What should I do if I have been sexually assaulted?
Immediately after an assault
Ask for help, tell someone:
- Campus or local police, school resource officer, teacher or administrator
- Friends or family
- Crisis hotline 800-656-HOPE (4673)
See a healthcare provider as soon as possible (e.g., urgent care or a hospital):
- Receive help for physical injuries.
- Get screened for STDs/pregnancy.
- If possible, do not shower or clean up. Do not change clothes. Hospital staff can collect evidence using a rape kit.
- If you want to file a police report, you can call the police from the emergency room.
- Ask about the nearest rape crisis center.
Days following an assault
Take care of your physical and emotional well-being. Remember that it was not your fault and you are not alone.
Learn about common reactions to trauma.
Everyone is different, but it is good to understand what you might expect and know that others have experienced similar reactions.
Let others help.
- Friends and family can offer support by listening to you, keeping you company, walking to class or school with you, or going with you to appointments.
- Campus health centers, school nurses and counselors, and local clinics can provide health services and help you find additional health resources including counseling.
- If you are concerned about confidentiality: Ask the person you want to talk to first about his/her obligation to disclose information you share (e.g., are they required to file a report?). See more information.
- Local rape crisis center staff members are experienced and can help you navigate the process. They can help you make choices about reporting an assault, joining a support group, or finding a counselor.
- Learn more about your Title IX right to receive some immediate protection and help from your school, such as changing classes or dorms.
Months after an assault
- Recovery is an ongoing gradual process. Understand common reactions after trauma. Some symptoms may appear months after an assault.
- Reach out to your personal support network of friends and family. Find a support group.
- Talk to a counselor, social worker, or psychologist. They are experienced in helping individuals who have been sexually assaulted. They are familiar with the physiological and psychological effects that traumatic events cause. They can help you work through your emotions and teach you coping skills. Learn more.
- If your school does not offer mental health services, find a provider.
How Can I Help a Friend?
- You can help someone who has been assaulted by listening and offering comfort.
- Go with your friend to the health center, hospital, administrator’s office or counseling.
- Reinforce the message that your friend is not at fault and that it is natural to feel a range of emotions, including sadness, fear, shame, or anger.
- Encourage your friend to promote physical well-being by eating, sleeping and exercising as well as possible.
- Keep an eye out for common reactions associated with traumatic events.
- Become an advocate. Join or start an organization.
Tips for preventing sexual assault as a bystander:
- Talk to your friends honestly and openly about sexual assault.
- Don’t just be a bystander—if you see something, intervene in any way you can.
- Trust your gut. If something looks like it might be a bad situation, it probably is.
- Be direct. Ask someone who looks like they may need help if they’re okay.
- Get someone to help you if you see something—enlist a friend, residential advisor, teacher, or parent to help step in.
- Keep an eye on someone who has had too much to drink.
- If you see someone who is too intoxicated to consent, enlist their friends to help them leave safely.
- Recognize the potential danger of someone who talks about planning to target another person at a party.
- Be aware if someone is deliberately trying to intoxicate, isolate, or corner someone else.
- Create a distraction, draw attention to the situation, or separate the people you are concerned about.
- Understand that if someone does not or cannot consent to sex, it is rape.
- Never blame the victim.
- Go to itsonus.org and pledge to help keep everyone safe from sexual assault.
It’s on all of us to stop sexual assault.
Know Your Rights
Your Title IX Rights
Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 is a federal civil rights law that prohibits sex discrimination in educational programs and activities receiving federal funding, including colleges and universities, and elementary and secondary schools.
All students – women, girls, men, and boys; straight, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and gender-nonconforming; students in elementary and secondary schools and colleges and universities; part-time and full-time students; students with and without disabilities; and students of different races and national origins – have the right to pursue an education free from sex discrimination, including sexual violence and harassment.
The U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights and the U.S. Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division enforce Title IX in our nation’s schools. Sex-based discrimination in public schools also implicates legal rights under Title IV of the Civil Rights Act, which is enforced by the U.S. Department of Justice.
