Colleges and universities are uniquely positioned to provide the accommodations and interim measures survivors need to access their education. They can remove a perpetrator from a dormitory floor shared with a student they sexually assaulted, provide counseling to help a survivor manage PTSD, or simply provide a survivor an extension on an essay due the week after an assault. By requiring schools to provide students with comprehensive accommodations, states can help survivors stay in school.
Schools must provide a broad range of reasonable accommodations to ensure a survivor’s safety, eliminate a campus hostile environment, and support a survivor in continuing to access their education. At a minimum, states should guarantee that schools provide a survivor with the following:
- Reasonable Interim Measures and Accommodations: Schools must ensure a survivor’s safety, eliminate a hostile campus environment and address its effects, and support a survivor’s continued access to education by providing them with reasonable interim measures and accommodations. These measures can include, but are not limited to: housing/residential accommodations, campus escorts, academic accommodations such as tutoring, and transportation arrangements, and campus employment accommodations. In appropriate circumstances, the school should promptly provide these services as interim measures pending the conclusion of a school’s investigation. (See our section on “Minimizing Financial Burdens” for a complete list of accommodations.)
- No Contact Orders: When the accused and/or respondent is a member of the campus community (including students, faculty, and staff), schools should issue a “no contact order,” stipulating that continued contact with a victim constitutes a violation of school policy and is subject to additional conduct charges and sanctions (including interim suspension pending a disciplinary hearing). No contact orders should also prohibit a respondent from contacting a survivor through third parties, including friends, acquaintances, and family members. Both parties should receive a copy of the no contact order and have the opportunity to speak with a school official who can answer questions regarding its operation and scope and the consequences of violating it. If the respondent violates a no contact order, schools should guarantee a protected party assistance from campus security, and university officials in removing the respondent from the protected party’s environment at the complainant’s request.
- Persona Non Grata Letter: When the respondent is not a member of the school community, school officials should serve them a persona non grata letter prohibiting them from entering school property, subject to applicable legal requirements.
- Orders of Protection: School officials should facilitate an individual’s access to orders of protection or an equivalent protective/restraining order. School assistance should include connecting an individual to victim services providers and arranging any necessary transportation to court at no cost to the victim. Individuals should not be penalized for missing class, work, or other school obligations to attend protective order hearings.
- Mental Health and Disability Services: School officials should ensure victims have access to mental health services (at no cost) and other reasonable disability accommodations required by relevant federal and state law, including Section 504 and Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act.
- Student Loan Counseling: Schools should provide student loan counseling for student survivors considering temporary withdrawal, permanent withdrawal, or half-time enrollment to help them access loan deferment, forbearance, income-based repayment plans, or other student loan programs.
- Review of Disciplinary Actions: Schools should review any disciplinary actions taken against the complainant to see if there is a causal connection between the sexual violence and the misconduct that may have resulted in the complainant being disciplined. For example, if the complainant was disciplined for skipping a class in which the perpetrator was enrolled, the school should review the incident to determine if the complainant skipped class to avoid contact with the perpetrator. Under no circumstances should a student who reports gender-based harassment or assault be penalized under school disciplinary codes prohibiting sexual activity.
When a community member reports gender-based harassment or violence, the school should be responsible for promptly inform them, in writing, of their right to request services and accommodations. When taking steps to separate the complainant and the accused student/respondent, a school should minimize the burden on the complainant, and thus should not, as a matter of course, remove complainants from classes, housing, or extracurriculars while allowing alleged perpetrators to remain.
Between the price of medical health care and moving into off-campus housing to avoid a perpetrator who shares a dorm building, student survivors can face extraordinary financial costs due to gender-based violence. For low-income survivors, the costs of counseling, course change fees, or housing change fees may be impossible to pay, forcing them to withdraw from classes or school. Schools should be barred from charging survivors for reasonable accommodations. When schools expect survivors to bear the cost of those accommodations, they create a discriminatory, gender-based barrier to educational access and risk forcing survivors out of school entirely.
