The sad truth is that college-aged people are at a high risk of sexual assault, and unsurprisingly, this problem is pervasive on college campuses. According to the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network, 23.1 percent of undergraduate females and 5.4 percent of undergraduate males experience rape or sexual assault. The U.S. Department of Justice reported that more than 90 percent of sexual assault victims on college campuses do not report the assault.
All college campuses are required to comply with Title IX, which in the case of sexual assault, means that campuses are obligated under law to “stop sex discrimination, prevent its recurrence, and address its effects.” Sexual assault, harassment, and violence all fall under sex discrimination through Title IX. Accordingly, all colleges that receive any federal funding (essentially means all of them, as private schools will at least have students that receive financial aid) are required to provide resources for sexual assault. Colleges have leeway to address this in various ways, and many have resources in addition to those required, but there are several stipulated processes and resources colleges must have in order to be in compliance. All colleges are required to have a Title IX coordinator that can assist with organizing departments and resources for students who have experienced sexual assault.
This article explains the various resources available for college student survivors of sexual assault, violence, or harassment. It also reviews survivors’ rights as well as the steps they can take to report assaults and get the support they need.
The most direct way to learn about available resources is to contact your university’s Title IX office or Office of Equal Opportunity and Affirmative Action (EOAA). They will be able to direct affected students on the proper paths to recovery, depending on their specific needs and wishes. For example, the University of Minnesota utilizes EOAA to respond directly to complaints and outlines their responsibilities in their policies page:
“Once the Office of Equal Opportunity and Affirmative Action becomes aware of information that may violate the University’s discrimination, harassment, sexual misconduct or retaliation policies, the office may have an obligation to take some responsive action to prevent further misconduct from occurring. However, EOAA works with individuals to discuss a variety of ways to appropriately address the concerns raised, including consultation with confidential support resources at the University.”
All universities are required to respond to these complaints, but the exact process and direction varies from university to university. The University of Washington directs any students who aren’t sure what they want to do to a confidential advocate. These advocates will talk students through the experience, and then help them begin their chosen next steps, which could mean filing a report with the university or police, entering counseling, or seeking medical support.
“It depends on what the individual is seeking. We have a variety of different resources and support but our advocates are what we suggest as the best way to connect. Each survivor has a unique experience and working with an advocate can give them the information they need to make choices about what to do next,” said Valery Richardson, Title IX Coordinator at the University of Washington.
In addition to talking with an advocate, there are many other resources available on and off-campus.
1. Reporting to the university
The Title IX office on your campus will handle a university report. The complaint will not be made public unless you decide to report publicly. You may request an investigation, which the school must do in a timely manner. An investigation may include interviews with the accused and any witnesses, and an evaluation of any evidence (i.e. a forensics report). If the investigation finds the accused guilty using a preponderance-of-evidence standard of proof*, they must take disciplinary actions. For example, this may be expulsion of the individual from the university. The U.S. Department of Education outlines these specific campus requirements, which you can refer to for your rights as a student.
2. Reporting to the police
Always call 9-1-1 if you’re in immediate danger. If you want to make a public complaint, you can report your case to the police. You may choose to do this in conjunction with a complaint to the university or separate from the university. The police department will handle this as a criminal case. You may also have access to campus-based law enforcement.
3. Sexual Assault Forensics Exam or “rape kit”
If you’ve been assaulted, raped, or have experienced sexual violence recently, you can collect physical evidence via a Sexual Assault Forensics Exam, which is commonly referred to as a rape kit. This may be done at a local hospital, or is sometimes available on-campus at your health center. The exam may be done anonymously, as it must be done promptly after the incident in order to collect evidence. It’s important to note that even if you complete an anonymous examination, you do not necessarily have to file a report. If you do file a report, though, the exam can be extremely helpful.
4. Other medical care
Survivors of sexual assault or violence may require medical care beyond a forensics exam. Your college’s health center or a local health center can provide medical care such as STI testing and preventative medication, care for injuries, emergency contraception, etc. While you may not know exactly what kind of medical care you require, explaining the incident to a healthcare professional will help you get the care you need. If you don’t wish to explain, you can request any of the aforementioned care. These services can also be given in addition to a forensics exam.
5. Counseling services
All universities provide some sort of counseling services, which can be the most valuable resource for survivors. On-campus counseling services are usually less expensive than private counseling, and many schools even offer free counseling. These counselors are trained to address cases of sexual assault. Many colleges also offer emergency counseling if you need to talk with someone ASAP. Talking to a counselor on or off-campus can help sort through trauma and emotions related to the incident.
Keep in mind that counseling services are also available to friends of survivors or witnesses of these occurrences, as these situations can also be traumatic.
6. Support groups
Both colleges and local communities often offer support groups for survivors of sexual assault. You can find out about these online, through the counseling center, through a non-profit organization, or through various other campus resources.
If you live on-campus, your Resident Assistant or RA can also be a great resource. Many are trained specifically in handling sexual assault as many students are more comfortable talking to their RA than other university faculty. Your RA can talk with you confidentially and help you get connected with other resources.
8. University chaplains and other religious support
If you are religious and want faith-based support, many colleges have chaplains and other religious leaders on-campus that can talk with you about your experience and provide this type of support.
9. Online resources and hotlines
- National Sexual Assault Hotline: 800.656.HOPE (4673)
- National Sexual Violence Resource Center
- National Organization for Victim Assistance
- National Resource Center on Domestic Violence
- RAINN Online Chat
What to do if it happens to you
In your freshman orientation, you were probably shown where to get your textbooks, where to find your classes, and where to sign up for clubs. But you probably weren’t shown where to go if you are assaulted or raped.
Many students who experience this do not want to do anything about it, and would rather try to forget about their experience. But, the UK National Health Service stresses the importance of medical attention:
“You may need time to think about what has happened to you. However, consider getting medical help as soon as possible, because you may be at risk of pregnancy or sexually transmitted infections. If you want the crime to be investigated, the sooner a forensic medical examination takes place, the better.”
If you don’t want to go alone, ask a friend, family member, your RA, or even someone from your college’s Title IX office to go with you. There are plenty of people who are happy to help and support you. Remember that a forensics exam can be made anonymous, and you have no obligation to report despite doing the exam.
From here, you can decide if you want to report your experience or utilize other resources to support your own physical and mental well-being. You may choose to talk to a counselor or simply a friend or family member. Whatever you decide to do, know that there are many ways to seek the support you want.
What to do if you witness assault
If you personally witness assault or have reason to believe an assault or sexual violence has occurred, you may contact your campus’ Title IX office or another program your university offers anonymously. They can then reach out to the individual(s).
“We have what we call our ‘safe campus.’ If someone learns of sexual harassment or sexual violence and they want to consult, and they’re not sure what to do about this information that they’ve received, they can contact safe campus and safe campus will make a referral to an advocate if that’s appropriate,” said Richardson.
Witnessing assault or being there for a friend who has experienced sexual assault can also be traumatizing, so reaching out to counseling or other support services is always an option. Know that you may be asked to give a witness testimonial, but your testimony may be anonymous if you choose. The information will also be kept private until the trial, if there is one, and the trial itself may be private.
Sexual assault and violence is a major issue on college campuses. Due to the all-too-common nature of the problem, students should be informed of what they can do, what resources are available, and what their rights are if they experience or witness sexual assault.
See also: What to Do after a Rough Semester