Walking the Woods: The Lived Experience of Sexual Assault Survival for Women in College

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Monahan-Kreishman, Mollie Marie
Hultgren, Francine
ABSTRACT Title of Dissertation: WALKING THE WOODS: THE LIVED EXPERIENCE OF SEXUAL ASSAULT SURVIVAL FOR WOMEN IN COLLEGE Mollie M. Monahan-Kreishman, Doctor of Philosophy 2012 Dissertation directed by: Professor Francine Hultgren Department of Teaching, Learning, Policy and Leadership This phenomenological study explores the lived experience of sexual assault survival for women in college. Through a grounding in the philosophy of hermeneutic phenomenology (Gadamer, 1960/2000; Heidegger, 1927/1962, 1968, 1928/1998, 1971/2001, 1950/2002), this work uncovers the lives of six sexual assault survivors who lived through rape during their university years. The research activities designed by van Manen (1997) provide the methodological framework for the study. Within this framework, the researcher is able to bring readers into a visceral feeling of the lived experience. Deep, rich meaning is brought forth from the words of each rape survivor. The six survivors in this study remained at their respective universities for one to four years following the rape. They identified as American Indian, Taiwanese American, Italian American, European American, Caucasian, and White. At the time of the study, participants ranged in age from their late twenties to early forties. They attended different universities across the country. Hermeneutic phenomenological conversation revealed one overarching theme of the <italic>all en-COMPASS-ing</italic> nature of rape survival in college. In other words, after being raped in college, the experience continued to be intimately connected to everything they would live through thereafter. The first of two sub-themes, <italic>stoppings</italic>, uncovered experiences that halt survival from the outside, the inside, through (re)iterations of the rape, through divisions, and through loss of control. The second of two sub-themes, <italic>movings</italic>, uncovered experiences that progress rape survival, such as moving away from campus, reclaiming reiterations, reclaiming voice, reclaiming strength, reclaiming body, reclaiming reactions, reclaiming foundation, and the movement from victim to survivor. From this work, two main sets of pedagogical implications come into view. The first, <italic>being with</italic>, examines the personal ways in which we, as college and university professionals, can authentically listen and respond to women surviving rape. The second, <italic>being-for</italic>, examines the campus world, and the possibilities brought forth when faculty, staff, students, friends, family and survivors come together in the creation of communities that pause and focus on what survivors need in order to survive.