“WHAT ONE RAPE COST OUR FAMILY” by Laura Hilgers
WHEN people hear about campus sexual assaults, they rarely understand the true impact such an attack has on the survivor and her family. But I do.
In the spring of 2013, my daughter, Willa, was raped by a fellow student at her college in Washington, D.C. A freshman at the time, she did not tell anyone until a year later. Meanwhile, she developed post-traumatic stress disorder, panic attacks, depression and an addiction to alcohol. And while she chose not to file criminal charges — out of fear of being traumatized again — she struggled so much after the attack that ultimately she had to leave school.
It would be impossible for me to describe in the space of a newspaper article the emotional toll this took on Willa and our family: the grief we felt that our child’s body (and soul) had been violated; the anger that we (and the college) could not protect her; the fear that our once spirited, ambitious daughter might never be more than a shell of herself. But I can offer, by way of illustration, a financial reckoning — collateral damage that demonstrates the devastation, and that rarely comes up in the national discussion on campus sexual assaults.
The financial burdens of an attack can be overwhelming. A 2014 White House report noted that the cost to survivors (of all types, not just college students) can range from $87,000 to $240,776 per rape. While the numbers are staggering, they seem abstract until your family is the one paying the bills. In our case, they were on the higher end of the range, and included the following:
$105,000 Cost of three years of lost wages, starting now, that Willa would have earned if she had graduated on time in May. I’m assuming that a college-educated woman would have earned at least $35,000 a year.
$40,000 Cost of lost wages, me. This is also an estimate, but during the time that Willa struggled with severe PTSD, I had to turn down assignments, cancel trips and take days off to care for her.
$23,491.98 Cost of a 45-day stay at a residential treatment center for trauma and addiction (the latter of which Willa developed after her assault, as a way to numb the pain). The upfront cost was $54,300, and Willa’s dad and I had to cover this. We received $30,808.02 in reimbursement from our insurance company.
$23,400 Cost of a six-month addiction rehab aftercare program, which included $1,900 per month for living expenses, and $12,000 to cover the remainder of our annual health insurance deductible. The program accepted our insurance for the rest.
$22,408.68 Cost of lost tuition for one semester, one attempted semester and one summer school session that she attended, all after her attack. During this time, Willa earned credit for just one class. Life is wildly complex, so I can’t say with certainty that Willa’s sexual assault caused her academic decline. Before the rape, however, she had a 3.6 grade point average and was on the dean’s list. After it, she routinely earned F’s and incompletes. As she struggled through these last three semesters, we paid $23,528.68 (and also received financial aid). For the last summer session, the school reimbursed us $1,120.
$12,328.71 Cost of therapists’ bills, for our daughter to see four different therapists, two in Washington and two in California, as we tried to find the right match. We paid $20,546, and insurance reimbursed us $8,217.29.
$8,400 Approximate cost of travel for me, for three emergency trips to Washington from my home in California, and four trips to Arizona, where our daughter went to rehab.
$4,823.98 Cost of psychiatrists’ bills, for Willa to see two different psychiatrists, one in Washington and one in California. We paid $6,985, and insurance reimbursed us $2,161.02.
$3,630 Cost of attention-deficit disorder testing. Before Willa told anyone about the rape, she was unable to concentrate on her studies, and asked to be tested for A.D.D. The upfront cost was $3,750; insurance reimbursed us $120.
$1,840.28 Cost, after insurance reimbursement, of the several trips Willa took to the emergency room for panic attacks.
$250 Cost of a visit to a dermatologist, unreimbursed by insurance, for a “hair loss” consult, after Willa lost half her hair from stress.
There were other expenses too, but the ones I’ve listed add up to $100,573.63 out of pocket, and approximately $145,000 in lost wages, for a total of $245,573.63. That’s roughly the same as the cost of four years at one of the nation’s top colleges.
I should be clear: I would have done anything, made any financial sacrifices, to see the light again in my daughter’s eyes (which is there now, thanks to Willa’s hard work and the many caring professionals who helped her). I recently went through a divorce, however, and my former husband and I are writers, not investment bankers. These are big costs for us; at times, we had to borrow from family or retirement funds, or use proceeds from the sale of the house we gave up in the divorce.
We’re fortunate to have top-tier health insurance, which helped defray many of the costs. But this is still an extraordinary amount of money, and I often wonder how survivors from less privileged backgrounds recover from these attacks. It’s not a hypothetical question.
According to a 2015 survey at 27 universities by the Association of American Universities, 11.7 percent of all students (including men) reported experiencing nonconsensual sexual contact, by force or incapacitation, since enrolling at their university, and the incidence among undergraduate females was 23 percent.
These costs are enormous for any rape survivor, not just those who suffered a campus sexual assault. For our family, they continue to accrue.
This fall, Willa will start her sophomore year, at the age of 22, at a different school. In addition to tuition, we’ll be paying $3,500 a month for her to live in a sober dorm nearby. It’s approximately $25,000 more than we would have spent if she lived in a regular dorm for two semesters, but the structured environment will provide the extra care and support she needs as she returns to a place she’s hesitant to go: a college campus.
Laura Hilgers is a freelance journalist in the San Francisco Bay Area.