You are here

Campus Sexual Assault



Sending your son or daughter off to college is an exciting time for the whole family. You’ve prepared them, but what is the school doing to ensure their safety?

One in five women and one in sixteen men are sexually assaulted while in college. 90% go unreported.

As a parent you want to know what efforts the college is taking to prevent sexual assault. What support is available? Do the students there feel safe?

As students are heading back to school, the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape is focusing on making colleges safer.

  Questions to ask   

How can I learn more about what this campus is doing to prevent sexual assault and support victims?

  • There are many places a parent or student may contact to learn about a college’s resources for prevention and support. Campus Police, Student Affairs, and the Office of Resident Life are all good places to start. Additionally, some universities have counseling centers who may be able to discuss support options for students. 
  • The Jeanne Clery Disclosure of Campus Security Policy and Campus Crime Statistics Act, better known as the Clery Act, is a federal law that was passed in 1990. The Clery Act requires universities and colleges that receive federal financial aid to disclose information about crime on and around the campus, including incidents of sexual assault. Keep in mind that most students do not disclose sexual assault, so these numbers are generally low. However, consistent reports of “0” sexual assaults should raise questions about the campus climate, and this is not necessarily a maker of how the campus has integrated sexual assault prevention and response as a priority.
  • It is important to ask if the university requires student attendance at prevention or awareness programs during orientation or other key times in the school year. Express interest in the sexual violence prevention education and programs on campus. Additionally, you may want to ask how the campus supports student groups involved in activism or prevention.

Where can I review the policies and procedures used by this university to respond to a report of sexual assault?

  • It’s important to understand there is a difference between reporting to the police and an on-campus discipline action. You may want to ask the campus about the process for both options.
    • The criminal justice system is intended to vindicate the rights of the state. Reporting to the police to initiate a criminal complaint can set this system in motion.
    • Campus discipline boards are utilized as part of a civil rights regime to promote gender equity in education as guaranteed under Title IX of the Civil Rights Act.
    • These two systems may be used individually, jointly, or not at all.
    • Campus procedure is confidential and creates no public records. The process is considered an educational tool. The repercussions focus on fixing the harm done to the campus and victim. In addition, it is believed that the accused should learn from the situation and understand why they were wrong. There can be suspensions and expulsions as the punishment, as creating a safe environment is the universities biggest concern.
  • High numbers of reported sexual assault may indicate that the university is taking the issue of sexual assault seriously. Most campus victims do not report sexual violence at all, largely due to distrust in how they will be treated by the community (friend, family, peers, professors, the university as a whole, etc). Thus, higher numbers of reported sexual assault may be an indicator that the university has a culture that students trust. Conversely, a low reporting rate may indicate that sexual assault may not be a priority for the university. To get perspective, it can be helpful to look at the reported rate on campus for the last five years.

What sexual assault training is provided to faculty and staff, including resident assistants?

  • Some universities are investing in training faculty, staff and resident assistants about their legal responsibilities, how to appropriately respond to a student who discloses they have experienced sexual violence and where to refer them for support. 
  • Some campuses have information to help guide the response of  staff and others if a student discloses an assault.
  • Most campus faculty and staff do not have the ability to promise confidentiality to the victim, and should let the victim know if they are required to share any of the information about the assault. However, faculty who are certified counselors or medical professionals should be able to maintain confidential communications. Staff and volunteers from rape crisis centers in Pennsylvania are also able to keep all information confidential and private, even when subpoenaed.

What counseling or services are available for victims of sexual assault, both on and off campus?

  • Some universities offer individual and group counseling for victims. To find out more about these services you can contact the campus counseling center as well as the head of student affairs who can direct you to the right services.
  • In Pennsylvania, 50 rape crisis centers provide services to victims in all 67 counties. Students are welcome to use these confidential, off-campus services. You can locate the rape crisis center nearest to you at  No referral is necessary.
  • Some universities work closely with the local rape crisis center while others offer support through campus services. The expertise of rape crisis centers in responding to victims and teaching prevention is invaluable to the campus community. You may want to ask the university if they have a formal memorandum of understanding or other agreement with the rape crisis center.
  • Rape crisis centers offer free and confidential crisis counseling, a 24-hour hotline to provide support and information, and services to victim’s families, friends, and partners. Advocates are available to accompany victims to the hospital, the police station, and court. Rape crisis center can also provide information and referrals to services in the area, and provide prevention education programs to schools, organizations, and other public groups.
  • Ask if the university has a Memorandum of Understanding with the local rape crisis center or the local police department that outlines how they will work together to prevent sexual assault, cooperate with investigation needs, protect victim privacy and offer options to students who are victims.
  • Employees and volunteers at Pennsylvania rape crisis centers are able to keep all communications with a victim confidential and private, even when subpoenaed. This is only true for certain members of the staff at universities. This may be very reassuring to a victim who has concerns about controlling his or her own story.  It is recommended that universities make all options for support, both on and off campus, available to students.
  • Universities should have protocols in place to outline how they can coordinator or cooperate with law enforcement agencies investigating incidents of sexual assault that involve students.
  • Formal agreements that outline mutually respectful partnerships between the university and local agencies with expertise in sexual assault prevention and response demonstrate a high level of commitment to addressing this issue, and a recognition that it is a community issue which requires community based solutions.

