Gender-based violence is a harmful act(s) committed against a person because of their gender or sex. People of all genders and sexual orientations may experience such violence or harassment. The ACLU has a helpful fact sheet to help you identify behaviors that may constitute gender-based violence or harassment. As the ACLU points out, these behaviors may be carried out by a boyfriend or girlfriend, a date, other classmates, friends, parents, guardians, family members, teachers, or other adults; and can include:
- following you around, always wanting to know where you are and who you are with, or stalking you
- pressuring you to perform sexual acts
- touching you sexually against your will
- interfering with your birth control
- verbally abusing you using anti-gay or sex-based insults
- hitting, punching, kicking, slapping, or choking you
- verbally or physically threatening you
- attempting or forcing you to have oral, vaginal, or anal sex
- sending you repeated and unwanted texts, online messages, and/or phone calls, including (but not limited to) sexual comments
- making repeated sexual comments about you to other classmates, including through Facebook groups, Yik Yak, or on Instagram
- sharing naked photos of you with classmates without your permission
Know that if you are in a dating or sexual relationship with someone who does some of the above, you may be experiencing intimate partner violence (also called “dating violence” or “domestic violence”), which is another form of gender-based violence. Dating violence is not always (or even often) physical or sexual. Learn the signs here.
It is up to you whether or not you decide to name your experience as violence or harassment. If you have questions about what you experienced, you can visit these pages for help, or call the sexual assault hotline (1-800-656-4673).
If you were sexually assaulted, abused, and/or harassed and are a student at a school that receives federal funds (any public elementary, middle, or high school, or college; and most private colleges), you have three primary legal options, of which you can choose to do none, one, two, or all three. You can proceed through:
A Title IX process at your school
Learn your Title IX rights here.
In brief: you can choose to:
- File a formal complaint against your perpetrator, which will trigger an investigation and, potentially, disciplinary action for the person who harassed, assaulted, or abused you, as well as accommodations and remedies (like counseling services, academic tutoring, class changes, or extensions on exams) for you; OR
- Ask only for particular accommodations and remedies, without needing to make a formal complaint against your perpetrator.
Regardless of your choice, this is an administrative process that takes place entirely within your school; it does not involve the criminal legal system. However, if you are under 18, and experienced certain kinds of violence (e.g., rape, sexual assault, or physical abuse), school officials may be required to disclose your case to the police, which could trigger a criminal (outside of the school) investigation.
A criminal complaint
If you report to the police, an investigator will likely meet with you and, in some circumstances, law enforcement or child protective services may need to inform your parent/guardian. Visit RAINN for more information.
A civil law process
With the assistance of an attorney (and a parent or guardian if you are under 18), you may be able to file a civil lawsuit for damages against your perpetrator, although these are lengthy, expensive, and not often fruitful.
You can also file for a restraining order (also known as a civil protection order, personal protection order, harassment prevention order, or domestic violence abuse prevention order), which typically prohibits the person who hurt you from contacting — or even from coming into a certain distance as — you.
Talk to someone
Good people to talk to can include family, friends, a partner or significant other, a therapist or guidance counselor, or a teacher. Follow the links below to check out our tips on starting these conversations, as well as information on mandatory reporting obligations. Ask people you trust to help you develop a safety plan, as outlined here at loveisrespect.org. You can find our tips on talking to parents, teachers, and friends here.
Seek medical care and mental health care
We’ll publish a detailed guide soon but, in the meantime, check out RAINN’s resources here and here, and Planned Parenthood’s resource here.
Free legal resources
- Public Justice (on contingency fee basis) represents bullying victims and their families, including victims of sexual assault and harassment, in lawsuits against school districts that failed to protect them. You and your family can contact the organization for legal assistance by phone at (202) 797-8600 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
- The National Women’s Law Center is able to assist in filing Title IX complaints and lawsuits in limited circumstances. If the NWLC is unable to represent you, they may be able to help you find another attorney.
- Equal Rights Advocates is confidential and here to help you understand your legal rights. Contact ERA at 800-839-4372 or at its online intake form.
- The Victim Rights Law Center assists victims in Massachusetts and Portland, OR. You can contact the VRLC by phone at 617-399-6720 x19 or at their web address here.
Hotlines and online resources
- The National Dating Abuse Helpline — This helpline is designed for teens and young adults who have experienced abuse in a dating relationship.
- RAINN’s Online Hotline — This free and confidential service provides services to survivors of sexual assault through an online chat function, instead of by phone.
- The National Sexual Assault Hotline, 800-656-4673 — This free and confidential service provides services to survivors of sexual assault over the phone.
- Surviving in Numbers provides an anonymous and confidential space for survivors of all ages to share their experiences of sexual and domestic violence. In addition to raising awareness through story-sharing of the prevalence of violence, Surviving in Numbers also runs trainings for young folks, which focus on dismantling myths around sexual and dating violence, empowering students to be active bystanders while maintaining personal safety, learning how to best support peers who disclose being assaulted, and replacing victim-blaming language with positive ways to support survivors. If you want to share your story or bring Surviving in Numbers to your school, you can visit their website or contact them.
- Break the Cycle, Love Is Respect, and That’s Not Cool also have helpful resources for teen survivors of dating violence and sexual assault.
After an experience of violence, it is natural to feel a wide range of emotions. Practicing positive self-care can be helpful in managing emotional reactions to stress. Self-care involves intentionally building time into your day to take care of yourself emotionally and physically, and it is a critical component to healing in the aftermath of sexual assault or violence. Self-care can look different for everyone. Learn more here.
[Note: In some states, minors don’t have access to restraining orders. Learn your state’s policy on restraining orders here].
If you have been sexually assaulted, harassed, or threatened, the legal system may be able to help keep your attacker away from you. One way to do this is with a protection order (also known as a “restraining order” and “injunction against harassment”). A protection order is an order used by a court to protect you in situations of sexual violence or harassment. Your abuser can be ordered to stop hurting or threatening you. They can be ordered to stay away from you or your home, and be prohibited from contacting you. In some states, your abuser might be required to turn in firearms or attend treatment programs. If your abuser is also the parent of your child, the order may require your abuser to provide financial or other assistance and help you coordinate visitations between the abuser and the child, if desired.
If you obtain an order, your abuser will be given notice that you have filed for a protection order against him or her. You should make copies of your protection order and put them in safe places where you can access them quickly, like your bag, car, locker, and home. You may want to let your school know and provide school administrators with a copy of the protection order so they can help keep you safe. If you have a child that the protection order covers, ensure that your child’s caretakers know about and have access to the protection order. If you move, you do not necessarily have to get a new order. Many states have provisions to register out of state orders so they can be enforced.
If your abuser violates the requirements of the protection order, your abuser may be warned, arrested, or fined. Violating a protection order is a crime and the violator can be prosecuted. Once the order is given to your abuser, only the state can remove the order prior to the order’s expiration. If you choose to allow your abuser to violate the order (such as by calling him or her) before then, the state may enforce the order without your consent. You may request that the state dismiss the order prior to the expiration of the order.
To get a protection order, you should contact your local police department or state courthouse or, alternately, your local rape crisis center which may have advocates available to assist you. They will be able to tell you how to get a protection order and may refer you to free or low cost legal professionals who can help you obtain one. Expect to provide information about your abuser and some information about why you want protection. The length of time and type of order the court may grant will depend on a variety of factors including your relationship to the abuser, the type of threat he or she poses to you, and your state’s law. If you are under 18, your state may require your parental involvement. In most states, you can file a restraining order against someone who is under 18.