Regaining power after sexual assault

The experiences one student faced can be common adversities for other survivors during college.


Content warning: This story includes details of sexual assault that might be upsetting to some readers.

He asked her to have sex several times before, and she shut him down — he was a good friend’s boyfriend. But one October night, Kara* was very inebriated and she couldn’t stop him.

“I remember waking up the next morning and just feeling so guilty because I slept with my best friend’s boyfriend,” said Kara, a senior general science with teaching major.

She texted a friend from high school, telling him what happened.

“He was like, ‘Kara, it sounds like he raped you. You didn’t want this,’” Kara said. “When he said that, I think I spent three days in bed, I just couldn’t do anything.”

Kara later dealt with the fallout of sharing her story and coping with being sexually assaulted. She lost relationships with friends and family, became temporarily homeless and dropped out of school to avoid her attacker. Kara did not attempt to use any of the resources for student survivors of sexual misconduct.

Andrea Seiss, Temple University’s Title IX coordinator, has a system to help survivors cope with some of the most common or complex struggles after an assault.

Kara didn’t know whether to tell her friend what their boyfriend had done. She stopped doing dishes and cleaning her cat’s litter box. Her roommates pushed her to tell, saying if she didn’t speak up, they would. So Kara packed her things and left for an apartment her parents owned.

A few months later, Kara saw her attacker’s friends at a house show, throwing her into a panic attack.

Seiss said survivors may be triggered, an experience with fear or a flashback relating to a traumatic event, at different times and in different ways after an assault.

“Sometimes people get themselves through the fear, but then seeing the person still triggers the memories,” Seiss said.

In addition to encounters with the attacker, Seiss said interactions with friends and family can determine whether a survivor will speak out or seek help.

Seiss tells students during orientation not to question how much a person drank or if they’re sure of what happened. Rather, ask what they need.

When Kara’s parents discovered what happened, Kara was cut off from social media and any communication with her friends.  

“I wasn’t allowed to leave the house unless it was for school or a family function,” Kara said. “I immediately told them why, what happened. And they just kept saying, ‘You were drunk, you were hanging out with these people.’ … They just kept saying things that made me feel like it was my fault.”

She managed to keep one Instagram account active, but when her parents discovered it, they told her either follow the rules, or leave. After they went to bed, Kara again packed her things and left.

She couch-surfed until she found an apartment.

Seiss also helps survivors feel safe wherever they live, whether it’s on or off campus. She can help survivors work with off-campus landlords to change locks or change apartments.

Even after Kara found a new home, she struggled on campus. The Bell Tower was too crowded and men who looked similar to her attacker would cause panic attacks.

Then, a year after she was raped, Kara ran into her friend, whose boyfriend was her attacker, while walking to class. The friend said she couldn’t believe Kara would show her face on campus and called her a rapist.

Kara immediately dropped out of her classes and left Temple for a year, not returning until after the attacker and his friends had graduated.

Now, Kara’s on track to graduate in the spring and sees a counselor.

“I feel empowered knowing every day I’ve woken up and I’ve been me,” Kara said.

If survivors fear seeing attackers or mutual friends around campus, Seiss can adjust schedules to minimize the chance of seeing them. Survivors don’t have to file a formal report, press charges or explain the situation to professors.

To best use Title IX and meet a survivor’s needs, Seiss said she’s learned to ask, “What are you having difficulty with?” and, “What are you struggling to do on a daily basis?”

When it comes to the timeframe of recovery and the healing process, “every case is so different,” Seiss said. “Everybody has very different responses to what has happened to them and how they go through the process of healing.”

*EDITOR’S NOTE: The Temple News has changed the name of the survivor to protect her identity.

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