To ensure the financial costs of sexual or domestic violence do not push survivors out of school, schools must be required to provide reasonable accommodations and resources at no financial cost to victims. At a minimum, schools should provide survivors the following accommodations free of charge:
- Qualified Survivor Advocate: Advocates should be available to students through a Rape Crisis Center or other local service provider. See our sections on "24/7 Rape Crisis Centers" and "Sexual Assault Response Coordinators" for best practices regarding survivor/victim advocates.
- Mental Health Counseling and Disability Services: These services include, but are not limited to, access to qualified trauma counselors; academic accommodations for individuals who develop PTSD, anxiety, or other mental health conditions as a result of harassment and gender-based violence; and other reasonable disability accommodations required by state and federal law, including Section 504 and Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act.
- Transportation: Schools should ensure community members are not charged for transportation to court to secure an Order of Protection, to a medical provider for a forensic exam, an off-campus Rape Crisis Center or other direct service provider with which the school has established an MOU, or any other location as needed to ensure a student survivor’s safety and continued access to education. In appropriate circumstances, schools should arrange for victims to receive services remotely if necessary.
- A Campus Escort: If necessary, schools should provide a campus escort so that a survivor can move safely and comfortably between classes, campus jobs, sports, and other extracurricular activities.
- Residential and Dining Arrangements: When a school moves a survivor to a new dormitory or campus dining facility as an accommodation to avoid a perpetrator, they must ensure student survivors are not forced to pay more in housing and meal fees as a result. If necessary, the school should arrange to cover moving costs for the survivor or to reimburse a survivor for lost dining fees.
- Academic Support: Student survivors should be able to withdraw from and retake classes without financial penalty, receive tutoring without charge, and be exempted from course change fees, when those services are reasonably necessary to ensure a survivor’s continued access to education.
Research demonstrates that gender-based violence can cause students’ grades to suffer significantly. Survivors may face academic probation, suspension, or scholarship loss when their grades fall as a result of violence—outcomes that become more likely when the school fails to take reports of gender-based violence seriously. Schools should be required to take the academic impact of gender-based violence into account when assessing a student’s scholarship eligibility, participation in work-study programs, requests for leave, and class withdrawals.
When a school is unable to conduct a full investigation into a particular incident (i.e., when it received a general report of sexual violence without any personally identifying information or if a complainant has requested confidentiality), it should consider remedies for the broader student population in order to alleviate the hostile environment.
Remedies for the broader school community may include, but are not limited to:
- Designating an on-call individual from the school’s counseling center who is specifically trained in providing trauma-informed comprehensive services to victims of sexual violence;
- Training or retraining school employees on the school’s responsibilities to address allegations of sexual violence and how to conduct Title IX investigations;
- Developing and distributing to all students materials on sexual violence;
- Conducting bystander intervention and sexual violence prevention programming with students;
- Issuing policy statements or taking other steps that clearly communicate that the school does not tolerate sexual violence and will respond to any incidents and to any student who reports such incidents;
- Conducting, in conjunction with student leaders, a campus climate check to assess the effectiveness of efforts to address sexual violence, and using that information to inform future institutional actions;
- Targeted training for a group of students if, for example, sexual violence created a hostile environment within a residence hall, fraternity or sorority, a cappella group, or on an athletic team.
Campus climate surveys from 2016 indicate that more than 80 percent of student sexual assault survivors never report their assaults to law enforcement or school officials. But while student sexual assault survivors may not want to open a formal disciplinary case with their school or report to law enforcement, they often still need reasonable accommodations. Students must be able to access critical accommodations without triggering an investigation by the school. For best practices on providing confidential accommodations, please see our section on Sexual Assault Response Coordinators.
Institutions that lack appropriate on-campus resources or services should, to the extent practicable, enter into a memorandum of understanding (MOU) or other partnership with existing community-based organizations to provide students with counseling, health care, mental health care, victim advocacy, and legal assistance services. Partnerships with community-based organizations should, where appropriate, include services for respondents as well.
Further, information about campus resources and accommodations for survivors of gender-based violence should be widely distributed, easily accessible online, included in a school’s gender-based misconduct policy, and provided to reporting individuals immediately after disclosure of an incident. Any informational materials should include a plain language explanation of common accommodations that the institution provides and explain how a survivor can access accommodations, whether or not they choose to formally report an incident.
