Know Your Rights: Sexual Harassment and Sexual Assault under Title IX
- Title IX: Looking Back, Moving Forward
- Title IX Protects Students from Sexual Violence, Too
- Read More on Title IX »
Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 is a comprehensive federal civil rights law that prohibits sex discrimination in education. It covers all students and staff in any educational institution or program that receives federal funding, including local school districts, colleges and universities, for-profit schools, career and technical education agencies, libraries, and museums.
Although sexual harassment and sexual violence can happen to anyone, university and college women are disproportionately affected, impeding their safety, comfort, access to education, and ability to participate in campus life. Both sexual harassment and sexual violence are forms of sex discrimination covered under Title IX. The law 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 taking disciplinary action against 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.
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. Sexual harassment under Title IX includes any unwelcome sexual conduct, such as 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 sex-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.
What is required of schools under Title IX?
Schools have obligations under Title IX to stop sex discrimination, prevent its recurrence, and address its effects. In order to do so, schools must have a policy in place that prohibits sex discrimination, including sexual harassment and sexual violence, and grievance procedures that provide for a prompt and equitable resolution when incidents occur. Schools should have an official, often called a Title IX coordinator, who should be monitoring compliance with the law and available to students, faculty, and staff, to investigate and respond incidents of sexual harassment and sexual violence. Schools must also make accommodations and interim measures available to students to address the effects of sexual harassment and violence. These measures can range from changing class schedules to avoid contact between students to providing campus escort services. Consult your school’s Title IX coordinator and familiarize yourself with your school’s written policies for more details about the specific procedures on your campus.Schools also provide an annual update on their policies, the number of incidents of sexual assault on campus, and other information thanks to another federal law, the Clery Act. That information is collected and published every year by the Department of Education.
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.
What should I do if I’ve faced sexual harassment or sexual violence?
If you have faced sexual harassment or sexual violence on campus, you can report the incident to your school and they must take steps to stop the harassment and prevent its recurrence. This may include putting in place interim measures, providing accommodations, and taking disciplinary measures against the perpetrator. Familiarize yourself with your school’s written Title IX policies and get to know your Title IX coordinator. If you believe your school has failed to properly investigate complaints or protect its students from harassment, 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. Additionally, you may (but are not required to) file a police report about the incident, and your rights under Title IX will not be affected either way.Your school may have additional resources available, such as confidential services or counseling, and you can always contact the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 800.656.HOPE (4673) to be connected with a trained staff member from a sexual assault service provider in your area, or you can also visit hotline.rainn.org/online.
What should I do if I’ve witnessed or know about sexual harassment or sexual violence?
You do not need to be the direct victim of sexual harassment or sexual violence in order to file a complaint with the OCR or with your school. Any third party with knowledge of discrimination may file a complaint.
How do I file a complaint with the OCR?
Generally, an OCR complaint must be filed within 180 days of the incident. Electronic complaint forms can be found on the OCR’s website. If a complainant uses an institutional grievance process and also chooses to file the complaint with OCR, the complaint must be filed with OCR within 60 days after completion of the institutional grievance process. OCR’s website also provides instructions on how to file a complaint.
Can I file a private lawsuit under Title IX?
Yes, you can file a private lawsuit under Title IX regardless of whether you file a complaint with the OCR or with your school or the police. Keep in mind that there may be a relatively short statute of limitations for filing a private lawsuit under Title IX and it may vary from state to state.
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? Should I speak with an attorney before filing any complaints?
While not necessary, it is always helpful to speak with an attorney about your legal rights and options. Many states have legal aid organizations that can help you to pursue your legal rights at little to no cost. Unfortunately, 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, etc.) and most legal 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 still be able to offer specialized referrals or advise you where to go next for legal assistance.
I’m not sure whether I want to file a formal complaint with the OCR. What else can I do?
- 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. Your school may have additional resources available, such as confidential services or counseling, and you can always contact the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 800.656.HOPE (4673) to be connected with a trained staff member from a sexual assault service provider in your area, or you can also visit rainn.org/online.
- 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.
- 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 your Title IX coordinator 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 taking disciplinary action against the perpetrator.
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