Students who have experienced sexual assault or harassment may feel guilty or blame themselves for what happened. Shock, fear and embarrassment can impair memory.
Many survivors have difficulty concentrating or sleeping and may lose interest in activities that they formerly enjoyed. Some survivors may try to cope through substance use. Others try to minimize or forget the assault as a way of coping with the trauma.
Sexual assault can very negatively impact a student’s academic career:
An inability to avoid the perpetrator on campus can be especially distressing.
Difficulties concentrating may lead to lower or failing grades. As a result, students may be placed on academic probation. In other cases, they may choose to suspend their studies, transfer to another institution, or drop out altogether.
Smaller, contained campuses where “everybody knows everybody” may present additional challenges affecting a student’s ability to remain enrolled.
Survivors may lose a number of resources after an assault. Not finishing their program of study or job loss often results in supports that were available to students at those organizations, such a counselling services or supportive relationships with peers and colleagues.
Whether the survivor discloses or not, sexual violence can disrupt relationships with family and friends. Isolation is a common experience among survivors.
When a survivor needs to change their residence or their method of travel as a way to avoid a perpetrator they may have also lost resources connected with their home such as neighbours, grocery shopping, banking – and may have also incurred higher expenses as a result of these changes.
Research shows that 37% of victims/survivors in their study lost their job after the sexual assault and 21% had a relationship end. It was also found that higher levels of distress symptoms following sexual assault were related to greater resource losses for survivors, (Monnier 2002).
A range of factors that influence the meaning of sexual violence and its impacts for survivors:
the characteristics of the sexual violence experienced (e.g., method of coercion, frequency, duration)
the relationship of the survivor to the perpetrator (e.g., fellow student, person in position of authority, intimate partner, stranger or acquaintance); a history of previous traumatic experiences, social supports available, the responses of others following disclosure/reporting of the sexual violence (e.g., positive or negative).
The context of a survivor’s social location (race, gender/gender expression, sexual orientation, class and culture) influences all of the above factors.