Rape Crisis Centers (RCCs) provide a range of vital services to survivors and are often the first place that survivors go for support and resources after an assault. While schools often have on campus RCCs or arrangements with equivalent local providers, many only offer services on weekdays or during regular business hours. Sexual violence does not happen on a schedule, and schools should ensure that student survivors have access to a Rape Crisis Center at all times.
All residential schools should be required to have either have a confidential Rape Crisis Center on campus or a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with a local rape crisis center and domestic violence service provider that students can access at all times, including weekends, late nights/early mornings, and during summer/winter programming when students are on campus.
Service providers must have qualified victim advocates on staff who are appropriately trained to assist student survivors in: reporting an incident to school officials and/or law enforcement; directing survivors to both on- and off-campus resources; hospital advocacy and accompaniment; crisis planning; and individual counseling for survivors. Schools should also be required to provide students with information about contacting a confidential, 24/7 victims’ hotline.
After an assault, survivors need a range of crisis services—ranging from access to a victim’s advocate at a rape crisis center, post-exposure prophylaxis to prevent contraction of HIV, and sexual assault forensic exams (commonly known as SAFEs). States and schools can help survivors access critical medical care they need to manage the trauma of a sexual assault.
Under the federal Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), states, territories, and tribes must ensure that survivors are never charged out-of-pocket expenses for sexual assault forensic exams. Federal law sets a floor of minimum requirements for forensic exams, including collection of evidence and a patient interview. States can and should raise that floor by requiring hospitals to take further steps to collect evidence and provide critical crisis healthcare to survivors. States should require that every hospital providing hospital emergency services to sexual assault survivors provide the following basic services to survivors, at their request, as part of a forensic exam:
- Appropriate medical examinations and laboratory tests to collect evidence and ensure the health, safety, and welfare of a survivor, including, if medically appropriate: toxicology and drug testing, testing for pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections (STIs), and medical imaging;
- Medically and factually accurate information explaining accepted medical procedures available for the prevention or treatment of sexually transmitted infections (STIs) resulting from sexual assault, provided both orally and in writing;
- Medically and factually accurate information regarding emergency contraception, provided both orally and in writing;
- Instructions indicating the need for follow-up examinations and laboratory tests after the sexual assault to determine the presence or absence of STIs, provided both orally and in writing;
- Medication for treatment, both at the hospital and after discharge, in the amount determined is appropriate by the attending physician, an advanced practice nurse, or other appropriate medical professional, and consistent with the hospital’s current protocol for sexual assault survivors;
- Where prophylaxis to prevent HIV or other STI treatment is deemed appropriate, a full course of prophylaxis, along with written and oral instructions indicating the importance of timely follow-up healthcare;
- Any further information or treatment determined by the State Department of Health.
These services should be provided with the consent of the survivor at every separate step of the process or exam, and at the recommendation of an attending physician, advanced practice nurse, physician assistant, or other appropriate medical professional.
As part of a forensic exam, these services must be provided at no cost to survivors and regardless of whether a survivor has decided to report an assault to law enforcement. The costs of medical testing and treatment can be prohibitively expensive for many low-income survivors, leading them to forego critical care. States should direct their Departments of Health to develop billing guidelines that remove barriers to medical care by ensuring that no survivor is required to pay for a sexual assault forensic exam and related medical services at any point. Medical providers and hospital personnel should be trained in billing protocols on-site.
States should mandate that college and university health services provide survivors with free emergency contraception, tests for pregnancy and Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs), and/or Post-Exposure Prophylaxis (PEP) medications that prevent survivors from contracting HIV and other STIs. After an assault, many student survivors prefer to approach their school’s health services rather than an unfamiliar hospital environment. Because college health providers are often the first people survivors tell about their assaults, they must be able to provide survivors with basic crisis healthcare (for example, HIV PEP) that is only effective if administered soon after a sexual assault. Campus health services must also promptly refer survivors to other healthcare providers, including rape crisis counselors, when appropriate.