My Spring Weekend Nightmare
A Firsthand Account Of Sexual Assault On 'The Rape Trail'
Melissa Bruen stands by the tree where she was sexually assaulted during Spring Weekend.
The next time I am asked, "How was your last Spring Weekend?," it will be far too soon.
Last Saturday morning I got out of bed after a few hours of restless sleep, more than a little hung over. It is when I looked in the mirror and saw the handprints on my biceps that the events of the previous night came flooding back. I saw that my phone was shut off, and I was thankful that I would not have to answer any calls, until I realized the UConn police officer I spoke with the night before would be calling me to make a written statement. I had to decide if I wanted to press charges.
In nine days I graduate from the University of Connecticut, but my last week is not that of a typical student. I have spent more time in bed this week than I have for most of the semester.
I am almost able to go about my daily routine without thinking about what happened to me. Then I take a shower and see the bruises on my arms and legs and right cheek. My arms still ache and I am emotionally and physically exhausted.
I am a strong person - I have a swimmer's build with broad shoulders - but now I feel weak and timid. What if I hadn't fought back? Would I be physically and emotionally stronger today? If I hadn't been so stubborn and embarrassed when the police refused to let me go to my friend's apartment in Celeron maybe I would not have been alone or a target on the Hunting Lodge Road Trail - the three-quarter-mile-long paved, well-lit path from North Hillside Road to Celeron - known as "the rape trail."
As a freshman I was told "the rape trail" led to the off-campus apartments where the big parties UConn was known for were held. Four years later, I am able to understand why it is called so.
Students are always told not to walk alone, especially at night, and that it is safer to travel in groups. This is a lesson I will not forget. I have always felt safe walking alone around UConn at night. Having worked for The Daily Campus for four years made this a necessity. So Friday with so many people, and police, around, I didn't think twice about heading back to campus alone from Celeron.
I called a friend at around 1 a.m. and asked her to pick me up at the end of the path by Northwest. I had three beers and two screwdrivers. It was while I was on the phone, sitting on the ground with my back against a telephone pole in order to hear her, that I was picked up by my shoulders, pinned up against the pole and "dry humped" by a stranger. At first I thought it was one of my friends' attempt at humor, until I heard the man moaning.
I hung up the phone, and shoved the man off me. I am 5'5". He was around 5'11".
"My, aren't we feisty tonight," he said.
I was assaulted when I was very young - I wasn't about to let it happen again. When he came toward me, I grabbed him by the shoulders and pushed him down to the ground. I held onto his shoulders and climbed on top to straddle him. He started thrashing side to side, but I was able to hit him with a closed fist, full force, in the face.
A small crowd had gathered, mostly men. Now they seemed shocked. I was supposed to have been a victim, and I was breaking out of the mold. I hit him in the stomach, while clenching my legs around him to prevent another man from pushing me off. In all, it took three men to pull me off my assailant.
He got up and ran off, yelling at me, as if I were the would-be rapist.
"You just assaulted me," I yelled in my own defense - first to him and then, to anyone who would listen, "He just assaulted me."
Since the police were shutting down the parties at Celeron, there were thousands of people on the path.
Another man, around 6'1", approached me and said, "You think that was assault?" and he pulled down my tube top, and grabbed my breasts. More men started to cheer. It didn't matter to the drunken mob that my breasts were being shown or fondled against my will. They were happy to see a topless girl all the same. I punched him in the face, and someone shoved me into a throng of others. I was surrounded, but I kept swinging and hitting until I was able to break free of the circle they had formed.
I started running barefoot toward Celeron, but ended up throwing myself on the ground, crying and screaming hysterically. I saw a friend in the crowd, and all I could do was scream his name over and over. I could see the ambulance and police checkpoint in the distance.
This Spring Weekend there were 51 arrests, 10 fewer than last year. I have no idea how many went unreported, or in my case, reported with no arrest. I was able to give descriptions of my assailants to the police, but the sheer volume of people on the path made it impossible to find my attackers. Earlier in the evening I had seen many undercover policemen and members of UConn's Student Affairs administration who had blended in with the crowd. It made me laugh and smile to know they were watching out for us. As editor of The Daily Campus, I was the one who proposed an editorial that ran earlier in the week, which said the university worked hard to make this Spring Weekend a safe experience. I believed that then. I believe it now.
I have spent this last year trying to make campus a safer place. I worked with Betsy Cracco of the Violence Against Women Prevention Program to have a Media Responsibility forum, sexual harassment training for Daily Campus editors and I am on the Campus Climate/ Task Force for the Prevention of Violence Against Women On Campus.
UConn should be a safe, respectful community. We have a new and very visible president, Mike Hogan, who truly cares for students. He was at one end of the Celeron Path wishing people a safe and good night. I was at the other. Most members of the administration will listen if you approach them.
When I went to UConn Police Saturday, I learned that at least one other woman was jumped by two men on the Celeron Path that night. I can't help asking myself what would have happened if I hadn't fought back.
I was raised to fight back, so I made sure to get a few good swings in. My bruises will fade, and I will move on. But if you ever see someone being assaulted, do the right thing.
Contact Melissa Bruen at Melissa.Bruen@UConn.edu.
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