About This Toolkit
Rape doesn’t just happen in college. K-12 students suffer sexual and dating violence too. Student survivors who attend public schools, and other schools that receive federal funding, are protected by a 1972 civil rights law called Title IX. In brief, Title IX requires schools to act to prevent violence before it occurs (through, for instance, training and educational programming) and to respond to it after the fact, to remedy its impact (through, for instance, free counseling, academic accommodations, and other support services).
On this site, you can find information on high school student survivors’ legal rights, schools’ legal obligations, and resources and tools for accessing support, including:
- A primer on what gender violence is, what your legal options are, and resources for seeking additional support (this page; scroll down!)
- Title IX Basics: a summary of nine key Title IX protections for high school students and survivors
- Answers to frequently asked legal questions, like, “Is what I tell people confidential?” and “Does Title IX protect me if I was assaulted at home, on the bus, or online?”
- A guide to accessing restraining orders as a high school student survivor
- A guide on asking for support as a high school student survivor — and, for teachers, family members, and friends — a how-to on providing it
- A guide on finding a pro bono lawyer
A Few Notes
- If you’re a survivor, know that what you’ve experienced, or are experiencing, is not your fault. No one has the right to touch your body in ways that make you feel uncomfortable, unsafe, or in pain. And no one — including a boyfriend, girlfriend, teacher, parent, relative, or friend — should tease, taunt, manipulate, or hurt you. If they do, it’s not your fault; it’s theirs. Know too that you’re not alone. 44% of survivors of sexual assault are under the age of 18.
- Like all our resources, this section of the site is growing. Accordingly, please don’t hesitate to send us feedback, additions, and suggestions. We’re particularly looking for resources on how to organize by and for high school student activists, as well as case studies on past organizing struggles and successes. Email us at knowyourIX [at] gmail [dot] com.
A Brief Primer
What is sexual assault, or gender violence?
Gender-based violence is a harmful act(s) committed against a person because of their gender or sex. People of all genders and sexual orientations may experience such violence or harassment. The ACLU has a helpful fact sheet to help you identify behaviors that may constitute gender-based violence or harassment. As the ACLU points out, these behaviors may be carried out by a boyfriend or girlfriend, a date, other classmates, friends, parents, guardians, family members, teachers, or other adults; and can include:
- following you around, always wanting to know where you are and who you are with, or stalking you
- pressuring you to perform sexual acts
- touching you sexually against your will
- interfering with your birth control
- verbally abusing you using anti-gay or sex-based insults
- hitting, punching, kicking, slapping, or choking you
- verbally or physically threatening you
- attempting or forcing you to have oral, vaginal, or anal sex
- sending you repeated and unwanted texts, online messages, and/or phone calls, including (but not limited to) sexual comments
- making repeated sexual comments about you to other classmates, including through Facebook groups, Yik Yak, or on Instagram
- sharing naked photos of you with classmates without your permission
Know that if you are in a dating or sexual relationship with someone who does some of the above, you may be experiencing intimate partner violence (also called “dating violence” or “domestic violence”), which is another form of gender-based violence. Dating violence is not always (or even often) physical or sexual. Learn the signs here.
It is up to you whether or not you decide to name your experience as violence or harassment. If you have questions about what you experienced, you can visit these pages for help, or call the sexual assault hotline (1-800-656-4673).
What are my legal options?
If you were sexually assaulted, abused, and/or harassed and are a student at a school that receives federal funds (any public elementary, middle, or high school, or college; and most private colleges), you have three primary legal options, of which you can choose to do none, one, two, or all three. You can proceed through:
A Title IX process at your school
In brief: you can choose to:
- File a formal complaint against your perpetrator, which will trigger an investigation and, potentially, disciplinary action for the person who harassed, assaulted, or abused you, as well as accommodations and remedies (like counseling services, academic tutoring, class changes, or extensions on exams) for you; OR
- Ask only for particular accommodations and remedies, without needing to make a formal complaint against your perpetrator.
