It's the night before an anatomy exam, and I've been studying late in the med school library. I leave through Cincinnati General Hospital's main entrance, and as I start down the drive toward my car, a young man approaches.
"Can you tell me how to get to Melish?" he asks, naming a large, nearby street.
"Yeah, sure," I reply. Then, being somewhat directionally challenged, I end up doing a 360 to orient myself.
Ending my pirouette facing him, I raise my arm to point toward the street in question. "It's that -" I begin.
Then I look down.
He's holding a long knife, which he extends toward me, the tip just touching the side of my jacket.
"Turn around and start walking," he commands. I do.
We walk for several moments in silence. He has not asked for anything, but instinctively I reach inside my purse to paw about for my wallet. Flustered, I stop pawing and pull the strap off my shoulder.
"Here, take my purse." I hand it to him.
He stops walking and takes it from me, all the while keeping the knife in his right hand pointed into my side. He then slings my purse over his left shoulder, and, with his now-free left hand, grabs my crotch.
I jump back reflexively, but his hand follows, grabbing even harder.
"I'll touch your p- if I want to," he says.
I quickly remove my watch and hand it to him. "Here, take my watch," I say, then hurriedly slide my grandmother's gold ring off my finger. "And this ring." I drop it into his now-burdened hands.
He seems flustered, with so much to hold that he no longer has the knife aimed directly at me - and that allows me to turn and tear back up the drive and into the hospital.
He phones me the next day to say he's "found" my purse and wants to bring it by my apartment. On the advice of the police, I set up a meeting with him in a very public place (they wait nearby, out of sight). He never shows. The next week, I find and move into a new apartment.
Of course, I tell my close friends, and the police, exactly what happened.
But at the time, and in the years since, whenever I talk about that night, I have always just said: "I was robbed at knifepoint," even though I have never for a moment thought robbery was what my assailant intended. Even though I always have felt that I very likely bartered my way out of a rape.
Why haven't I called it an assault? Well, first, he just grabbed my crotch. Yes, I feared for my life; yes, I had cold-sweat nightmares for months afterward. But my experience didn't come anywhere near that of someone who's been raped. To me, it somehow seemed too minor to qualify.
Second, the language he used was vulgar, not something easily repeated. After the first few times I told the story, I realized "robbed at knifepoint" conveys a good degree of seriousness, and it is much less embarrassing to say.
But the latest acts in our political circus suddenly have made telling my years-old story easy. Thanks to Donald Trump's nasty comments - even his response since - we have had multiple national conversations about the fact that grabbing someone's crotch without that person's consent is indeed sexual assault. And, thanks to his vile vocabulary, the word that was too embarrassing for me to repeat is now as common a part of our lexicon as candidate and debate.
Ellen D. Feld is an internist who lives in Philadelphia and teaches at Drexel University.