Cost of being a sexual assault Survivor at F&M

The author of this article chose to remain anonymous. It is The College Reporter’s policy that survivors who publicly share the stories of sexual assault and violence may remain anonymous.

Most people have spent this month isolated in their homes. April has been difficult for everyone as COVID-19 has brought both social and economic hardships on many. Our minds have been occupied by thoughts of the pandemic, but for many others, this month is important for another reason. April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month.

When I first arrived at F&M for my freshman year, I was filled with excitement. There was not a single drop of nervousness in my body because I was at my dream college. I applied Early Decision-1 and cried tears of joy when I received news of my acceptance. I knew F&M would be everything I ever wanted, so I wasn’t scared about doing well in classes or making friends. I also wasn’t scared when we talked about sexual assault during orientation. I thought it wouldn’t happen to me, especially not at my dream school.

Unfortunately, I was wrong. In the spring semester of my freshman year, I was raped. It was a consensual hook-up gone wrong. No amount of talks, lectures, or warnings about watching my drink could have prepared me to prevent it.

Shortly after the rape, I began seeking counseling, but I didn’t feel safe reporting it because I knew my case would be difficult to prove and that it would be more traumatic for me to go through the process and potentially not be believed. That year I developed serious depression and anxiety. My excitement about being at F&M became an exhausting fight to attend classes and finish out the semester so I could go home.

Despite this, I kept returning to F&M; I love it too much to let it go. I love my classes at F&M, and I have amazingly supportive friends. My professors have always been extremely supportive as well, many going above and beyond to work with me and my illnesses and check in to make sure I am okay. I wish I could say I felt the administration offered similar support.

Through all our discussions of sexual assault on campus and the resources offered to survivors by F&M, not once was it mentioned how expensive it can be to deal with trauma. Though the Wellness Center offers free sessions for survivors, I had to pay for prescriptions to treat my resulting depression and anxiety. F&M doesn’t even offer an on-campus support group specifically for sexual assault. I was told that I would have to go downtown to join one which is much more inconvenient in terms of transportation time and cost and more difficult to find the energy for when depressed.

But the expenses all culminated this past semester when I decided to do on Medical Leave. Every semester, after the excitement of the first month and beginning of classes, I would yet again get hit with a wave of depression and anxiety. Since the semester of my rape, every semester at F&M has been an endless cycle of depression and anxiety, and each semester the symptoms grew worse. I was always waiting for the end of finals, when I could go home and didn’t have to force myself out of bed or feel guilty when I couldn’t. Finally, I had enough. When I realized I had gotten too behind to finish the semester as well as I would’ve liked to and knew I needed more help than F&M could offer, I signed the papers to go on Medical Leave.

Within the next two days I was packed and on my way home. I adjusted myself to this giant disruption of my life. I was no longer able to study abroad the next semester like planned because of F&M policy and would lose the $500 deposit I made. I was going to have to pay to repeat the semester, and funds in my house were tight as it was. I also had to get a job, because even though I was still technically enrolled, I was notified that my grace period for my student loans had begun and there is no exception for students on any kind of leave. I was going to have to begin payments. But the biggest shock of all was when I received a bill from F&M for more than 1/3 my semesterly out-of-pocket tuition.

It was the tuition adjustment for taking a leave of absence. When a student goes on leave after a certain point in the semester, Title IV requires financial aid to be returned to the government. My tuition adjustment was only 12.5%, but F&M was passing me the bill. I knew I wasn’t going to get a refund for the semester’s tuition, but I didn’t know I’d have to pay F&M to go on leave to process my rape trauma. It was a slap in the face.

It felt like I was being punished for not being able to brush off my rape. It felt like the school did not care that I was suffering, I was just a number. I didn’t want to, but I went through the difficult process of submitting an official report to the school, hoping I would get some assistance from the Title IX office to sort out the payment. I got an “I’ll look into it” and was contacted by the financial aid office where I was told I would have to pay the fee.

I was already paying for something someone else did to me. I couldn’t believe I was going to have to pay F&M for getting raped on campus. It is hard enough to try to process and heal from trauma, but it’s made even harder when you must deal with financial stress at the same time. F&M may not see it this way since they were obligated to pay the government back, but by forwarding expenses on to me they have financially penalized me for my rape. It is a classist penalty I incurred for being raped as a student on financial aid. It is a damn shame I am having to fight the administration to not make me pay financially for my rape any more than I already have. I am not willing to pay this fee just because they don’t respect what it means to be a survivor.

So this is an open letter to the F&M administration. Being raped my freshman year was hard enough. I would really appreciate not experiencing a financial rape by your institution too. I still love F&M and am excited to hopefully go back in the fall, but at the end of the day I will have already spent thousands of dollars in my efforts to return to a healthy mental state. And if this is happening to me, someone who is lucky enough to have a lawyer parent, who has excellent health insurance that covers therapy, what is happening to my fellow survivors who don’t? And not just at F&M, but at colleges all over the country.

The author of this piece chose to remain anonymous, any correspondence related to the piece should be directed to reporter@fandm.edu.

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