Right before Thanksgiving break during Richelle Kota’s freshman year, she was walking to a bathroom in Johnson Hall when she was sexually assaulted by a floormate’s overnight guest.
Unsure of what to do next, she got away from the guest and tried again to walk toward the bathroom. Her resident assistant walked by and asked her why she looked so upset. She told him what happened, and he called the police.
Before she knew it, the police had found the guest passed out in the bathroom and Kota was sitting in the back of a police car.
“I [didn’t] want to be there,” she said. “It’s cold, it was hard. I felt like I had done something bad. I felt like I was a criminal. And they took me to the station and I got questioned and then they just let me go. And I just thought, ‘This is really traumatizing.’”
Now, students who experience sexual assault have access to 24-hour support. Women Organized Against Rape, a Philadelphia-based sexual violence crisis center, opened a satellite office on Main Campus last Wednesday.
A week after the assault, she said she was called in for a follow-up to discuss her options moving forward. She was encouraged to switch residence halls.
“I didn’t want to leave my floor,” said Kota, now a junior Spanish major. “I liked everyone on my floor. I had my friends on my floor. I was established. I had my roommates. I would have to be taken out of that whole situation, move, explain to my parents. So having not been made comfortable I was like, ‘Oh, I’ll just stay.’”
“And I had to see [my floormate] every day,” she added. “I didn’t know if the kid felt like his friend was justified, like it was a good thing. I want to assume that people think that these things are wrong and they should just cut that friend off, but I don’t know.”
Kota finished her freshman year in Johnson Hall. But since she didn’t feel supported by Temple, she felt discouraged from coming forward when she was raped by another student the next year.
“I never felt inclined ever again to go back to Temple to talk to them, because why?” she said. “Why would I put myself through that uncomfortable, terrible experience?”
WOAR’s office will act as a third party, unaffiliated with the university. Its location will not be disclosed to protect students’ privacy and safety. Students can call the office’s hotline to request an in-person meeting with a trained WOAR representative on Main Campus at any time.
“I think it’s great that WOAR is handling these things, because Temple shouldn’t,” Kota said. “WOAR is a great organization and I’m all for them handling something within Temple, but that doesn’t have any of Temple’s hands on it.”
Laura Siminoff, the dean of the College of Public Health and the chair of a 2014 sexual misconduct committee, said the satellite office idea began when survey results showed a need for accessible, 24-hour sexual assault resources and support from professionals other than Temple police officers.
To analyze Temple’s sexual assault resources, she tried to put herself in the place of a student who survived sexual assault on or around Main Campus.
“I went onto our website to find where [the resources were listed] on the site,” Siminoff said. “So here I was, a woman who just had something horrible happen [to her], I am upset, maybe it’s 2 a.m. I remember I started counting number of clicks to find the site and clearly that wasn’t working.”
Dinsio Walo-Wright, a sophomore communication studies major and the campus liaison for Student Activists Against Sexual Assault said the new office and hotline are steps in the right direction, but not enough.
She added that she would like to see a more “visible center,” so that the university community can start a more comprehensive conversation about sexual assault.
“You have these people coming from high school and this is their first experience as an adult and they are subject to interpersonal violence,” Walo-Wright said. “That can completely change your psyche and change how you go on with your life … so I think that’s very important to think about.”
Kota said she is unsure if she would have used the new office if it had been available to her at the time of her assault. Hotlines are “scary,” she said, and survivors of sexual assault are not always ready to seek services.
“It took me a long time to realize that some of these things that happened in my life were assault,” she said. “I don’t think having a phone call helped. I think it’s a tricky balance, but it definitely … does more good than harm.”
At the new office, WOAR will not give students’ information to the university when they report incidents. Still, students will still have access to all of the university’s resources if they choose to use them.
“We could create or replicate something like [WOAR] here at Temple, just ourselves, but honestly they have an enormous amount of experience and expertise, so I don’t think there is anything wrong with reaching out and bringing that kind of community service into us,” Siminoff said.
Although Kota believes the university should invest even more in sexual assault and violence resources for students, she said the presence of WOAR on Main Campus is empowering.
“I know it’s spelled W-O-A-R, but it sounds like ‘war,’” she said. “And I want more women to wage war against the things that are war against us. Sexual assault has always been a war that women are fighting and I want us to fight more. I want us to fight back and I want men to stop fighting us.”
“To finally have a voice through WOAR, to finally not have so much silence on Temple’s campus with sexual assault, I think that’s important,” she added. “Because to me, silence is complacency. And when you’re complacent, you’re just as bad as the abusers.”
Emily Scott contributed reporting.
Erin Moran can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @ernmrntweets.