What are a school’s responsibilities under Title IX to address sexual violence?
A school has a responsibility to respond promptly and effectively to reports of sexual violence.
- If a school knows (or reasonably should know) about possible sexual violence, it must quickly investigate to determine what occurred and then take appropriate steps to resolve the situation.
A criminal investigation into allegations of sexual violence does not relieve a school of its duty under Title IX to resolve reports promptly and effectively.
- A school must ensure that the person who experienced the sexual violence is safe, even while an investigation is ongoing.
How Do I File a Complaint About My School? And Then What Happens?
Can I File a Complaint?
If you believe you are a victim of sex-based discrimination by, in, or under an educational program receiving funding from the federal government, you can file a Title IX complaint with both the U.S. Department of Education and the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ). Programs or activities receiving federal financial assistance include all public elementary and secondary schools (both traditional and charter) and postsecondary schools. Title IX also applies to most private colleges and universities because Title IX applies to any school that accepts students who pay, in part, with federal financial aid directly distributed to the students. OCR also has jurisdiction over the few private elementary and secondary schools that are recipients of federal financial assistance.
If you file a complaint of sex-based discrimination with the DOJ, it can also be reviewed under Title IV of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which provides similar protections to Title IX at all public schools.
Is filing a complaint with the U.S. Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division the same as filing a complaint with the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights?
No, though the process is quite similar. The U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) has the authority to investigate all allegations of Title IX violations at educational institutions that receive federal funding. DOJ can investigate allegations of sex-based discrimination at educational institutions that receive DOJ funds (e.g., a grant from the Office on Violence Against Women) under Title IX and at all public schools under Title IV. If you file with both DOJ and OCR, usually, one agency will conduct the investigation of the school. Occasionally, both agencies will conduct a joint investigation.
Both OCR and DOJ can and do conduct proactive compliance reviews under Title IX of schools the Departments fund, even in the absence of a complaint.
How do I file a complaint with the U.S. Department of Education, Office for Civil Rights?
Adapted from design by Christina S. Kang, licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Non-Commercial 4.0 International License.
How do I file a complaint with the U.S. Department of Justice?
You may file a complaint via email, telephone or mail.
Write a letter to:
U.S. Department of Justice
Civil Rights Division
950 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W.
Educational Opportunities Section, PHB
Washington, D.C. 20530
Your complaint should include:
- Your name
- Contact information (home or school address)
- The name of the school and/or school district/locality where the alleged violation occurred
- A description of the acts or inaction that allegedly violate federal civil rights laws
After receiving a complaint, DOJ conducts an initial review. DOJ will inform you as to what action can be taken in response to the complaint (e.g., whether DOJ has authority to respond, whether DOJ will open an investigation, or whether DOJ will refer the complaint to another agency).
Will What I Share With My School Remain Confidential?
Sexual assault survivors respond in different ways. Some are able to be public about what has happened to them. Some are ready to press forward with a formal complaint. Others aren’t so sure. And they need someone they can talk to confidentially – to try to regain a sense of control, to start healing, and to sort through their options at their own pace.
If you are ready to talk to someone, you should decide whether to talk to someone who works for the school or someone in the community. In making that decision, you should know that not all of a school’s employees can maintain your confidentiality in all circumstances.
In fact, some school employees – they’re sometimes called “responsible employees” – are required by federal law to share what they hear with others at the school so the school can investigate what happened and to take prompt action to address the situation. You should also be aware of any state or local mandatory reporting laws that may require certain employees (who may or may not be responsible employees) to share information you tell them with law enforcement or other authorities outside the school. Similarly, under federal law (the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act), parents are entitled to access most records created by a school employee about an elementary or secondary school student. In addition, if you end up in a lawsuit with your school, the school may be able to access any records made by its employees and use them in court if they are relevant. Your school should make clear to whom you can turn to talk confidentially. If you’re not sure if someone can maintain your confidentiality now and in the future – ask before you talk to them.
