Know Your Rights on Campus: Sexual Harassment and Sexual Assault under Title IX : AAUW: Empowering Women Since 1881

Know Your Rights: Sexual Harassment and Sexual Assault under Title IX

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Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 is a comprehensive federal law that prohibits sex discrimination in education. It covers women and men, girls and boys, and staff and students in any educational institution or program that receives federal funds. Local school districts, colleges and universities, for-profit schools, career and technical education agencies, libraries, and museums are all covered under Title IX.

Sexual harassment and sexual violence disproportionately affect college women and impede their ability to participate fully in campus life. Both sexual harassment and sexual violence are forms of sex discrimination covered under Title IX. Title IX protects students from sexual harassment and violence that occur in the course of a school’s education programs and activities. Once a school knows of or reasonably should have known about sexual harassment or sexual assault on campus, Title IX requires the school to promptly investigate the complaint and take steps to protect its students.

If you have faced sexual harassment or sexual violence, you can file an internal complaint with your school, and your school can take steps to prevent further harassment. Those steps could include changing your class schedule, prohibiting the perpetrator from contacting you, or even expelling the perpetrator. If you believe your school has failed to investigate complaints or protect its students, you can also file a complaint with the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR), the federal government agency charged with enforcing Title IX.

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Does Title IX apply to both sexual harassment and sexual violence?

Yes. Title IX covers all forms of sexual harassment, and sexual violence is considered a form of sexual harassment. Very generally, sexual harassment is unwelcome sexual conduct. Sexual harassment includes unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal, nonverbal, or physical conduct of a sexual nature. Sexual violence refers to physical sexual acts perpetrated against a person’s will or where a person is incapable of giving consent.

Title IX also prohibits gender-based harassment, which may include acts of verbal, nonverbal, or physical aggression, intimidation, or hostility based on sex or sex-stereotyping, even if those acts do not involve conduct of a sexual nature.

Are all students covered by Title IX?

Yes. Title IX covers all students regardless of sex or gender identity. International students, foreign citizens, visiting students, and prospective students on campus are protected by Title IX.

How do I file a complaint with the OCR?

The Office of Civil Rights handles all Title IX complaints. Generally, an OCR complaint must be filed within 180 days of the incident. Electronic complaint forms can be found on the OCR’s website.

Can I file a private lawsuit under Title IX?

Yes. You can file a lawsuit under Title IX whether or not you file a complaint with the OCR.

I am not a direct victim, but I know about sexual harassment or sexual violence at my school, and I think my school is not meeting its obligations under Title IX. Can I file a complaint with the OCR?

Yes. You do not need to be the direct victim of sexual harassment or sexual violence in order to file a complaint with the OCR. Any third party with knowledge of discrimination may file a complaint.

If I’ve faced sexual violence, do I have to report the crime to the police before I can file a complaint with my school or with the OCR?

No. You are not required to make a police report, and your rights under Title IX are not affected by your decision whether to involve the police. You can choose whether you want to involve the police, file a complaint with your school, or file a complaint with the OCR. You can choose to pursue more than one process, and you do not have to pursue any of those processes.

I want to speak to a lawyer about what happened to me, but I don’t think I can afford to pay for an attorney. Are there organizations that provide legal advice or representation for free or at reduced rates?

Yes. Many states have legal aid organizations that can help you pursue your legal rights at no or low cost. Not every legal aid organization is able to represent clients in all practice areas — for instance, many legal aid organizations focus on family law, housing law, or criminal law rather than on civil issues like employment discrimination. Additionally, most legal aid organizations only represent clients who fall within certain income restrictions. Even if a legal aid organization in your area can’t represent you, they may be able to offer specialized referrals or advise you where to go for help.

I’m not sure whether I want to file a formal complaint with the OCR. What else can I do?

  1. Seek support and, if you would like, seek medical treatment. Take care of yourself first. You don’t need to deal with harassment or violence alone. Whether or not you decide to make a formal complaint, seek support from your friends, family, and from counselors. If you are struggling, there are people who can help. You can ask your school’s student health center, student services, or a local hospital for resources. RAINN provides information on finding support in your area.
  2. Try to write down what happened. In as much detail as possible, write down what happened. Note the place, time, and anyone who was around. As uncomfortable as it is to describe any form of sexual harassment, it is important to record what happened while it is fresh in your mind. If you decide to file a formal complaint with your school or with the OCR later on, you will need to provide information about what happened.
  3. File an internal complaint with your school. Under Title IX, schools must have procedures in place to investigate complaints of sexual harassment and sexual violence. Ask student services about your school’s procedures. Filing a complaint with your school allows you to access help that only the school can provide, like issuing an on-campus no-contact order to the perpetrator, changing your class schedule so that you don’t have to see the perpetrator, or even expelling the perpetrator.

 


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