It shouldn't come as a surprise that I was assaulted in college. Sexual violence is pressing and pervasive, as much of a fixture in campus life as midterms or keg stands. Roughly one in five women and 15 percent of men are assaulted on campus, according to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center. The numbers are vast enough to make assault seem inevitable. Sometimes when I look back on my first year at the University of Pennsylvania, it feels as if mine was.

I was warned about rape on campus – by headlines and documentaries, by my sister and mother. I knew the statistics on campus assault when I arrived at Penn, and I heard them repeated during the orientation-week programming. I took what I thought were reasonable precautions. I argued with frat boys to let me pour my own drinks at parties. I clung to my friends in glow-stick-lit basements, not letting go of their hands. I surrounded myself with male friends who called themselves feminists and walked women home and championed Barack Obama's "It's On Us" pledge.

And then, eight months after I arrived on campus, one of those male friends assaulted me after a party.

When I contracted pneumonia in my first semester, I raced to Student Health; if I struggled in classes, there were lists of tutors I could call, centers I could go to. After my assault, there was no plan of action. I had no protocol to follow. I knew what to do in virtually every other common college obstacle.

The next week, I sobbed in the lobby of the Women's Center, and then at the Counseling and Psychological Services office. There was no follow-up. Nobody informed me of my legal rights. I didn't know that I should have photographed my bruises or gone to the hospital. I didn't know about the statute of limitations. (In writing this piece, I reached out to the Women's Center and Counseling and Psychological Center offices to talk about the experience. They were unable to comment.)

I was confused and exhausted and couldn't scrub the taste of someone else's tongue out of my cheeks; my hair stayed constantly soggy from sweat. There was no simple way to explain myself to my professors – I cried during office hours, shuddering and snot-slicked while I tried to tell my psych professor why I walked out during lecture. She had been explaining the impact of trauma on the brain. I wasn't ready to hear about the consequences of what I had experienced.

Years later, I know what those are. They are many. My assault has taken an irrevocable toll on my mental, physical, and emotional well-being. This, too, is not isolated.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention lists depression, anxiety, and attempted or completed suicide as chronic effects of surviving sexual assault. The Department of Veterans Affairs reports that 94 out of 100 women who are sexually assaulted will experience symptoms of PTSD immediately after their assault; nine months later, about 30 will see those symptoms persist. Studies link PTSD to a variety of other dangerous, drastic conditions, from cardiovascular issues to an increased risk for infections and immunological disorders. There are also the physical ailments that can result directly from sexual violence: chronic pain, gastrointestinal disorders, gynecological conditions, cervical cancers, sexually transmitted diseases, and the intense, tumultuous side effects of unwanted pregnancies.

All of which is to say that when we talk about a widespread plague of sexual assault, we are not only talking about the damage a rape does to self-worth. We are talking about tangible physiological and psychological repercussions. My assault damaged my health.

And I'm far from alone. Rapes occur at every college in the country, to every gender, as widespread as disease. One in 200 college students get mono; one in five college women are sexually assaulted. Assault on campus is as common as a cold.

We need to treat campus rape like the public health crisis it is. Assault should be talked about openly and often – by those who are in charge of universities, and by those who are tasked with keeping students safe. Deeming assault a public health epidemic would allow schools to tackle it clinically and openly, with the urgency universities apply to other health crises. But it would also accept assault for what it is: common, a reality. Students should have a game plan for what to do after assault – information that they will hopefully never have to use, but that will be vital for many of them.

Universities should be pushed to develop an institutionalized, systematic plan for helping assault survivors and ensuring they get the care they need. But we also need to devote research and resources into combating rape on campus – to finding its cure.

I went to college and watched myself become a statistic. The number of survivors will only continue to grow.

Dani Blum graduated from the University of Pennsylvania in May, where she studied English and political science. 

As the new school year begins, the Inquirer and Philly.com reached out to some local college students to share their views on the issues that matter most to them right now.

If you’re a student at a local college or university and would like to submit a commentary piece for future consideration, you can email 600-word pieces to Erica Palan at epalan@philly.com.