To help make you more aware of your options, we offer a sample policy on reporting and confidentiality for colleges and universities to consider. All policies should make clear, up front, who at each school must share what information with whom – and how a school should weigh a survivor’s request for confidentiality against its own obligation to provide a safe environment for all students. This sample policy uses higher-education specific language but its general principles also apply at the elementary and secondary school level.
In general, rape crisis center advocates not associated with the school can speak with you confidentially. But because state law is always changing, be sure to check the accuracy of this information.
State Confidentiality Laws
While this list is a helpful tool, it is not a replacement for asking the person whether or not they are a confidential resource. Since state law is constantly changing on this issue, be sure to verify the information provided in this guide to state laws covering confidentiality.
Federal Laws on Privacy Protections for Student Health Records
Student health records at most schools are protected by a federal law called FERPA. For health care students receive outside of the school setting, in most cases, a federal law called HIPAA protects the information.
Key Terms and Definitions
- Amicus curiae brief
- A document filed with the court by a person or an organization with a strong interest or views on the subject matter of a case who is not a party to a case. The filing allows the person or organization to advise the court on a matter directly affecting the case.
- Alleged perpetrator
- The person about whom a complaint of sexual violence is filed under a school’s grievance procedures.
- Bystander intervention
- The bystander intervention model focuses on helping community members understand and become more sensitive to issues of sexual assault, domestic violence, dating violence, and stalking by teaching prevention and interruption skills. The bystander role includes interrupting situations that could lead to assault before it happens or during an incident; speaking out against social norms that support sexual assault, domestic violence, dating violence, and stalking; and having skills to be an effective and supportive ally to survivors.
- Campus Grant Program
- Congress created the Grants to Reduce Sexual Assault, Domestic Violence, Dating Violence, and Stalking on Campus Program (hereinafter referred to as the Campus Program) in recognition of the unique issues and challenges that colleges and universities face in preventing and responding to the crimes of sexual assault, dating violence, domestic violence and stalking. The U.S. Department of Justice’s Office on Violence Against Women implements this competitive federal grant which was authorized under the Higher Education Amendments of 1998 and reauthorized in the Violence Against Women Act of 2000 and subsequent legislation. See additional information on the Campus Program, including what past Campus Program grantees have accomplished with their grant funds and to view the Campus Program performance measures, click here.
- Character witness
- A person who attests to another’s moral conduct and reputation in a judicial proceeding or hearing. Under Title IX, a school does not need to hear from character witnesses, but if it chooses to do so, a school’s procedures for handling complaints of student-on-student sexual violence must allow the complainant and alleged perpetrator an equal opportunity to present character witnesses.
- Clery Act
- The Jeanne Clery Disclosure of Campus Security Policy and Campus Crime Statistics Act, otherwise known as the Clery Act, is a federal law that requires institutions of higher education to provide current and prospective students and employees, the public, and the Department with crime statistics and information about campus crime prevention programs and policies. Among other crimes, the Clery Act requires that colleges and universities report forcible sex offenses, including sexual assault and rape. The Clery Act was most recently amended by the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act of 2013. The Clery Act does not apply to elementary and secondary schools.
- The term used for an individual who files a complaint under a school’s grievance procedures or an individual or organization filing a complaint with the U.S. Departments of Education or Justice.
- Compliance review
- Compliance review refers to reviews of educational institutions that receive federal funding by the U.S. Departments of Education (ED) and Justice (DOJ), along with other funding agencies, to ensure that the institutions are in compliance with their legal obligations under federal laws, such as Title IX and the Clery Act. If the U.S. Department of Education, Office for Civil Rights (OCR) or DOJ conducts a review and finds noncompliance by the school, each agency will seek to have the school resolve the matter through a voluntary agreement. If a satisfactory agreement cannot be reached within a reasonable period of time, OCR or DOJ may initiate proceedings to terminate federal funding to the school, OCR may refer the matter to DOJ for litigation, or DOJ may bring a Title IX and/or Title IV lawsuit against the school.
- The questioning of a witness called by the opposing party during a trial or hearing.
