grip on my arms. Now there were trees all around me. Maybe my friends ran to alert other people.

I struggled but I wasn’t able to free myself. The dread felt like frozen water through my veins. I don’t remember what the men said to me or to each other, but I opened my mouth and I screamed like never before in my life. I screamed. I screamed and screamed.

My aggressor yelled at me to shut the fuck up.

I screamed and struggled.

And then he hit me over the head. I remember the blow like a block of solid pain. His right hand or fist over my left ear.

But in that short moment, he had loosened his grip on me, and I twisted away from him and ran. I ran back to the main path, not looking back.

And there were my friends, waiting for me a few feet away it seemed, frozen.

I remember walking back with them, over the bridge and into the dorms, crying, the echo of my sobs loud on the stairwell under the neon lights.

Night had fallen by the time I reached the campus police station. The officer on duty asked me if I had seen the two men’s faces.

It was dark, I said.

Then what did I want them to do? Next time, have some pepper spray in your purse.

Where would I even buy pepper spray?

Try the black market, he said.

I left the police station and called my father, who was back in my hometown. I remember the prepaid card inserted into the orange public phone under a bright streetlight. I cried and yelled into the battered receiver and asked for a pepper spray, I didn’t care where from.

I never thought to ask my father, who died in 2014, how he had felt that night, hearing me cry like that, from so far away. How powerless he must’ve felt. How angry.

The Computer Science building where I studied all those years ago. Picture taken on 06/21/2018.

Back in my dorm, I realized I couldn’t quite hear on my left side. When I took my first shower, I screamed when water got inside my ear. I remember that pain like a hot knife through my brain.

A broken eardrum, the campus doctor said. It would heal in time, and I would recover my hearing, too. Just keep water out of that ear.

The next week, I had a pepper spray in my school backpack. I carried it with me everywhere I went, but also wondered what would happen the moment I used it on someone. Would I miss my target and enrage my attacker to the point of his killing me? I used some of that stuff on the back of my hand and soon realized that if I ever pulled that spray out but didn’t use it flawlessly, I would have it used on me, would get my eyes burned out for sure.

And would I really have had time to pull out a pepper spray that evening, before my hands had been restrained?

My story is not the worst that can happen, but it marked me for life. In its wake, I developed an extra sense: keeping track of everybody around me on the street, a skill that helped me many times since, and once even helped a stranger when one day I was taking a walk through my neighborhood in Seattle and found a wallet on the ground. I looked at the picture on the ID and remembered that I had seen that particular woman a few minutes before, knew which way she went, ran after her, and returned her wallet to her great surprise.

My story is not very interesting compared to others’. And it’s not my only story of this kind.

The first time something like this happened to me, I was fifteen or so and riding on a crowded bus in my hometown. It was evening. Something warm and moist touched my hand. I looked down, and realized that it was a pink-purple erected penis belonging to the man sitting in the chair I was stuck against. I pulled away with nowhere to go. But I didn’t scream—I was in shock. I had never seen that kind of thing before. As the doors opened, I pushed hard against the other people and got off the bus. I was one stop away from home. The man got off too. I was sure he was coming after me, so I ran as fast as I could until I reached my apartment building.

Then in 1999, a few months after the attack, I remember one morning riding the subway in Bucharest with pepper spray in my backpack. The stop for my work was at the end of the line. I remember the dread I felt when the doors closed and I realized that I was alone in the car with just this one other man.

He looked at me from the other end of the subway car.

Then as now, my body stiffened and I swallowed hard.

There were only two or three minutes until the next stop.

He stood up, opened his pants, pulled out his penis and started walking toward me while rubbing it.

Two minutes and then the doors would open.

I was afraid to reach for my pepper spray. He could have wrestled it from me. He was large and could have obliterated me with his fist.

I managed to veer out of his way just as he ejaculated.

Then the doors opened and I ran.

Run away—that’s all I could ever do about it.

When I got to work, I was relieved there was no sperm on my clothes. At least I don’t think there was. I don’t remember cleaning up after that.

My story is not very impressive—not a lot of essential bodily fluids spilled—but I want it out there, one raindrop among others to bring down the rain.

“But what Time’s Up and #MeToo are helping to do is eradicate the shame. The gay rights movement succeeded with millions of gay people coming out of the closet, one by one. Now incredible numbers of women who have had this happen to them are coming out of a different closet, if you like, to tell people. The sheer numbers will make the difference.” (Roberta Kaplan, co-founder Time’s Up Legal Defense Fund, in The Guardian, 10/06/2018)

Note: If you have a story of abuse you’d like to share on this website, please use the Contact form on my About page to get in touch with me.

23 thoughts on “My Story of Sexual Assault

  1. Roxana, well written. Thank you for sharing your story. These moments in a girls life scar forever, regardless of degree. Growing up in the 60s and 70s in portland, then not the cool hipstet place it is now, then considered the porno capital of the West coast, these things were a constant. For a pretty teenager it was a battleground. I have too many similar stories to recount. I agree with you that the #metoo movement and #timesup have helped alleviate the shame, but for we older girls that shame has already formed us against that very jagged edge of what SOME men are capable of. Hope is for a better future for our daughters. ???

