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In honor of Sexual Assault Awareness Month, the many survivors, and friends and families affected by sexual assault, we share Katie’s story of hope and perseverance.

Katie’s Story

As an incoming college freshman, I was so excited to start college and live independently for the first time. I was encouraged to be outgoing and social with my peers to make new friends. I jumped in whole-heartedly. My suite mates and I grew close quickly and spent lots of time meeting new people in the first few weeks of school. I was having a great experience.

However, only two weeks into the semester, my experience turned into a nightmare. I met a fellow student on my dorm floor. He invited my roommate and I to decorate his dorm room. We were happy to help. Once there, he offered us both alcoholic drinks. I decided to accept his offer, but my roommate had class and decided not to drink. When it was time for my roommate to leave for class, I headed to the door with her; but he insisted that I stay and watch a movie. I agreed.

Shortly after my roommate left, my mind became foggy and he started making sexual advances. I no longer knew what was happening and lost touch with reality. I blacked out.

The next morning, I woke up to a bruised and bloody body. I felt sick and had a bad headache. It was a struggle to get out of bed. I was scared and did not know where to turn.

My parents had lectured me about the dangers of drinking, so I decided not to tell them what happened initially after the incident. No college student wants to tell her parents something like this, but ultimately, I decided to tell them. Thankfully, they were more understanding than I expected. In hindsight, I recommend that all students have a support person, a trusted adult with whom they can confide in case something serious happens on campus. With support, I believe I would have made different decisions and better navigated the reporting process.

Although I did decide to go to the hospital, I did not initially call 911 or report my rape to the police.  At the hospital, I was told that I could file a “delayed report.” Overwhelmed with the idea of reporting to the police, I chose this option. However, when I did file with the local police, I was told that it was too late to investigate. My “complaint” was closed and labeled as a “non-criminal, suspicious condition;” therefore, no action was taken.

I decided to turn to the University for help. Initially, they seemed supportive and promised academic assistance and free medical treatment. Filing a Title IX complaint, which protects a victim’s rights to a safe academic environment, was optional, and not necessary to get support. However, I was afraid of my offender and requested an investigation because my fear of running into him affected my class attendance and ability to complete assignments.

I struggled through the rest of the semester. I was promised both academic support and a safe learning environment but received neither. I didn’t feel safe and felt misunderstood by the college administration that I had turned to for help. The college conducted a haphazard investigation, which decided my offender was not at fault, even though I had a hospital exam with pictures of injuries and he admitted to giving me alcohol and having sex.

I learned that individual student interests might not be the first priority of a school. I also learned to be cautious when deciding to use support services on campus. It is important to consider finding independent, legal counsel or reaching out to a free support organization such as One Love or Take Back the Night for guidance and support. Hiring a lawyer is something I did not think I needed to do at the time, but later, I regretted not finding one to help with the investigation process and to ensure my rights.

Once I did consult with an attorney, it was recommended that I have my hair tested for drugs. The hair test came back positive for a Benzodiazepine, which I never took voluntarily. Many drugs leave the body quickly and do not show up on minimal screenings in hospital rape exams.

Two years later, I look back on my nightmare. I realize that I survived a difficult time because I learned to ask for help. My friends and family supported me when justice failed. I left the University and returned home to heal. I have started taking classes again at a school nearby. I found counseling and began educating students and supporting other sexual assault victims as part of my healing.

The best advice I could give to anyone struggling with sexual assault or any traumatic experience is to persevere and know that things will eventually get better. Healing can take a long time, but finding people who embrace and support you through your struggles can help you get through it.

For more information and resources on dating violence, sexual assault prevention and recovery, please visit the following websites:

www.joinonelove.org
www.takebackthenight.org
www.rainn.org

Recently, a new friend confided in me that her daughter was suffering from PTSD related to a brutal sexual assault last school year. In speaking with my new friend, I could see how very devastated she, her daughter, and the rest of the family are. They are working together to heal and support their daughter and one another. Since the assault, they have learned a tremendous amount about sexual assault on school campuses and what can be done to prevent and heal from them. 

To help our communities, this month, we’re using our platform to support the Sexual Assault Awareness Month (SAAM) campaign. Observed every April, Sexual Assault Awareness Month is a movement led by survivors and advocates who focus on sexual violence prevention efforts and education.

To increase awareness, the National Sexual Violence Resource Center (NSVRC)’s theme for this year’s SAAM is engaging new voices. By using our platform to address this serious issue, our goal is to shed light on school and campus sexual assault and hopefully inspire others to join the movement.

“Sexual assault victimization, defined as any form of unwanted sexual contact obtained through violent or nonviolent means (U.S. Department of Justice 2008).

According to The United States Department of Justice, “being a victim of sexual assault, especially rape, can negatively impact a student’s mental and physical health and academic outcomes.” Students who are victims of sexual assault and dating violence may experience depression, anxiety, academic failure and are at a higher risk for substance abuse, eating disorders, risky sexual behavior, domestic violence (DOJ, Love is Respect). Further, the DOJ notes that “In a campus environment, students who are victimized by other students face unique challenges, such as close proximity to perpetrators and difficulty maintaining anonymity.” As a result, the majority of rape incidents on campuses go unreported (DOJ).

Sexual assault is a serious issue at college and university campuses, but what may be surprising to some, is that high schools and middle schools face similar challenges. Like college and universities, high schools and middle schools also struggle with addressing sexual assault. A lack of awareness, training, and policies are all contributing factors. Schools must decide how to address abusive behavior, protect victims, and ensure the safety of all students.

Steps Schools Can Take

Congress notes that “schools can play an important role in providing students with a knowledge base that may allow students to make informed decisions and form a healthy lifestyle.” Education, as form of prevention, can then help students avoid engaging in unsafe dating practices, including sexual assault.

Because the safety of a school environment is tied to a student’s academic success, it is important that schools are informed, educated, and ready to respond to problems such as sexual assault. To address sexual assault, schools can:

  • Identify the scope of the problem through campus climate surveys
  • Establish or enforce sexual misconduct policies, highlighting comprehensive and sustainable strategies to prevent and respond to sexual assault, including attempted sexual assault
  • Invest time and money in prevention, education, and training
  • Educate and engage all students regardless of gender
  • Provide support services and respond effectively when a student is assaulted
  • Improve transparency within the school community, focusing on communicating these kinds of safety issues while respecting survivor confidentiality
  • Seek community partnerships

What to do If You Have Been Sexually Assaulted

Your safety is important. If possible, get to a safe place away from the assailant. Consider reaching out to someone your trust for support and guidance. You don’t have to go through this alone. The National Sexual Assault Hotline (800-656-HOPE) will connect you with a trained staff member, from a local sexual assault service provider, who will walk you through getting support at your own pace. Together, you can discuss options, including medical care and/or reporting to law enforcement. Other supportive services may include speaking to your school counselor or your school or campus’ health or sexual assault center. If you decide to report sexual assault, you can call 911, contact your local police department, or let a medical professional know you wish to report a crime when being treated for sexual assault injuries. Whatever decision you choose, remember that you do not have to go through this alone. There is a large community of sexual assault survivors and advocates willing to help you through this.

Resources for Schools, Students, and Parents