- Dear Colleague Letter
- A letter sent by federal agencies, such as the U.S. Department of Education, to educational institutions to provide policy guidance about how the agency will interpret a law, such as Title IX or the Clery Act. Dear Colleague letters and other federal guidance provide information and examples to inform schools about how agencies evaluate whether they are complying with their legal obligations. Key examples of federal guidance on a school’s obligation to prevent and remedy sexual violence include the U.S. Department of Education, Office for Civil Rights’ 2014 Questions and Answers on Title IX and Sexual Violence, 2011 Dear Colleague letter on Sexual Violence, 2001 Revised Sexual Harassment Guidance, and 2015 Dear Colleague Letter on Title IX Coordinators
- The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) is a federal law that protects the privacy of student education records. The law applies to all schools that receive funds under an applicable program of the U.S. Department of Education, such as public school districts, colleges, and universities. FERPA generally prohibits the nonconsensual disclosure of information from a student’s education records. For more information on FERPA rights and exceptions, contact the U.S. Department of Education’s Family Policy Compliance Office.
- HIPAA Privacy Rule
- The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) Privacy Rule protects the privacy of individuals’ health and medical information held by health plans and most health care providers. However, the HIPAA Privacy Rule generally does not apply to student health records maintained by elementary and secondary schools and student health records maintained by campus health clinics. The privacy of those records may instead be protected by a different federal law called FERPA (see above).
- Hostile environment
- Sexual harassment, including sexual violence, creates a hostile environment for a student when the conduct is sufficiently serious to limit or deny a student’s ability to participate in or benefit from the school’s educational program.
- Injunctive relief
- A court order (called an “injunction”) that requires an individual or organization to take a specific action. Examples of injunctive relief could include requiring a school to provide counseling for a survivor, revise policies and procedures, or improve educational/training programs for students and employees related to sexual violence.
- Preponderance of the evidence standard
- The standard of proof that must be used in a school’s Title IX proceedings, including fact finding and hearing procedures for resolving complaints of student-on-student sexual violence. The preponderance of the evidence standard requires proving it is more likely than not that sexual violence occurred.
- Primary prevention
- Primary prevention, in the sexual violence context, aims to prevent sexual assault from occurring. Successful primary prevention reduces both the incidence and prevalence of sexual violence. Examples of primary prevention include training and education programs, such as bystander intervention.
- An educational entity – such as a school district, charter school, college, or university, that receives federal funding. A recipient may receive funds either directly or indirectly. For example, educational institutions receive federal financial assistance indirectly when they accept students who pay, in part, with federal loans. Although the money is paid directly to the students, the universities and other educational institutions are the indirect recipients. As a condition of receiving federal funding, recipients must comply with Title IX.
- Responsible employee
- A responsible employee includes any employee who has the authority to take action to redress sexual violence; who has been given the duty of reporting incidents of sexual violence or any other misconduct by students to the Title IX coordinator or other appropriate school official; or who a student could reasonably believe has this authority or duty. Whether an employee is a responsible employee will vary depending on factors such as the age and education level of the student, the type of position held by the employee, and consideration of both formal and informal school practices and procedures.
- Intimidating, threatening, coercing, or in any way discriminating against an individual because of the individual’s informal or formal complaint or participation in a school or the U.S. Department of Education, Office for Civil Rights (OCR) investigation or proceedings related to sexual violence or other civil rights concerns. Federal civil rights laws, including Title IX, make it unlawful to retaliate against an individual for the purpose of interfering with any right or privilege secured by these laws.
- Sexual harassment
- Unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature, including sexual violence. Sexual harassment includes unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal, nonverbal, or physical conduct of a sexual nature. A school violates Title IX when sexual harassment is sufficiently serious that it creates a hostile environment (see above) and such harassment is encouraged, tolerated, not adequately addressed, or ignored by its employees.
- Sexual violence
- Physical sexual acts perpetrated against a person’s will or when a person is incapable of giving consent (for example, due to the student’s age or use of drugs or alcohol, or because an intellectual or other disability prevents the student from having the capacity to give consent). A number of different acts fall into the category of sexual violence, including rape, sexual assault, sexual battery, sexual abuse, and sexual coercion. Sexual violence can be carried out by school employees, fellow students, students from other schools, or third parties. Sexual violence is a form of sexual harassment (see definition above).
