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Beyond Sexual Assault: How One Victim Evolved Into An Activist

Ali Safran founded a website dedicated to supporting victims of sexual assault. (Courtesy of Erinn Lew)

Ali Safran founded a website dedicated to supporting victims of sexual assault. (Courtesy of Erinn Lew)

By Dr. Gene Beresin

Alison Safran is a 22-year-old who graduated from Mount Holyoke College in May 2014. She was the victim of a sexual assault as a senior in high school in one of Boston’s suburbs.

She initially didn’t confide in her parents because she was unsure that they’d understand. However, when her symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) increased, she sought help from a clinician who referred her to the psychiatrist she is currently seeing. She has since improved immensely.

Ali’s story is about her resilience, but it’s also about how good can emerge from a terrifying experience.

Symptoms After An Assault

“After I was assaulted,” Ali said. “I developed what I now understand as PTSD symptoms, but at the time, I didn’t even know what PTSD was. I was miserable. My symptoms continued into my first year of college, which made an already stressful time even more difficult. It was hard to sleep and function normally.”

When Ali attended a local university, she was assigned to a co-ed dorm, under the conditions of her housing contract. This situation was not easy for her; her PTSD was at its peak and she filed a criminal complaint against her assailant, adding more stress to her life. It was very difficult for her to live near male students who were often partially undressed in the common room.

“Even though living in a co-ed dorm is a normal part of college life, dealing with being around men while I was engaged in the criminal justice process made me feel unsafe,” she said.

Stress Of A Co-Ed Dorm

While Ali, her parents and even her psychiatrist tried to release her from her dorm contract, the university declined until eventually the administration was persuaded to alter its stance by a member of the Board of Trustees. Ali felt that though her professors were understanding and helpful in providing accommodations when needed (i.e. missing class for court), the university administration itself did not understand or appreciate the impact of her living situation given the sexual assault and upcoming trial.

“My stress level was already far above that of the average college freshman. Despite the legal process I was pursuing, my school could have at the very basic level chosen to help me relieve some of that stress. It chose not to do so,” Ali said.

The unfortunate failure on the part of her university preceded the recent focus on college campus sexual assaults, in which awareness has increased and schools are beginning to take steps to address the widespread problem. Continue reading