How to Report Sexual Harassment on College Campuses

By Lauren Patetta

If you or someone you know have experienced sexual harassment at college, know that you are far from alone. Two-thirds of college students experience sexual harassment, with women experiencing it much more often than men. As a result, many schools have established anti-harassment policies. 

It may be scary and uncomfortable to report incidents of sexual harassment, and you may be afraid to even try. But there are ways to protect yourself, report harassment, and feel safe on your campus. 

What Is Sexual Harassment?

Sexual harassment is any unwelcome sexual advance, request for sexual favors, or verbal or physical harassment of a sexual nature in the workplace or learning environment. Unlike sexual assault, sexual harassment is not considered a criminal act, but it’s still a violation of school anti-discrimination policies and civil laws. 

Although sexual harassment doesn’t usually include physical violence (that would make it sexual assault), it’s still a serious violation of your rights that can affect mental health. Sexual harassment can cause a number of emotional, mental, and physical effects, from headaches or fatigue to post-traumatic stress disorder, panic attacks, or thoughts of suicide.

Examples of sexual harassment: 

  • Requests for something sexual in exchange for a job, better position or grade, or a favor
  • Verbal harassment, including sexual jokes 
  • Unwanted physical contact or sexual advances, such as rubbing your shoulders when you didn’t ask or attempts at kissing or touching you
  • Pressure to do something sexual with someone else
  • Someone sending you explicit photos or messages without your consent

For a more detailed look at what actions are considered sexual harassment, check out this guide to sexual harassment from the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN).

Know Your Rights

You should never be made to feel unsafe, uncomfortable, or unwelcome on campus. Your campus should be a safe space, and it’s your school’s job to protect your rights. 

Under Title IX, educational institutions are prohibited from any type of discrimination based on sex. This means that colleges have a legal responsibility to protect students from sexual harassment, stop it from recurring, and address its effects. The Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act of 2013 also requires colleges to prevent and address incidents of campus sexual violence. 

If you report an incident and feel that your school is not taking it seriously or doing what’s needed to stop it or support you, you can file a report with the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR), which manages Title IX enforcement.

Reporting Sexual Harassment on Campus

All schools should have established protocols for reporting sexual harassment. Ideally, these protocols are shared with everyone during the first week of school, but if you did not receive them or have forgotten them, you should be able to find them on your college’s website, or reach out to your school’s Title IX coordinator. 

Although the process may differ from campus to campus, you can follow these general guidelines if you need to report harassment on campus: 

  • Locate your school’s Title IX office. If you feel comfortable talking with someone about what happened, all schools should have a Title IX coordinator on staff who can help guide you through your rights and the reporting process. 
  • Find and submit an incident report form. This form will likely be online and will ask you for information about the incident, perpetrator(s), frequency, location, and any other information that will help the school investigate and put a stop to further incidents. 
  • Request accommodations. Talk to your Title IX coordinator or academic support center to establish a plan for any accommodations you may need following the incident. These can include talking to a clinician at the school counseling center, changing your class schedule or housing situation to avoid contact with the perpetrator, using a campus escort service, taking a leave of absence, receiving extensions of class deadlines, and more. Talk with faculty to find the right accommodations that will make you feel safe. 

If you or a friend are in immediate danger, call 911 or the number of your campus safety department.

How to Support a Friend After Sexual Harassment or Assault

It can be hard to know what to say or do when a friend tells you they’ve been sexually harassed or assaulted. The TALK method provides you with steps to take when responding to your friend: 

  • Thank them for telling you. It can be really difficult to tell someone they’ve been a victim of sexual violence. If your friend finds the courage to tell you, show your support by saying, “Thank you for sharing this with me,” or “Thank you for putting your trust in me.” 
  • Ask how you can help. Don’t try to tell them a “right” or “wrong” method for moving forward. Instead, ask how you can support them. Offer to walk through the reporting steps with them, or accompany them to talk with the Title IX officer. 
  • Listen without judgment. Pay attention to what they’re saying and try to remain calm and open. Don’t imply that they’ve done something wrong to cause harassment. It’s never the survivor’s fault. 
  • Keep supporting. It may take time for your friend to heal from their experience. Make sure you are a consistent source of support for them.

If you witnessed someone being sexually harassed, you may also be able to file a Title IX incident report as a bystander. 

Find out what you need to know to stay safe from sexual assault on campus

Where to Find Support

Sexual harassment can seriously affect mental well-being, and additional support is often needed at one or more points after harrassment occurs. Be sure to reach out to a friend, trusted adult, or therapist if you find yourself struggling. 

On campus, you can seek additional support from: 

  • The counseling center 
  • The academic support center 
  • Residence life 

Learn more about getting mental health support on- and off-campus and how to find affordable mental health care

You may also contact RAINN’s National Sexual Assault Hotline at 800-656-4673 to speak with a trained professional, or chat with one online.

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If you or someone you know needs to talk to someone right now, text, call, or chat 988 for a free confidential conversation with a trained counselor 24/7. 

You can also contact the Crisis Text Line by texting HOME to 741-741.

If this is a medical emergency or if there is immediate danger of harm, call 911 and explain that you need support for a mental health crisis.