- The terms “survivor” and “victim” are both used to describe individuals who have been raped or sexually assaulted. Many of these individuals and the advocates who work with them have come to prefer “survivor,” as they regard the term as more empowering. The term “victim,” however, is still in widespread use in research studies and in the criminal justice context.
- Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972
- Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 is a federal law that protects people from discrimination based on sex in education programs or activities that receive federal financial assistance. Title IX states: “No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving federal financial assistance.” Title IX’s sex discrimination prohibition protects against sexual harassment and sexual violence and extends to claims of discrimination based on gender identity or nonconformity with stereotypical notions of masculinity or femininity. Other examples of the types of discrimination that are covered under Title IX include: the failure to provide equal opportunity in athletics; discrimination in a school’s science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) courses and programs; and discrimination based on pregnancy or parental status. The U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) has authority to investigate alleged violations of Title IX in educational institutions because the Department of Education (ED) gives financial assistance to all public elementary, secondary schools, as well as postsecondary schools and any private colleges and universities that accept students who pay, in part, with federal financial aid directly distributed to the students. OCR also has jurisdiction over the few private elementary and secondary schools that are recipients of federal financial assistance. Other agencies, such as the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ), that give federal grants or assistance to an educational institution, share authority for addressing alleged violations of Title IX in educational institutions. If a school that receives the ED’s federal funds is found to have violated Title IX and does not come into compliance voluntarily, OCR may initiate proceedings to withdraw federal funding granted by ED or refer the case to DOJ for litigation.
- Title IX Coordinator
- School districts and other educational institutions that receive federal funding must designate at least one employee to coordinate the recipient’s compliance with Title IX. This person is often called a “Title IX coordinator.” The coordinator’s responsibilities include overseeing all Title IX complaints, and identifying and addressing any patterns or systemic problems that arise during the review of such complaints. The Title IX coordinators should not have other job responsibilities that may create a conflict of interest, and they must have adequate training on what constitutes sexual harassment and the school’s policies and procedures.
- Title IV of the Civil Rights Act of 1964
- Title IV of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 is a federal law that prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, sex, religion or national origin by public elementary and secondary schools and public institutions of higher learning. Title IV’s sex discrimination prohibition protects against sexual harassment and sexual violence and extends to claims of discrimination based on, among other things, gender identity and nonconformity with gender stereotypes. The U.S. Department of Justice enforces Title IV through complaint investigations, litigation, voluntary settlement agreements, and consent decrees.
- U.S. Department of Education, Office for Civil Rights (OCR)
- The Office for Civil Rights (OCR), within the U.S. Department of Education, is charged with ensuring equal access to education and promoting educational excellence throughout the nation through vigorous enforcement of civil rights. OCR serves student populations facing discrimination and the advocates and institutions promoting systemic solutions to civil rights problems. In educational settings that receive federal funds, OCR enforces federal laws that prohibit discrimination on the bases of race, color, and national origin under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964; discrimination on the basis of sex under Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972; discrimination on the basis of disability discrimination under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990; discrimination on the basis of age under the Age Discrimination Act of 1975; and discrimination as set forth in the Boy Scouts of America Equal Access Act. Through the enforcement of Title IX, OCR addresses sexual violence at schools that receive federal funds. OCR’s enforcement activities are conducted by its 12 enforcement offices throughout the country. Persons or organizations that believe an education institution that receives federal financial assistance has discriminated against them may file a complaint with OCR. The person or organization filing the complaint need not be a victim of the alleged discrimination, but may file a complaint on behalf of another person or group. OCR is charged with investigating and responding to complaints as well as conducting proactive compliance reviews. OCR also issues policy guidance regarding the laws it enforces and provides technical assistance to help institutions achieve voluntary compliance with the civil rights laws that OCR enforces. There are similar offices, sometimes with similar names, throughout the federal government. Every federal agency that disburses federal grants or other federal assistance must have an office that is responsible for enforcing compliance with Title IX.
