Given that so many acts of sexual aggression happen each year at college campuses throughout the United States, it's essential to raise awareness to ensure everyone is aware of characteristics of sexual assault.
Title IX of the Education Amendments Act of 1972 is a federal law that states: "No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance." Title IX prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex in any federally funded education program or activity.
The principal objective of Title IX is to avoid sex discrimination in education programs and to provide individual citizens effective protection against those practices. Title IX applies, with a few specific exceptions, to all aspects of federally funded education programs or activities. In addition to traditional educational institutions such as colleges, universities, and elementary and secondary schools, Title IX also applies to any education or training program operated by a recipient of federal financial assistance.
Title IX addresses any form of discrimination based on sex in education. Under Title IX, sexual harassment and sexual violence are forms of sex discrimination, and the law requires that all incidents of sexual harassment and sexual violence be viewed as discrimination and be investigated as appropriate.
If a school knows or reasonably should know about any form of Sexual Misconduct or sex discrimination, Title IX requires the school to take immediate action to eliminate the misconduct/discrimination, prevent its recurrence, and address its effects. Additionally, the Office for Civil Rights expects schools to take proactive measures to prevent Sexual Misconduct and sex discrimination. Pursuant to the Violence Against Women Act, a school has extensive obligations to provide programs to prevent dating violence, domestic violence, sexual assault, and stalking.
Warning Signs for College Age Adults
Whether you are a parent, professor, administrator, student, coworker, or friend—you can make a difference in someone’s life by noticing the warning signs of sexual assault and abusive relationships. Sexual violence, like many other crimes, can occur on college campuses and at locations frequented by college students.
In eight out of 10 cases of sexual assault, the perpetrator is someone the victim knows.1 This can make it more difficult for someone to be open about sexual assault, particularly if the perpetrator is part of a friend group, a classmate, or someone who is well liked by other peers. No matter who the alleged perpetrator is, the survivor deserves support and care.
If you notice these warning signs in a college-age adult, it’s worth reaching out to them:
- Signs of depression, such as persistent sadness, lack of energy, changes in sleep or appetite, withdrawing from normal activities, or feeling “down”
- Self-harming behaviors, thoughts of suicide, or suicidal behaviors
- Low self-esteem
- Sexually transmitted infections (STIs)
- Anxiety or worry about situations that did not seem to cause anxiety in the past
- Avoiding specific situations or places
- Falling grades or withdrawing from classes
- Increase in drug or alcohol use
- Withdrawing from other relationships or activities, for example, spending less time with friends, leaving sports teams, or dropping classes
- Saying that their partner doesn’t want them to engage in social activities or is limiting their contact with others
- Disclosing that sexual assault has happened before
- Any mention of a partner trying to limit their contraceptive options or refusing to use safer sexual practices, such as refusing to use condoms or not wanting them to use birth control
- Mentioning that their partner is pressuring them to do things that make them uncomfortable
- Signs that a partner controlling their means of communication, such as answering their phone or text messages or intruding into private conversations
- Visible signs of physical abuse, such as bruises or black eyes
Remember, you are not alone. If you suspect sexual abuse you can talk to someone who is trained to help. Call the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 800.656.HOPE (4673) or chat online at online.rainn.org.
The only person responsible for committing sexual assault is a perpetrator, but all of us have the ability to look out for each other’s safety. Whether it’s giving someone a safe ride home from a party or directly confronting a person who is engaging in threatening behavior, anyone can help prevent sexual violence.
What is a bystander?
A bystander is a person who is present when an event takes place but isn’t directly involved. Bystanders might be present when sexual assault or abuse occurs—or they could witness the circumstances that lead up to these crimes.
On average there are over 293,000 victims (age 12 or older) of rape and sexual assault each year in the U.S. The majority of these crimes are committed by someone the victim knows. Given these circumstances, it’s important to recognize the role bystanders can play in preventing crimes like sexual assault.
Help prevent sexual assault
You may have heard the term “bystander intervention” to describe a situation where someone who isn’t directly involved steps in to change the outcome. Stepping in may give the person you’re concerned about a chance to get to a safe place or leave the situation. You don’t have to be a hero or even stand out from the crowd to make a big difference in someone’s life. Take steps to protect someone who may be at risk in a way that fits your comfort level.
Whether you’re taking home a friend who has had too much to drink, explaining that a rape joke isn’t funny, or getting security involved when someone is behaving aggressively, choosing to step in can affect the way those around you think about and respond to sexual violence.
Why don't people help more often?
It’s not always easy to step in, even if you know it’s the right thing to do. Some common reasons bystanders remain on the sidelines include:
"I don’t know what to do or what to say.”
“I don’t want to cause a scene.”
“It’s not my business.”
“I don’t want my friend to be mad at me.”
“I’m sure someone else will step in.”
It’s okay to have these thoughts, but it’s important to realize that your actions can have a big impact. In many situations, bystanders have the opportunity to prevent crimes like sexual assault from happening in the first place.
Your Actions Matter
Whether or not you were able to change the outcome of the situation, by stepping in you are helping change the way people think about their roles in preventing sexual violence. If you suspect that someone you know has been sexually assaulted, there are steps you can take to support that person.
- Learn more about steps you can take to prevent a sexual assault and show you C.A.R.E.
- Identify ways to help someone you care about.
- Learn more about how to respond when someone discloses sexual assault or abuse.
- Want to do more for sexual assault prevention on your campus? Rate your college's prevention program and make your voice heard.
Supporting Family or Friends of Sexual Assault
It’s not always easy to know what to say or do when someone tells you they’ve faced sexual assault, dating violence, domestic violence, or stalking. It can be especially difficult when that person is a friend or family member. By acting with thoughtful understanding and support, you can help to minimize the trauma. Here are some basic responses that can be helpful.
- Let the survivor know that you love and support them.
- Listen without judgment.
- Do not blame the survivor, regardless of the circumstance. Don’t suggest that the survivor was at fault for decisions he or she made.
- Encourage the survivor to get support. Share resources like local sexual assault crisis centers or a variety of other organizations you can find on this website.
- Do not press for details of the assault.
- Remember that there are a variety of ways survivors may react – there is no right or wrong way to manage trauma.
- Make sure that any feelings of anger or helplessness you may be feeling don’t get conveyed as anger toward the survivor.
- Be patient and remember that there is no timetable to recover from trauma.
- Assure the survivor that you will endure this crisis with them and that your love and friendship will remain intact.
CLICK HERE FOR THE RAPE RECOVERY CENTER'S FREE "GUIDE FOR FAMILY AND FRIENDS OF A SEXUAL ASSAULT SURVIVOR"