Dealing with harassment and violence can be hard, so it can be useful to talk to someone who can help you cope with the impact of what happened. Here are a few ideas for people you may want to reach out to:
Connecting with an advocate
You can connect with an advocate who is trained to support survivors of sexual and dating violence. An advocate can help you identify abusive behavior, develop a safety plan, and refer you to other services. If you want to leave an abusive relationship, an advocate can help you plan the best ways to do so while staying safe. Often rape crisis centers have advocates who can accompany you to the hospital, police, or school reporting meetings. They are familiar with the processes and can be a valuable support.
Many schools have peer advocates on campus. Check your school’s website to see if there are advocates on campus. You can also call RAINN’s (Rape Abuse Incest National Network) hotline at 800.656.HOPE (4673) or the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) to get support and connected with a local rape or domestic abuse crisis center.
Connecting with a counselor
Colleges and universities usually provide several free counseling sessions and can help you find someone more long term. Your college may be required to provide these services free of charge.
Confiding in a trusted source:
Talking about your experience with someone close to you can be one of the most helpful steps in recovering from sexual assault. Keeping violence or harassment a secret is a huge burden to bear and you don’t have to go through this alone. Remember that it is never too late to get help, whether that means going to a doctor or telling someone you trust about what you are going through. There are many people out there who believe you and want to support you. You are not alone in dealing with this and there are lots of resources out there to help. You can find more resources about seeking support from trusted sources here.
Connecting with a Doctor
Regardless of when your assault happened, it is important to get medical attention. It is never too late to do this! Consider visiting a doctor who can provide you with information on STI’s, pregnancy, any injuries, and mental health options.
Regardless of if or where you choose to report, creating a safety plan can make you more secure. If you are experiencing dating violence, this can include finding ways to avoid being alone with your partner if they are under the influence of drugs or alcohol, having a bag with essentials packed in case you need to leave, and telling friends or family members and having a way to contact them if the abuse escalates. Some people develop code words or have a certain phrase to say on the phone or in a text message so your friend knows when you are in danger without you revealing to your partner that you are getting help. If you live in a dorm it could be helpful to talk to someone who lives on your floor so you feel safer in your dorm and they know what to do if your partner comes to your room. If things escalate, have a place in mind where you can go where your partner won’t find you, such as a friend who lives in a different dorm or off campus.
If you are experiencing stalking, a safety plan can consist of varying your habits, such as taking different routes to class or to your meetings. Decide in advance what to do if your stalker shows up at your dorm, meetings, or classes. Tell people around you who can help if this happens, like someone who lives on your floor or is in a class with you. Always carry your cell phone with you and have someone in mind who you can call if you feel unsafe.
Loveisrespect.org provides an interactive safety planning tool that will walk you step by step through questions to develop your own plan.
If you’re reporting to the police or your school it may be helpful to have some evidence of the abuse. If you can, save and document as much as you can. It’s helpful to create a journal to keep track of abuse or harassment. Write down what happened, including the date, time, and any witnesses. Save any evidence, such as texts and emails, voicemails, and Facebook messages. Keep your records in a safe place and have a copy in a different place. Even if you aren’t sure you want to report what happened, this way you will have documentation if you do choose to talk to your school or the police.
Go to the hospital if you are hurt. Even if you aren’t sure you want to report, a doctor can record your injuries from dating violence or sexual assault so you have the documentation in case you choose to go to the police or your school. However, it may be useful to know your state's mandatory reporting laws for healthcare workers, as they may be mandated to report certain kinds of injuries to the police. You may choose to have an forensic exam (rape kit) done. Rape kits are done for any kind of sexual assault and can be conducted sometimes up to a week after sexual assault, though some hospitals will only conduct a rape kit 72 hours (3 days) post-assault. You can read a comprehensive overview of the forensic exam here.
Reporting a sexual assault can be a stressful step to take, but it can also be an empowering one. A good way to identify your school’s particular reporting process and resources is to look at your school’s website and/or student handbook. When reporting to your school, we urge you to learn about your rights under Title IX and the Clery Act. Knowing what you are guaranteed under federal law can prepare you to stand up for yourself in the face of institutional abuse or neglect. (And remember: if your rights aren’t respected, you have options.)
Under Title IX, if you choose to report sexual assault or harassment, the person to whom you report may have to submit a form, which is used to compute campus crime statistics as mandated by the Clery Act. The form asks for information like what kind of offense occurred and whether it happened on campus property. You do not have to provide any details beyond those you are comfortable sharing, and have no obligation to give the perpetrator’s name if you do not want to. You may or may not be able to report anonymously, depending on the person to whom you report, but in no case will your name appear in your college’s public crime statistics. You have a right to access your incident report in the future, which may involve getting a case number for reference.
Once you report an assault, your school is responsible for carrying out an investigation. The school may consider requests on your part not to investigate further or to maintain your confidentiality; however, other obligations may override such concerns. A college investigation or judicial process does not preclude you from going to the police or the Courts if you want to. Conversely, even if you take those steps within the criminal justice system, your school will still have to investigate anything you report to them because it is responsible for handling the civil aspects of campus sexual violence cases. A school cannot stop investigating a complaint just because a case has been filed through the criminal justice system.
