“Mom, there’s something I need to tell you” is just the beginning. After Campus Sexual Assault: A Guide For Parents addresses how, when, and why students tell their parents about having been sexually assaulted. Giving and getting the news can be messy. Although parents often are stunned by the news, it’s important to provide stability and safety at this vulnerable time.
Based on years of research and scores of quotes from students, mothers, fathers, and campus service providers, this book sheds light on campus culture today, the range of actions that comprise campus sexual assault, and the many impacts on victims and their families. Importantly, this book offers compassionate guidance for navigating the often tumultuous time that follows an assault.
What happened cannot be undone, and many students try to handle the aftermath by themselves. But, as one mother said, “When you bury your feelings, you tend to bury them alive.”
Although colleges and universities have developed resources for students who have been sexually assaulted, parents are largely left to fend for themselves. Whether through their own sense of stigma, wanting to protect their child’s privacy, or other reasons, parents rarely turn to others for support. This experience can be stressful and isolating.
By understanding the impacts of campus sexual assault and learning from others who have been through the trauma and its aftermath, together, we can develop strategies for healing and growth.
Susan B. Sorenson, PhD, public health researcher and clinical psychologist, is a Professor of Social Policy at the University of Pennsylvania. Her career—teaching, research, policy, and clinical work—has focused on violence and its prevention.
Sorenson provides a valuable tool to support an important group that has not been given enough attention: the parents of college students who have been sexually assaulted. The book provides essential insights for parents who are a necessary voice in our efforts to prevent sexual violence.
Sorenson’s After Campus Sexual Assault thoughtfully and delicately captures the difficult decision-making process college girls go through when choosing whether or not to disclose their campus sexual assault to their parents. It simultaneously gives unprecedented space to explore the nuanced reactions of parents who learn about their child’s assault—ranging from anger to grief to reluctant acceptance. In a nation where one in five girls will experience sexual assault during their college career, the book is a much needed resource for both young women who are deciding whether to disclose their survivorship to their parents and for parents who are struggling with learning about their daughter’s sexual assault.
Although the general public has come to understand the prevalence of sexual assault in recent years, most still don’t think it will impact them or their families. This leaves people unprepared and ill equipped to support those they love after a sexual assault. Dr. Sorenson’s exploration of the experiences of young women sexually assaulted on college campuses and their process of disclosing it to their parents, gives readers a glimpse into how social structures, family dynamics, and common misconceptions all complicate their journey. The candid and often hard to read accounts of assault that students bravely shared, along with their personal process of coming to define and understand their experience, provide rare insight into the nuances of how sexual assault impacts young people. As both a parent and a long-time educator on sexual violence, I found myself simultaneously cringing at parents’ flawed responses while also empathizing with their well-intentioned and unaware efforts. As Sorenson points out, parents should recognize the honor in being told such a traumatic life event that is still clouded with misplaced social stigma and shame, and should approach their role with the care and compassion it deserves.
These families shared their deeply personal and painful stories so that we can all do better. It’s a book that was written to help parents deal with the aftermath of a child’s assault on campus, but knowing just how many young people are impacted by sexual assault, I’d recommend it as an educational tool for anyone who wants to emotionally support their children through their college years.
Dealing with the aftermath of sexual violence can be entirely overwhelming. This book is a wonderful resource for parents and families of survivors navigating those difficult waters. From powerful first person accounts, to shedding light on the complex services and processes available to survivors, this book is an essential guide for survivors and their families. Sorenson shows how parents and families, along with college administrators and staff, can work together to support survivors and begin the process of healing.
It is past time for a book like this, a book that supports families and victims/survivors of sexual assault. I remember receiving a call from a dear friend as I was on my way to work early one morning. We talked for a few minutes, and I knew something was wrong. The timing of the call was off, the tone of her voice was off. I finally asked, “What is wrong? What has happened?” She told me her daughter had been raped while studying abroad. We cried together. We, she, needed this book, a text that supports examining the role of the family, parental relationships, university systems and healing. Thank you, Dr. Susan Sorenson for connecting your brilliant life’s work to the needs of the people you study. Thank you, for taking care of the victims and survivors of sexual assault. Thank you for writing, After Campus Sexual Assault, a book that supports families on their healing journey.
This is an amazing book. I always have felt the absence of a book like this among the various memoirs and first-person narratives of sexual assault survivors telling their stories. After Campus Sexual Assault: A Guide for Parents is a need-to-read for mothers sending their daughters off to college and for those still dealing with the aftermath of campus sexual assault.
Telling is a choice and when that choice is made to share the secret of the lived experience of being victimized through sexual violence, many doors to healing open. This ground-breaking book brings together research about sexual assault and personal narratives of survivors and their parents in a sensitive and intimate way. It provides a deep look inside the issue and within the families impacted. The book should be included in the parent orientation kit at every college and university.