Back to School for Survivors


If you’re anything like me, school supplies appearing in bulk in storefronts has always put a pit in your stomach. As I kid, I dreaded them as a signal of the end of a season of running barefoot, sleeping past seven, and staying up late to watch Nick at Night. As a graduate student, I see the same supplies as a marker of looming paper deadlines, unfinished readings, and a new semester of student loan debt. As a survivor of campus sexual violence and the institutional betrayal that often follows, I experience an even more complex set of anxieties related to the start of school. I worry about whether I will be safe, whether I will have the support I need, and whether folks around me will be patient and understanding of the challenges I face.

Whether you are on a campus where you feel unsafe right now or you experienced sexual violence at some point in the past, heading back to school as a survivor can be hard. So if you’re a survivor getting antsy about August, read on. I’m sharing some of tips and tricks that help me beat the back to school blues in hopes that they will help you, too.

One of the biggest keys to my academic success as a survivor has been building up a network of support. Of course, that can be easier said than done. It is a privilege to live and learn in a community of people who support survivors. But the sooner you are able to reach out and establish supports, the more likely you are to find those folks who will be great safety nets for you throughout the school year. You can start by identifying people who have supported you in the past. Is there a friend, family member, or significant other that you’ve relied on? Do they know how to best support you this academic year? If you have a supportive person in your life, now is a great time to reach out and let them know how to help you when the going gets tough.

You can also identify supports for your health and wellbeing. Many survivors who have been able to access therapy have found it very helpful. Many schools provide mental health services to students for low or no cost. You can start by reaching out to your campus health services to see what, if any resources they provide. If your campus does not provide mental health resources, you can connect with the hotline or online services at RAINN for a referral. If you can’t access counseling or it isn’t right for you right now, consider what other activities make you feel well. Does it help to engage in spiritual or religious practice? Does spending time outdoors help ground you? Do you find comfort in crafts? Figure out a way to carve out time and space for the things that bring you peace as the semester begins.

Finally, don’t hesitate to utilize academic services and accommodations if they are available. While EROC acknowledges that many campus administrators fail to serve survivors, some or many survivors have had positive experiences utilizing accommodations arranged by their Title IX coordinators or their disability service offices. If you’re comfortable, it is worth reaching out to these administrators early in the semester to see what resources they may be able to offer. If you struggle to get needed accommodations through these offices, EROC is always available to help you connect with advocates who can help.

Above all, don’t forget to be gentle with yourself. School can be stressful under the best of circumstances. At EROC, we know that sexual violence complicates survivors’ school experiences, and we support all survivors in whatever choices they make after an assault. It’s okay to take breaks, experience what feels like a failure, and even to completely reimagine what your educational trajectory looks like. With a great support system in the upcoming year, you can be prepared to tackle school, change, and all of the challenges that come with it.

This post was submitted by Alyssa Leader (pronouns: she/her/hers), a former EROC Summer Legal Fellow. She is a graduate of Harvard College and is a rising second year law student at University of North Carolina. She previously worked as a victim-witness advocate for Middlesex County District Attorney’s Office and the legal services coordinator for A New Day, a rape crisis center in Southeastern Massachusetts. She is a certified rape crisis counselor and continues to serve survivor communities. Recently, she served on the board of Law Students against Sexual and Domestic Violence and completed pro-bono work on projects related to sexual violence and civil rights of the LGBTQ community. Her activism around sexual violence has been featured in major media publications, including New York Times and Buzzfeed. Alyssa believes strongly in improving availability of trauma informed civil legal services for survivors. In the future, she hopes to work as an attorney representing survivors of campus sexual and domestic violence in Title IX matters.