Reporting an assault or going through with a college judicial process may not be the right choice for all survivors. For instance, having a disciplinary hearing may be emotionally stressful, facing your assailant can be very scary, and dealing with the prospect that the outcome may not necessarily be the one you want may be difficult. However, for some survivors such steps can be truly empowering ways to seek justice, regain control over their lives, and help protect other community members. Reporting an assault in itself can serve as a deterrent for perpetrators of sexual violations. It can send a message that assault is a crime, and that it is not shameful, but rather a good thing for survivors to speak up. We encourage you to make whatever decisions are best for you.
The act of reporting within the College can take many forms depending on the desired outcomes. The different reporting mechanisms include the following:
- Speaking to a mental health counselor at the College, who may be trained to recommend further channels of grievance support that you may seek, including Title IX considerations or a formal hearing. A counselor may be a good channel to connect you with the appropriate administration to talk to for reporting purposes.
- Reporting to a Title IX coordinator or affiliate (which may be an individual or a board) directly, who may be required to grant special accommodations including extensions on academic deadlines, the ability to move from your place of residence, and other such accommodations that can be found in more detail here.
- Requesting a formal adjudication through a disciplinary body at your school. This body will hear both sides of a case to determine a “pedagogical” outcome. Please note that you do not need to go through a formal adjudication in order to receive accommodations through Title IX. Instead, formal adjudications through a disciplinary board supplement a range of outcomes in addition to your Title IX accommodations. These outcomes may include the probation, suspension, or expulsion of the perpetrator.
Some people such as Residential Assistants, administrators, and professors may be “mandatory reporters,” that is, they may be legally required to report your assault to a designated person or board if the situation is discussed with them, instead of only handling the case with Title IX remedies. These people should make their obligations clear to you and your campus. However, if in any doubt, it may be good to clarify with someone what their position and responsibilities are before making any disclosures.
Every college or university should have resources that you can consult for general emotional support regardless of whether or not you want to report what happened. These resources generally include the school’s health center, counseling services, and religious advisers. Many colleges and universities also have a trained team of students and sometimes staff dedicated to sexual assault response and prevention. You can contact external hotlines as well, like RAINN’s National Sexual Assault Hotline at 1-800-656-HOPE or the Trevor Project’s Lifeline at 1-866-488-7386.
All colleges and universities are required to have some form of grievance board to hear sexual assault and harassment cases. This board is generally composed of a mix of students, faculty, and staff, and may or may not be the same committee responsible for adjudicating other disciplinary infractions. Just as you are never obligated to report an assault, you are also never required to go through a formal hearing, even if you do choose to report. However, your school may be able to take certain steps if and only if a formal hearing occurs. For instance, a finding or responsibility may result in disciplinary sanctions for the perpetrator such as exclusion from certain college events or locations, probation, suspension or expulsion.
Unlike a criminal trial, a college judiciary hearing must use a “preponderance of the evidence” standard; rather than evaluating evidence “beyond a reasonable doubt,” the grievance board or judiciary committee must simply consider whether it is more likely than not that the accused is guilty as charged. The Office of Civil Rights (OCR) also recommends that colleges and universities have an appellate process available following disciplinary hearings in sexual assault and harassment cases. If your school allows appeals, it must allow them for both parties, the complainant and the accused.
Even if you do not engage in a formal judicial process, as long as your school is aware of a claim of sexual violence or harassment, it is required under Title IX to take the necessary remedial measures to help you feel safe on campus. These measures may include ensuring that you and your alleged assailant do not live in the same residence hall or attend the same classes, offering you an escort to classes and activities or providing you with counseling and/or medical or academic support.
A university-issued no contact order (NCO) is an interim protective measure for survivors, meaning that it can be issued even in cases where a respondent has not been found formally responsible for violating university policy. The NCO will usually state that the university has received a report stating that the respondent may be in violation of university policy. Therefore, the university must have good cause to issue an NCO, but does not need to have finished a formal investigation. In fact, an NCO can be issued for a survivor even if no formal investigation has begun. A sound NCO should state that the respondent is prohibited from contacting the survivor
- in person
- by phone (including text messages)
- via third party
- notes, letters, or other written communication
- by email or internet messenger or any other internet based communication
The NCO will usually be in the form of a letter which the respondent must sign. The NCO will state that any violation will result in formal disciplinary action. Survivors should be aware, however, that disciplinary action usually refers to the beginning of a formal investigation through the university rather than immediate suspension or arrest. If a survivor desires more immediate consequences for the breaking of a NCO, she may want to seek a civil NCO/restraining order through local law enforcement. A university NCO may be an alternative for those who do not want to see the respondent in court in order to have some protections. A survivor may still be able to call campus police under a university NCO if a respondent approaches her in person or will not leave an area.