  Campus Sexual Assault Prevention  

Colleges and universities are in a unique position to create a campus culture that is safe for all students, faculty, and staff. As research  shows, campuses need to go beyond a one-time awareness event in order to change knowledge, attitudes, and beliefs. There are many pieces that must come together in order to create a comprehensive approach to ending sexual violence. Awareness, risk reduction, response, and prevention are all pieces of that puzzle.

Awareness increases understanding of what sexual violence is and its prevalence. Awareness activities also can inform students and staff on which resources are available for support.

Risk-reduction approaches may help individuals identify warning signs and learn safety tips.

Response occurs following an assault and works to lessen the impact of trauma on survivors and those who are close to them.

Prevention goes beyond raising awareness and reducing risk and engages campus communities in creating long-term solutions to social issues. Effective prevention strategies are address the root causes and social norms that allow sexual violence to exist. All forms of oppression are connected. Oppression creates an environment where inequality thrives and violence is seen as normal and acceptable. To prevent sexual violence, it is necessary to change the culture.



  • The National Sexual Violence Resource Center was founded by the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape. The center identifies, develops and disseminates resources regarding all aspects of sexual violence prevention and intervention, and it has the nation’s largest library of resources on sexual violence and prevention.
  • PreventConnect is a national project of the California Coalition Against Sexual Assault with funding from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), National Center for Injury Prevention and Control. The goal of PreventConnect is to advance the primary prevention of sexual assault and relationship violence by building a community of practice among people who are engaged in such efforts. PreventConnect also builds the capacity of local, state, territorial, national and tribal agencies and organizations to develop, implement and evaluate effective prevention initiatives.
  • The Clery Center for Security On Campus is a nonprofit 501 (c)(3) dedicated to preventing violence, substance abuse and other crimes on college and university campuses across the United States, and to compassionately assist the victims of these crimes.
  • It’s On Us aims to fundamentally shift the way we think about sexual assault, by inspiring everyone to see it as their responsibility to do something, big or small, to prevent it.
  • Not Alone provides information for students, schools, and anyone interested in finding resources on how to respond to and prevent sexual assault on college and university campuses and in our schools.
  • Founded in 2013, Know Your IX is a national survivor-run, student-driven campaign to end campus sexual violence.  Running on grassroots energy, we educate students across the country about their civil right to education free from sexual violence and harassment while also pushing policy and legislative change on the national level for better federal enforcement of that same right.
  • Students Active for Ending Rape (SAFER) is a volunteer-run organization that has been training and supporting student activists for a decade. SAFER offers comprehensive programming to support student-led movements for campus sexual assault policy reform.

Additional reading:

  • 2014 Student Summit on Sexual Assault: Report and Recommendations: Student voices are a valuable resource to influence decision-making and campus policies related to sexual assault. This report by the California Coalition Against Sexual Assault highlights the critical voices of students on campus sexual assault prevention and response.

What to know about Title IX 

Understanding Title IX

Title IX of the 1972 Education Amendment is a federal civil rights law that prohibits sex discrimination in K—12 and postsecondary educational settings. It was passed to ensure all students were afforded the same rights to learn and participate in educational programming, regardless of gender or sex. The law 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 educational program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance (Title IX of 20 U.S.C.A §168).”

While some people may think Title IX is about athletics, they are only partially correct. Title IX prohibits discrimination in all educational programs and activities—athletics, academics, clubs, and other activities and programs. 

While the statute clearly states Title IX’s purpose, it speaks very little to the specific steps schools must take to prevent and address sex and gender discrimination. Therefore, since its passage, the U.S. Department of Education’s (DoE) has issued numerous documents to guide the implementation of Title IX. The Office for Civil Rights, under the DoE, is the official body that investigates and enforces schools’ Title IX compliance. 

Title IX guidance and enforcement have been influenced by the larger social and political climates spanning close to five decades and nine U.S. presidents. This document provides a summary of the most recent rules associated with Title IX, issued in May 2020 and taking effect in mid-August 2020. There are several legal cases that have been filed—from the American Civil Liberties Union, National Women’s Law Center, and Victim Rights Law Center—challenging the legality of these rules. 

Summary of 2020 Title IX Rules

In 2017, Department of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos rescinded Obama-era guidance that protected transgender students under Title IX. Then, in September 2018, DeVos proposed changes to the broader Title IX rules and their application to sexual misconduct. The Federal register was open to public comments on those proposed rules.

Over 120,000 sets of comments were submitted by interested parties and organizations. In May 2020, the Department issued its finale rules with an effective date of August 14, 2020. These rules are legally binding and while there are some areas that remain flexible, the grievance and adjudication process are prescriptive and may interfere with existing state law.

Several law suits have been filed against the Department of Education, including suits filed by the American Civil Liberties Union, National Women’s Law Center, and 18 states’ Attorneys General (including Pennsylvania) and D.C. The Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape submitted a sworn statement as part of Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro’s lawsuit. Shapiro filed a motion to delay the effective date of the rules; that motion is pending the court’s decision.