- U.S. Department of Justice, Civil Rights Division (CRT)
- The Civil Rights Division (CRT) of the U.S. Department of Justice works to protect civil and constitutional rights, particularly for the most vulnerable members of our society. CRT enforces federal statutes prohibiting discrimination on the basis of race, color, sex, disability, religion, familial status, and national origin in a diverse array of cases involving, among other things, housing, voting, employment, and education. Specifically, CRT, through its Educational Opportunities Section (EOS), directly enforces Title IV of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Equal Educational Opportunities Act of 1974 (EEOA), and Titles II and III of the Americans with Disabilities Act. EOS also can enforce other statutes such as Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act. EOS may intervene in private suits alleging violations of education-related anti-discrimination statutes and the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution. EOS also represents the U.S. Department of Education in lawsuits. CRT is responsible for coordinating enforcement of Title IX across federal agencies and can enforce Title IX through complaint investigations, compliance reviews, litigation, intervention in Title IX court cases brought by private persons, and the filing of amicus briefs or statements of interest in Title IX court cases. CRT can also resolve complaints of sex-based discrimination in public schools, colleges, and universities through investigations, litigation, voluntary settlement agreements, and consent decrees under Title IV.
- U.S. Department of Justice, Office on Violence Against Women (OVW)
- The Office on Violence Against Women (OVW) is a component of the United States Department of Justice (DOJ). OVW implements the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) and subsequent legislation and provides national leadership on issues of sexual assault, domestic violence, dating violence, and stalking. Since its inception, OVW has supported a multifaceted approach to responding to these crimes through implementation of formula and discretionary grant programs authorized by VAWA. By forging state, local, and tribal partnerships among police, prosecutors, judges, victim advocates, health care providers, faith leaders, and others, OVW grant programs help provide victims with the protection and services they need to pursue safe and healthy lives, while improving communities’ capacity to hold .
- The Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act of 2013 amended the Violence Against Women Act and the Clery Act to provide new requirements for institutions of higher education to prevent and respond to sexual violence, domestic violence, dating violence, and stalking. Some of these requirements include: providing primary prevention education and awareness programs for all incoming students and employees; collecting statistics on domestic violence, dating violence, and stalking in addition to current requirements to collect sexual assault statistics; issuing complainants a written notice of their rights; and adopting grievance policies that are prompt, fair, and impartial as well as administered by trained officials. These updates are sometimes referred to as Campus Sexual Violence Elimination Act or Campus SaVE Act.
- Voluntary Resolution Agreement
- This is an agreement voluntarily reached between the U.S. Department of Education, Office for Civil Rights (OCR) and an educational institution that resolves alleged civil rights violations that OCR investigates, either before OCR has finished its investigation or after OCR has investigated and found that the institution failed to comply with the law. OCR is required by law to attempt to secure voluntary compliance with the laws it enforces, including Title IX, prior to pursuing other enforcement options against institutions. Congress established this voluntary resolution scheme specifically to ensure that schools and districts would have the opportunity, when necessary, to come into compliance quickly while also providing for ultimate enforcement where an institution resists compliance. Even though the educational institution’s decision to enter into the resolution agreement is voluntary, compliance with the resolution agreement is mandatory once it is agreed to. OCR closely monitors the institution’s implementation of the resolution agreement to ensure that the commitments made are implemented in a timely and effective manner. OCR may conduct on-site visits as part of its monitoring. OCR may also conduct individual interviews and focus groups as part of the on-site monitoring activities.
- White House Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault
- The White House Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault, established by President Obama on January 22, 2014, is charged with sharing best practices, and increasing transparency, enforcement, public awareness, and interagency coordination to prevent violence and support survivors. The Office of the Vice President and the White House Council on Women and Girls lead the interagency task force, which consists of designees from the Attorney General; the Secretary of the Interior; the Secretary of Health and Human Services; the Secretary of Education; the Director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy; and the Director of the Domestic Policy Council.