Surviving Sexual Assault: A Student’s Story of Hope and Perseverance
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.
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: