This is part of our toolkit for high schools student survivors. Return to the landing page here, learn your Title IX rights here, and see answers to frequently asked questions here. We are always looking for feedback — email us at knowyourix [at] gmail [dot] com.
If you are a student who has experienced, or are experiencing, violence or harassment, you may have the right to seek support and justice through your school under a civil rights law called Title IX. Check out our responses to frequently asked questions below to learn more. (Not a student? Click for tips for family members, friends, and teachers.)
What is Title IX?
Title IX is a federal civil rights law that prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex in education programs and activities. All public schools and any private schools receiving federal funds must comply with Title IX. Under Title IX, discrimination on the basis of sex can include sexual harassment or sexual violence such as rape, sexual assault, sexual coercion, or domestic or dating violence. A school that receives federal funds can be held responsible when it knows (or should have known) about and ignores sexual harassment or assault in its programs or activities. The school can be held responsible whether the harassment is committed by a faculty member, staff, or a student. In some cases, the school must compensate the victim for particular financial costs of violence.
Is my school subject to Title IX?
Title IX protects all students, faculty and staff in federally funded education programs and activities. If you attend a public elementary or secondary school, your school is subject to Title IX. Title IX also applies to private, parochial, or other schools if they receive federal funding through various programs — or if they are formally affiliated with another school (such as the diocese) that receives some federal funds. If you are unsure whether your school is subject to Title IX, you can contact the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR).
If my school is subject to Title IX
Who can I talk to? Is what I tell people confidential? What is mandatory reporting? What does that mean for me? Will my parents/guardians be informed about my assault without my consent?
Teachers or counselors may be good people to talk to about violence or harassment you’ve experienced or are experiencing. If you are under age 18, though, some of these people may be required by mandatory reporting laws to disclose certain kinds of abuse to a government agency, such as law enforcement, child protective services, or a child abuse reporting hotline.
Laws requiring mandatory reporting vary by state (you can learn more about the laws in your state here), but generally individuals designated as mandatory reporters are:
- teachers, principals, and other school staff
- physicians, nurses, and other healthcare professionals
- counselors, therapists, and other mental health professionals
- law enforcement officers
- social workers
- child care providers
- sometimes pastoral counselors
Typically, mandatory reporters must make a report when they, in their official capacity, suspect or have reason to believe that a child has been abused or neglected. In making their report, they are typically asked to provide the name, address, gender, and age of the victim; the name and address of the victim’s parents/guardians; the nature of the abuse; and the name of the perpetrator. (For an example of requirements, see these mandatory reporting requirements in Connecticut). Child protective services or law enforcement may then open an investigation. Mandatory reporters are typically not required by law to alert your parents/guardians to the abuse, although they are generally not prohibited from doing so.
While the goal of mandatory reporting is to keep you safe, the decision to tell someone what happened (or what’s happening) can be difficult; you should always do what feels safest for you. If you would like to seek help without triggering a report, try speaking in hypotheticals to counselors, doctors, or other adults with whom you feel comfortable. Try “What if I had a friend whose classmate touched her in a way she wasn’t okay with?” or “What should my friend do next?” You can also call a hotline and decline to tell them your age. A list of hotlines is available here.
If you are 18 or older and no longer have a legal guardian, child abuse mandatory reporting laws do not apply to you. However, a few states have adopted mandatory police referral laws that require some schools to turn over rape cases to law enforcement, regardless of the victim’s age. (Many students have organized against such mandatory referral bills. If you’re interested in learning more about their work, read here).
Regardless of your age, if you disclose that you were assaulted to a school employee (like a teacher, custodial staff member, or cafeteria worker), this employee will most likely have to report the information to another school official called the Title IX coordinator. The Title IX coordinator’s job is to ensure that you’re safe and able to learn, and may — in limited circumstances, depending on your age, the severity of the violence, and the likelihood that your perpetrator will hurt other people — need to open a school investigation, without your consent. See pp. 18-22 of the Department of Education Office for Civil Rights (OCR) FAQ guide for more information.
- If you choose to disclose to a school employee (with the exception of therapists and pastoral counselors and, depending on the school, some other employees), that person will have to report to the Title IX coordinator “all relevant details about the alleged sexual violence that [you have] shared and that the school will need to determine what occurred and to resolve the situation. This includes the names of the alleged perpetrator (if known), the student who experienced the alleged sexual violence, other students involved in the alleged sexual violence, as well as relevant facts, including the date, time, and location.” See pp. 15-16 of OCR’s FAQ guide for more information.
- If you choose to disclose to a therapist or pastoral counselor, these employees are not required by Title IX to report any information to a Title IX coordinator or other school employee (although, if you are under 18, they may be required to report to law enforcement). See pp. 22-24 of OCR’s FAQ guide for more information.
Does Title IX protect all students, including male and genderqueer students?
Yes! Title IX protects all students at your school from sex discrimination, including sexual violence. Any student can experience sexual violence: from elementary to professional school students; male, female, and genderqueer students; straight, gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, and agender students; students with and without disabilities; students of different races; and students with different immigration or citizenship statuses. To learn more, check out p. 5 of OCR’s guide.
Does Title IX protect me if I was harassed, abused, or assaulted by a school employee?
Yes. As OCR explains in its FAQ Guide, “Title IX protects students of any age from sexual harassment (including sexual violence and sexual abuse) carried out by school employees. Sexual harassment by school employees can include unwelcome sexual advances; requests for sexual favors; and other verbal, nonverbal, or physical conduct of a sexual nature.” In some circumstances, nonsexual conduct may rise to the level of sexual harassment. For example, according to OCR, “a teacher repeatedly hugging and putting his or her arms around students under inappropriate circumstances could create a hostile environment.” These guidelines also protect students from anyone contracted by the school to provide opportunities to students as part of the school’s program, such as mentors or coaches.
Does Title IX protect me if I wasn’t harassed, bullied, abused, or assaulted at school?
Often, yes. Title IX requires schools to address a hostile educational environment even when the abuse occurs off campus, such as on the school bus, during a field trip or extracurricular activity, or online. If sexual harassment off campus or online has created a hostile environment for you or a friend, your school should intervene and address the harmful conduct. Read more here on cyberbullying and your Title IX rights.
What if my assailant doesn’t go to my school?
Title IX can still protect you but, as OCR explains in its FAQ Guide, “the appropriate response for your school to take will differ depending on the level of control your school has over the alleged perpetrator.” For example, if you were sexually assaulted by an athlete or band member from a visiting school, your school may not be able to discipline the perpetrator. However, your school should investigate what happened, report the incident to the visiting school, and encourage the visiting school to take further preventative action. Your school should also notify you of any right to file a complaint with the visiting school or local law enforcement, and may decide not to invite the visiting school back to campus.
As OCR explains, even though a school’s ability to take direct action against a particular perpetrator may be limited, your school must still take steps to provide you appropriate accommodations and, where appropriate, to the broader school population. This may include providing support services to you, and clarifying its response to sexual violence to the school community. To learn more, check out p.9 of this resource by the Department of Education.
What if I was assaulted by a non-student, such as a family member?
Even if the sexual harassment does not occur in the context of an education program, Title IX recognizes that students often experience the continuing effects of off-campus sexual violence while at school. Therefore, your school should consider the impacts of off-campus violence on your education. Accommodations your school might provide you may include counseling, tutoring, or arranging time-off. To read more, check out p. 29 of this resource by OCR.
What are my Title IX rights?
Learn about your Title IX rights here.
What are “accommodations” under Title IX?
Title IX requires schools to provide student survivors reasonable accommodations (like free counseling services or class changes) needed to stay in school and enjoy equal access to educational opportunities. Schools must provide these reasonable accommodations regardless of a survivor’s decision to undergo a school investigation or the status of that investigation, but the breadth of those accommodations may be limited if a survivor declines to pursue an investigation.
What accommodations do I have a right to without a school investigation?
Some student survivors don’t want to trigger a formal school investigation. (Please note, though, that schools are obligated to weigh a survivor’s request for confidentiality against the school’s broader obligation to keep the student body safe; accordingly, in limited circumstances the school may proceed with an investigation against a complainant’s wishes.) You still have a right to reasonable remedies and accommodations even if you choose not to participate in an investigation. These accommodations may include:
- support services like counseling or academic tutoring;
- changed course schedules, assignments, or exams;
- increased supervision or security at locations or activities where the violence occurred.
Know, though, that — should you choose not to initiate a formal disciplinary investigation — your school most likely will not be able to take action against your perpetrator.
Your school should also consider taking steps to combat sexism and inequality in the broader school community, such as*:
- Designating an individual from your school’s counseling center who is specifically trained in providing trauma-informed comprehensive services to victims of sexual violence to be on call to assist students whenever needed;
- Training or retraining school employees on the school’s responsibilities to address allegations of sexual violence and how to conduct Title IX investigations;
- Developing materials on sexual violence, which should be distributed to all students;
- Conducting bystander intervention and sexual violence prevention programs 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 school climate check to assess the effectiveness of efforts to ensure that the school is free from sexual violence, and using that information to inform future proactive steps that the school will take;
- Providing targeted training for a group of students if, for example, the sexual violence created a hostile environment on a sports team;
- Developing a protocol for working with local law enforcement.
* These steps are taken from the OCR’s 2014 FAQ guide. For more information, check out the guide here.
For which accommodations do I need to go through a school investigation first?
For some kinds of accommodations, you don’t need to go through a school investigation. For example, your school should provide medical, counseling and academic support services (like tutoring) whether or not you decide to pursue an investigation.
However, if you would like your school to take disciplinary action (like suspension, expulsion, or long-term class changes) against your perpetrator, you’ll likely need to consent to your school initiating a disciplinary investigation of the violence. Your perpetrator will be confronted by a school official during this process, and it is unlikely that you will be able to remain anonymous from your perpetrator as a result.
If your perpetrator is found responsible through a disciplinary process, effective remedial action may include: disciplinary action (e.g., suspension) against your perpetrator, counseling for your perpetrator, and efforts to combat sexism and inequality in the broader school community, such as those listed above.
To what accommodations do I have a right while an investigation is under way?
You have the right to certain reasonable accommodations before, during, and after an investigation has concluded. Accommodations provided while an investigation is still under way are called “interim accommodations.” If you decline these remedies before an investigation, and then later decide you would like to access them, your school should provide them to you. See OCR’s FAQ guide for more information.
Accommodations during and after an investigation will depend on the specific nature of the situation but may include:
- Providing an escort to ensure that you can move safely between classes and activities;
- Ensuring you and your perpetrator do not share classes or extracurricular activities;
- Moving you (if you request to be moved) or your perpetrator to another school within the district or, if applicable, dormitory;
- Providing you services including medical, counseling and academic support services, such as tutoring;
- Arranging for you to have extra time to complete or retake a class or withdraw from a class without an academic or financial penalty;
- Reviewing any disciplinary actions taken against you to see if there is a causal connection between the sexual violence and the misconduct that may have resulted in you being disciplined.
If your school provides interim accommodations, it should place the burden on the perpetrator rather than you. For example, your harasser, not you, should be moved out of a shared homeroom or lunch period.
Do the accommodations I’m entitled to change if I go through a school investigation and the perpetrator is not found responsible?
As far as we are aware, the Department of Education hasn’t spoken to this particular issue. It depends. If your report was made in good faith but ultimately unsubstantiated by a school investigation — and it is clear you are suffering a hostile environment — your school should probably still provide you reasonable accommodations. These will likely not include action against your perpetrator, but may include support services for you, like those listed above.
Are the accommodations and services my school provides me under Title IX free?
Yes! Your school should provide you — free of charge — the accommodations and services you need to stay in school. Learn more about your school’s obligations here.
And, if your school fails to take prompt and effective steps to address the violence you suffered and prevent its recurrence, your school may be obligated to compensate you for other costs such as activity fees or lost tuition (if you are at a private or parochial school receiving federal funds). According to OCR, “The scope of a school’s responsibility is tied to the scope of a school’s culpability.” For example, when your school’s failure to remove your perpetrator from your class meant that you were forced to take classes with your perpetrator for several weeks and your grades suffered, or you had to take time off from school as a result, your school should reimburse your lost tuition or allow you to retake the class free of charge. Or, if you needed counseling to stay in school and your school denied you access to it such that you had to take time off from school, your school should reimburse your tuition. More information is available here.
What if I become pregnant?
If you become pregnant as the result of rape, you may have many concerns. We’ve tried to break them down into medical, legal, and academic below, but we encourage you to get in touch with a counselor, victim’s advocate, and/or attorney in order to get the answers and support you need.
- Medical resources: State law varies on whether a minor needs parental consent to obtain contraception, including the morning after pill, STI testing, and a wellness exam, without parental consent. Check out your state’s laws here. (Note: This link is for general informational purposes only, because laws change often.) Find more information about health exams, the morning after pill, and STI testing here. If your hospital does not offer these services or does so but at a high cost, click here to find your nearest Planned Parenthood.
- Academic: If you decide to continue with your pregnancy (and regardless of whether you were raped or became pregnant consensually), your school must allow you to participate fully in your education; you must be allowed to remain in honors and AP classes, school clubs, sports, honor societies, student leadership opportunities, and after-school programs at your school. Your school cannot force you to participate in special instructional programs or classes for pregnant students, although you can choose to do so if you like. Your school must also permit you to take excused absences related to your pregnancy or childbirth for as long as your doctor says you need; provide you with reasonable accommodations, like a larger desk or elevator access; and protect you from harassment. Learn more about your rights as a pregnant and parenting student here, here, and here.
- Legal: [coming soon]
What if I just don’t feel safe at school?
Your school’s Title IX coordinator should take every reasonable step to make you safe and comfortable at school. This could include providing you an escort or other added security, disciplining your perpetrator, and/or providing anti-violence education to the student body. Similarly, if there are limited sections of required courses offered at your school and both you and your perpetrator are required to take those classes, your school may be required to make alternate arrangements in a manner that minimizes the burden on you. For instance, your school may allow you to take the regular class, while directing your perpetrator to take the class through independent study or online. See OCR’s 2014 FAQ guide for more information.
But sometimes remaining at your school — a site where violence occurred, or at which people who witnessed your assault attend — may be too much. In some cases, your school should offer to move you (or, ideally, your perpetrator) to another school in the district. If this accommodation is deemed necessary, your school should cover any additional expenses, such as transportation costs, that you incur as a result of attending a new school.
How will this affect my grades? What if I am applying to college as well?
Here’s the good news: many young survivors go on to apply to and thrive in college. You can do this! But it’s also true that violence and harassment often impact victims’ performance in school. Accordingly, schools should provide reasonable accommodations to students in order to ensure they don’t suffer academic penalties for surviving violence — and especially so that these academic consequences don’t follow them throughout their educational careers, into college and graduate school. Academic accommodations will vary depending on the particulars of the situation but may include:
- Academic support services like tutoring;
- Extensions on papers or exams (your school’s Title IX coordinator should work with your teachers to arrange these accommodations, in order to minimize the burden on you);
- Opportunity to retake courses without academic or financial penalty;
- Adjustment of poor grades, due to violence;
- Adjustment of disciplinary actions taken against you, if the effects of violence resulted in you being disciplined (e.g., if you were punished for skipping a class that you were trying to avoid because your perpetrator was enrolled in it);
- Assistance transferring to another school (if you must transfer to another school in order to be safe, your former school should cover any additional costs, such as added transportation expenses, that you incur as a result).
For more information, visit OCR’s FAQ guide here.
What prevention education and programming should my school implement?
As OCR explains, schools “should provide age-appropriate training to students regarding Title IX and sexual violence. At the elementary and secondary school level, schools should consider whether sexual violence training should also be offered to parents, particularly training on the school’s process for handling complaints of sexual violence. Training may be provided separately or as part of the school’s broader training on sex discrimination and sexual harassment. However, sexual violence is a unique issue that should not be assumed to be covered adequately in other educational programming or training provided to students. The school may want to include this training in its orientation programs for new students; training for student athletes and members of student organizations; and back-to-school nights. A school should consider educational methods that are most likely to help students retain information when designing its training, including repeating the training at regular intervals.”