Regardless of your choice, this is an administrative process that takes place entirely within your school; it does not involve the criminal legal system. However, if you are under 18, and experienced certain kinds of violence (e.g., rape, sexual assault, or physical abuse), school officials may be required to disclose your case to the police, which could trigger a criminal (outside of the school) investigation. More information on this concern is available in the FAQ resource.
A criminal complaint
If you report to the police, an investigator will likely meet with you and, in some circumstances, law enforcement or child protective services may need to inform your parent/guardian. Visit RAINN for more information.
A civil law process
With the assistance of an attorney (and a parent or guardian if you are under 18), you may be able to file a civil lawsuit for damages against your perpetrator, although these are lengthy, expensive, and not often fruitful.
You can also file for a restraining order (also known as a civil protection order, personal protection order, harassment prevention order, or domestic violence abuse prevention order), which typically prohibits the person who hurt you from contacting — or even from coming into a certain distance as — you. Learn more about court-issued restraining orders here and here.
Other options and resources
Talk to someone
Good people to talk to can include family, friends, a partner or significant other, a therapist or guidance counselor, or a teacher. Follow the links below to check out our tips on starting these conversations, as well as information on mandatory reporting obligations. Ask people you trust to help you develop a safety plan, as outlined here at loveisrespect.org.
- Talking to parents/guardians
- Talking to a friend
- Talking to a school therapist, guidance counselor, or teacher
- Talking to a partner or significant other [coming soon]
Seek medical care and mental health care
Free legal resources
- Public Justice (on contingency fee basis) represents bullying victims and their families, including victims of sexual assault and harassment, in lawsuits against school districts that failed to protect them. You and your family can contact the organization for legal assistance by phone at (202) 797-8600 or by email at caseintake[at]publicjustice[dot]net.
- The National Women’s Law Center is able to assist in filing Title IX complaints and lawsuits in limited circumstances. If the NWLC is unable to represent you, they may be able to help you find another attorney.
- Equal Rights Advocates is confidential and here to help you understand your legal rights. Contact ERA at 800-839-4372 or at its online intake form.
- The Victim Rights Law Center assists victims in Massachusetts and Portland, OR. You can contact the VRLC by phone at 617-399-6720 x19 or at their web address here.
Hotlines and online resources
- The National Dating Abuse Helpline — This helpline is designed for teens and young adults who have experienced abuse in a dating relationship.
- RAINN’s Online Hotline — This free and confidential service provides services to survivors of sexual assault through an online chat function, instead of by phone.
- The National Sexual Assault Hotline, 800-656-4673 — This free and confidential service provides services to survivors of sexual assault over the phone.
- Not Alone: Together Against Sexual Assault — This map allows you to locate services, resources, and advocates near you.
- Surviving in Numbers provides an anonymous and confidential space for survivors of all ages to share their experiences of sexual and domestic violence. In addition to raising awareness through story-sharing of the prevalence of violence, Surviving in Numbers also runs trainings for young folks, which focus on dismantling myths around sexual and dating violence, empowering students to be active bystanders while maintaining personal safety, learning how to best support peers who disclose being assaulted, and replacing victim-blaming language with positive ways to support survivors. If you want to share your story or bring Surviving in Numbers to your school, you can visit their website or contact them.
- Break the Cycle, Love Is Respect, and That’s Not Cool also have helpful resources for teen survivors of dating violence and sexual assault.
After an experience of violence, it is natural to feel a wide range of emotions. Practicing positive self-care can be helpful in managing emotional reactions to stress. Self-care involves intentionally building time into your day to take care of yourself emotionally and physically, and it is a critical component to healing in the aftermath of sexual assault or violence. Self-care can look different for everyone. Learn more here.
The toolkit was written by Mahroh Jahangiri, Dana Bolger, Nina Gurak, and Iris Z., with feedback, guidance, and assistance from the Gender Violence Clinic at the University of Maryland Carey School of Law, Cari Simon, J.D., Ali Safran of Surviving in Numbers, and various high school student survivors and activists. It is intended as a living, breathing document, so please don’t hesitate to send feedback, suggestions, additions, etc., to us at knowyourIX [at] gmail [dot] com.
We are not lawyers, and the information on this website does not constitute legal advice. We encourage you to contact a lawyer to discuss your complaint or suit.