What do I do if I have been sexually assaulted?
Immediately after an assault
Ask for help, make a call:
- Campus police
- Friends or family
- Crisis hotline 800-656-HOPE (4673)
Go to urgent care (e.g., a hospital):
- Receive help for physical injuries.
- Screen 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. Try to eat well, get enough sleep, and exercise. 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 with you, or going with you to appointments.
- Campus health centers 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., filing a report). Click here for more information.
- Local rape crisis center staff are experienced with how to help you. They can help you make choices about reporting an assault, joining a support group or finding a counselor.
- Click here to learn more about what accommodations should be offered to you.
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 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 here.
- If your school does not offer mental health services, find a provider here.
Know Your Rights
Your Title IX Rights
Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 is a federal civil rights law that prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex against any person in education programs and activities receiving federal funding. Programs or activities receiving federal financial assistance include virtually all public and private colleges and universities, and all public elementary and secondary schools.
Students, staff, faculty, and other employees; women, girls, men, and boys; straight, LGBT, and gender-nonconforming persons; persons with and without disabilities; and international and undocumented persons all have the right to pursue education, including athletic programs, scholarships, and other activities, free from sex discrimination, including sexual violence and harassment.
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 in 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 virtually all public and private colleges and universities, and all public elementary and secondary schools.
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 (Title IV), which provides similar protections to Title IX at all public schools.
Is filing a complaint with the U.S. Department of Justice the same as filing a complaint with the U.S. Department of Education 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 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 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 feel this way, know that not all of a school’s employees can maintain your confidentiality. Your school should make clear who you can turn to – like professional or pastoral counselors, or maybe a women’s center or health center – to talk confidentially. Your school should also make clear who can’t maintain confidentiality; if you talk to these people – they’re sometimes called “responsible employees” – you have the right to expect your school to investigate what happened and to take prompt action to address the situation. If you’re not sure if someone can maintain your confidentiality – ask before you talk to them.
To help make you more aware of your options, we are providing a sample policy on reporting and confidentiality for schools to consider. As with all policies, we urge schools to involve students in coming up with the best solutions. But all policies should make clear, up front, who on campus 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.
In general, rape crisis center advocates 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.
Protected Health Information
The Office for Civil Rights in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has answered some frequently asked questions on how different privacy rules apply at educational institutions, and under what circumstances and with whom protected health information can be shared:
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. For 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. 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 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 and Justice, 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 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 like the U.S. Department of Education to school officials 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, and 2001 Revised Sexual Harassment Guidance.
- 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. FERPA generally prohibits the nonconsensual disclosure of personally identifiable information from a student’s education record.
- HIPAA Privacy Rule
- The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) Privacy Rule provides you with federal protections by giving you rights over your health information and setting rules and limits on who can look at and receive your health information. Most health care providers and health plans have to follow the Privacy Rule. However, most schools must follow a different federal law called FERPA that protects the privacy of student health and other records, including health records on students at campus health clinics.
- 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 university to provide counseling for a survivor or to improve educational/training programs surrounding 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.
- Entities such as school districts, charter schools, colleges and universities that receive 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 whom 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 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 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.
- 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
- 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 which receive Federal financial assistance. Title IX states that:"“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 failure to conform to 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 and parental status. OCR is a primary authority for investigating alleged violations of Title IX in educational institutions because the U.S. Department of Education gives financial assistance to virtually all educational institutions in the country. Other agencies, such as 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 Department’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 the Department or refer the case to DOJ for litigation.
- Title IX Coordinator
- 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 university 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 or failure to conform to gender stereotypes. The 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 the Boy Scouts of America Equal Access Act. OCR addresses sexual violence on college campuses through Title IX enforcement. 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 complain 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. Under Title IX, 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 of the U.S. Department of Justice works to protect civil and constitutional rights, particularly for the most vulnerable members of our society. The Division 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, the Division, through its Educational Opportunities Section, 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. The Section also can enforce other statutes such as Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. The Section may intervene in private suits alleging violations of education-related anti-discrimination statutes and the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution. The Section also represents the U.S. Department of Education in lawsuits. The Division 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. The Division 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 offenders accountable for their crimes.
- The Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act of 2013 amended the Violence Against Women Act and the Clery Act to provide new requirements for schools 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
- 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 the President 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.
How Can I Help a Friend?
- You can help someone who has been assaulted by listening and offering comfort.
- Go with her or him 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 angry and ashamed.
- Encourage your friend to take care of him or herself by eating, sleeping and exercising as best possible.
- Keep an eye out for common problems associated with traumatic events.
- Become an advocate. Join or start an organization.