If your school is organizing prevention trainings, OCR recommends they include:
- Title IX and what constitutes sexual violence, including same-sex sexual violence, under the school’s policies;
- the school’s definition of consent applicable to sexual conduct, including examples;
- how the school analyzes whether conduct was unwelcome under Title IX;
- how the school analyzes whether unwelcome sexual conduct creates a hostile environment;
- reporting options, including formal reporting and confidential disclosure options and any timeframes set by the school for reporting;
- the school’s grievance procedures used to process sexual violence complaints;
- disciplinary code provisions relating to sexual violence and the consequences of violating those provisions;
- the role alcohol and drugs often play in sexual violence incidents, including the deliberate use of alcohol and/or other drugs to perpetrate sexual violence;
- strategies and skills for bystanders to intervene to prevent possible sexual violence;
- how to report sexual violence to campus or local law enforcement and the ability to pursue law enforcement proceedings simultaneously with a Title IX grievance;
- and Title IX’s protections against retaliation.
Remind your school to be aware that students may be deterred from reporting incidents if, for example, violations of school or campus rules regarding alcohol or drugs were involved. Encourage your school to review its disciplinary policy to ensure it does not have a chilling effect on students’ reporting sexual violence. Your school can inform students that the school’s primary concern is student safety, and that use of alcohol or drugs never makes the survivor at fault for sexual violence.
Finally, OCR says, “A school’s sexual violence education and prevention program should clearly identify the offices or individuals with whom students can speak confidentially and the offices or individuals who can provide resources such as victim advocacy, housing assistance, academic support, counseling, disability services, health and mental health services, and legal assistance. It should also identify the school’s responsible employees and explain that if students report incidents to responsible employees these employees are required to report the incident to the Title IX coordinator or other appropriate official.”
What is retaliation? Can my school retaliate against me? What can I do if I am suffering or have suffered retaliation?
Retaliation is punishing, intimidating, threatening, coercing, or in any way discriminating against an individual because of the individual’s complaint or participation in an investigation. Title IX makes it unlawful for your school to retaliate against you. If you report violence to your school, assist in a classmate’s complaint, or make a civil rights complaint to any state or federal agency, it is unlawful for your school to punish you. For example: If you make a report to your school about sexual harassment by a classmate on your soccer team, the coach can’t take you off the starting line-up as punishment. Nor can your school suspend you or punish you in other ways for participating in the conduct you’ve reported as abusive.
A school should also tell complainants and witnesses that Title IX prohibits retaliation by other students, such as bullying, and that school officials will not only take steps to prevent retaliation, but will also take strong responsive action if it occurs. If you are being retaliated against by your school or someone else, you should try to document the retaliation and consult with an attorney.
What if my school does not find my perpetrator responsible? Can I get in trouble if my school doesn’t believe me?
Schools should not punish students for bringing concerns about possible civil rights problems to a school’s attention. As OCR notes, “individuals should be commended when they raise concerns about compliance with the federal civil rights laws, not punished for doing so.” Policies that punish students for making unsubstantiated reports (such as “false report” policies) can function to deter survivors from making reports in the first place, which can prevent schools from taking necessary action to address a hostile environment. A school that punishes a student for making a report in good faith may be retaliating against the student, which is illegal under Title IX. If you are being punished for reporting violence, you should consult with an attorney.
Can my school force me to leave school?
No. Thanks to Title IX, your school can’t force you to leave campus due to being assaulted/abused, or for becoming pregnant or a parent.
What if my school violates my Title IX rights?
If your school doesn’t provide you the accommodations you believe you’re due, know that you’re not alone, and that you can push back against any school decisions. Learn more about:
- finding a pro bono attorney to assist you
- filing a Title IX complaint with the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR)
- filing a Title IX lawsuit in federal court
- organizing to change your school’s policies [Coming soon!]
If your school isn’t subject to Title IX
Federal complaints or lawsuits are not the only ways to make change at your school. Some students can take legal action under more comprehensive state laws. And other students have successfully pushed their schools to do better through grassroots activism and advocacy: In response to an incident of sexual harassment or assault, you can insist that your administration respond to victims’ needs and take action to protect students. In general, you can urge school officials to adopt policies to prevent sexual assault at your school and to ensure that the school will be prepared to respond appropriately if an assault occurs. A guide on organizing for change in high school is coming soon!
–Mahroh Jahangiri and Dana Bolger
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.