The survivor should ask the person who issues the NCO to explain school policy on what to do if she is approached. It is the choice of the survivor to report suspected contact to the university’s complaints coordinator after the NCO is issued. It is worth reporting even anonymous messages or internet contact, as sometimes respondents will admit to these behaviors when confronted by a school administrator. Survivors should consider telling friends, family, and coworkers about the NCO, as third party contact is also a violation of the NCO. A university NCO remains in effect as long as the respondent is a student at the university (even if the survivor has graduated, and even if contact occurs off campus).
If you are facing retaliation from your college or university, we urge you to contact a lawyer for support.
What Is Retaliation?
Retaliation occurs when a school intimidates, threatens, coerces, or in any way discriminates against an individual who has brought a concern or reported a possible violation of a federal civil right. This includes formal or informal reports of a violation and reports regarding a violation of your own rights or the rights of others.
There are many different types of school conduct that could be considered retaliatory if they occur in response to your complaint or other activism. Some examples may include:
- Disciplining you for “disruptive” protest activities or for naming your assailant
- Failing to accommodate your housing or other academic needs
- Forcing or pressuring you to take time off from school
- Removing you from sports teams or other extracurricular activities
- Pressuring you to stop talking to media
For conduct to qualify as retaliation it must be related to your civil rights concern or complaint being brought to the school’s attention.
Can schools retaliate?
No. The Office for Civil Rights (OCR) in the U.S. Department of Education recently warned schools against taking such actions:
The Federal civil rights laws make it unlawful to retaliate against an individual for the purpose of interfering with any right or privilege secured by these laws. If, for example, an individual brings concerns about possible civil rights problems to a school’s attention, it is unlawful for the school to retaliate against that individual for doing so. It is also unlawful to retaliate against an individual because he or she made a complaint, testified, or participated in any manner in an OCR investigation or proceeding.
If you report a possible violation of a civil right, then you are automatically protected against retaliation. This is true regardless of the merits of the underlying claim — meaning even if the initial concern or report does not result in a finding that a civil right was violated, you still cannot be retaliated against. This is to ensure that individuals feel free to assert their federal civil rights and do not suffer adverse consequences for being whistleblowers.
What if others are retaliating against me?
Under Title IX, only the school’s conduct toward the recipient party qualifies as retaliation. This includes conduct by anyone acting on the school’s behalf, such as the administration, faculty, or other employees. That means that if you are being harassed, intimidated, or threatened by other parties — such as other students — it does not qualify as retaliation. However, if your school knows of the conduct and fails to take action to address it, it may constitute retaliation and could form the basis of a Title IX complaint.
What Can I Do About Retaliation?
If you are being retaliated against, immediately start collecting documents and recording events that indicate retaliation. For example, print and save emails, record any meetings or calls, and note any events. All records should include the date, time, parties involved, and the matters discussed. Keeping this information in chronological order on a spreadsheet may also be helpful.
In addition to taking the above actions, consider calling your school’s Title IX Coordinator and informing them of the situation. The Coordinator may be willing to remedy the situation in order to insulate the school from any further liability.
You can also contact the OCR at firstname.lastname@example.org. OCR enforces civil rights laws and will take action against schools that retaliate. If you have already filed a formal Title IX complaint with their office, inform them of the retaliation immediately so that it becomes part of their investigation. Even if you do not have a formal complaint, you can contact OCR to address this retaliation.
In general, to show that you have been retaliated against, you must demonstrate that:
- You engaged in activities or asserted rights protected under Title IX;
- Your school knew of those activities or asserted rights;
- Your school then subjected you to adverse action, treatment or conditions; and
- There is a causal connection between the protected activity and the retaliation.
If the retaliation is severe or threatening — placing you in imminent danger or fear thereof — then you can always call the police. Certain harassing and threatening behaviors are criminal and you should be free to live your life without fear of these forms of retaliation.
Reporting to the Police
You may choose to report to the police in addition or instead of reporting violence to your school. If you want to report to the police, you can call 911 or go into the police station. You can also contact your local or campus rape crisis center to learn about bringing an advocate with you and what to expect. They can also explain the process of getting a civil protection order (you also have the option of getting a no contact order through your school). You can call the RAINN’s (Rape Abuse Incest National Network) hotline at 800.656.HOPE (4673) or the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) to get connected with a local rape or domestic abuse crisis center. That being said, we recognize that reporting to the police may not be a safe option for all survivors. You can also report to your school and receive accommodations such as housing and class schedule changes, free mental health resources, extensions on paper, etc. See ‘Reporting to your school’ and ‘Accessing school accommodations’ for more information.
Love is Respect
Phone Hotline: 1-866-331-9474
Online Hotline: http://www.loveisrespect.org/get-help/contact-us/chat-with-us
National Domestic Violence Hotline
RAINN (Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network)
Military Rape Crisis Center
National Domestic Violence Hotline
National Suicide Prevention Hotline
(Resources for survivors; has specific sections for male and LGBTQ survivors)
Trevor Project (LGBTQ Suicide Hotline)
Stalking Resource Center, National Center for Victims of Crime:
Office on Women’s Health, US Department of Health and Human Services