    • To think of Portland as that kind of place… that’s interesting. And you’re right, we’re not talking about this stuff to settle scores from decades ago, but to try to make things better for the kids. Of all genders and inclinations. Thanks, Mindy!
      Also, I’ve been following M.C. Easton’s series on this subject, beginning with Absorbing, heartbreaking, inspiring writing. If you have a chance, do check it out.

  2. Thank you so much for posting your stories. These are horrendous experiences, Roxana, and I’m so glad you came through it. Too many scars, though. And by sharing these stories, you are telling all of us women that we, the pursued and assaulted, are not to blame. These crimes are the choices of the men who commit them. Thank you for your honesty and integrity. Thank you for adding your voice. Much love, my friend.

  3. Thank you for this clear prose rendition of horrible violence. No need to undercut the severity of the experience. The shear numbers of us who are coming forward with our stories will change the landscape for ever.

  4. It happened to me a few times: 5th grade, on my way to school, empty street (Bălcescu pour les connaisseurs) and a man exposing himself during my entire trip to school. My mom, slightly amused told me that night that some men are like that but that they are harmless (how could she know, I’m still wondering). 7th grade at the cinema Central with my friend Alina, a stranger touching me in the dark. First I froze and it took me a few minutes to recover, then I hurried out of the cinema, hoping he wouldn’t follow us. 8th grade, after tenis with my friend Julia at Ancora tennis courts in Mazepa, she wearing a short white skirt. A highschool boy following us. We entered an appartment building, hoping he would believe we live there and he would give up. We waited for 10 minutes, hiding at the last floor. When we left, he was still there and tried to grab and touch my friend. I told him to leave us alone in a firm voice and threatened him with the tennis racket. He turned away and left slowly. I guess being a tall and fat 8th grader helped me in that situation. My friend was now laughing, maybe out of fear so I told her in a serious voice “fata, razi ca proasta” and we hurried at the bus. 1st year as a student in Bucharest, living with my sister in one bedroom apartment in Dristor. One evening coming back from school a man grabbed me by the arm just as I entered the appartment building and tried to push me under the stairs. I pushed him away and told him to leave me alone in a lower voice (printre dinți). I hurried outside and waited a while until someone else came and I had the courage go back in the building. The man had left using the back door….I guess I was lucky in some ways, but I never thought that speaking out would help in any way. Until now.

    • Thank you so much, Laura. I don’t ever remember comparing notes with any of my friends, but this puts things in perspective, doesn’t it? Every woman has to go through this, it seems, and we should all say in one voice that it’s not right. No “boys will boys” bullshit anymore.
      And for people who’ve never experienced this kind of abuse: can you see how etched these terrifying moments are in our memories, even decades later?

  5. Roxana, yes, as AW said, beautifully written awful story. Terrifying, the campus attack, the man alone with you before your stop… the calculations constant in female minds.

    • And I’ve been thinking how to teach this kind of danger awareness to my kids without revealing all this awfulness, without endangering their joy of life and their trust in a good world…

      • Isn’t that the torment all marginalized humans endure? The dominant white heterosexual males who don’t get it continue to dismiss this way of being in the world.
        Thank you for validating these “just” experiences. No penetration, No bodily fluid. Still traumatizing.
        I did some research for an essay I wrote a year ago, triggered by the Blasey-Ford testimony and news of one of my rapist’s death. The definition of rape prior to 2012 required both of the above. It no longer does, thanks to the diligence of someone whose name we now know better: Robert Mueller, then head of the FBI, who pushed through a much broader definition.

    • What else can we do when our president says that people who speak up against sexual assault are paid protesters who seek to endanger the reputations of the successful men of our country?

  6. Roxana,
    Thank you for writing and sharing your beautifully written horrible story. Yes, we must write and share and shout of these abuses we have suffered at the hands of men. Only then, can we hope to change the world for our daughters.
    Much love,

    • It’s mainly the thought of those kids that makes me come out of my safe place to write about this awful stuff. The worst about abuse of any kind is that it keeps hurting victims not just when it happens, but every time it’s remembered. It’s a terrible burden to carry…

  7. Roxana, so brave of you to share your story of assault, thank you for doing that and I’m sorry this happened to you. So awful. I’m grateful to every woman who shares her story for revealing that the physical and sexual abuse of women has been a structural feature of our society, not just a few isolated incidents perpetrated by a few deranged individuals. It also helped me blame myself less and feel less shame for what happened to me; I used to think it was partially my fault – my boobs were too big, my skirt too short, why did I take the shortcut through the park? etc. I blamed myself at least in part in an effort to regain control, to feel like I can avoid another assault if I hide my boobs, lengthen my skirt, and take the long way. MeToo made me understand that it was not about me, it was about the society I was living in. Awareness is the first step towards change, right?

    • Would you like to write about what happened to you? We can publish it right here on my website. You have so much to say, your perspective is so rich. It might also make you feel like you put a knife through this monster.
      Let me know…

    • Thanks, Larry. I don’t think of myself as brave, but angry. I’ve been having these memories come back since the Kavanaugh hearing and since seeing people mock victims or justify this kind of behavior. After reading the Guardian article I linked to, I felt it was my duty to add my voice. Your support means a lot to me.

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