Sexual Assault and School

Surviving sexual assault will affect many different parts of your life, including your academics and your social life. Remember that your school is there to help you; in fact, they have a duty to protect their students and ensure your safety. This may mean modifying your schedule or changing your living accommodations, if necessary. We will explore your school's duties and responsibilities in depth in the Title IX section.

Following a sexual assault, it is fairly common for survivors to withdraw for a semester or two, or to drop below a normal course load. As an international student, you are required to maintain a full-time course load. For this reason, you must go through additional procedures in order to withdraw or reduce your course load.

If you need to drop below a full-time course load, you will need approval from your Principal Designated School Official (PDSO) before reducing classes. If you do not have this, you are in danger of falling out of status and will be terminated in Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS). Remember that you are under no obligation to tell your PDSO about your sexual assault.

Your PDSO can permit you to reduce your course load for either academic or medical reasons. Academic reasons might include cultural adjustments to the American education system, including language adjustments. You can drop below a full course load only once per program for academic reasons, as long as you resume full-time studies the following semester. If your assailant is involved in your college community, it is recommended that you state that this is the direct cause of your academic difficulties.

Because sexual assault can have both physical and psychological repercussions, you can also cite medical reasons for reducing your course load. Medical reasons can only last for an aggregate of 12 months and require documentation from a licensed medical doctor, doctor of osteopathy, or a licensed clinical psychologist. This will require that you reveal your assault to your PDSO. It is especially important that you document any and all medical treatment you receive to use as evidence to support the medical case for your PDSO.

Title IX

Title IX is a federal law that prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex in any federally funded education program or activity. Title IX means that your school is obligated to protect you in the event that you or someone you know is sexually assaulted.

This means that your school is federally obligated to make immediate and effective efforts to end sexual harassment and sexual violence. If your school fails to fulfill its responsibilities under Title IX, the Department of Education can impose a fine and potentially deny further institutional access to federal funds. Title IX applies to sex-based discrimination of anyone, regardless of their gender identity or perception. This means that you are protected under Title IX whether you are male, female, or gender non-conforming.

Know Your Rights

It's important to be aware of the rights that Title IX provides you. These rights include:

  • Your school is required to protect you. If your school knows or reasonably should know of any discrimination, violence, or harassment that creates a hostile environment for any student, it must act to eliminate it, remedy the harm caused, and prevent its recurrence.
  • Your school may not discourage survivors from continuing their education. This means that they are not allowed to suggest that you “take time off” or force you to quit a team, club, or class if you are sexually assaulted. You have the right to remain on campus and have every educational program and opportunity available to you.
  • Your school is required to have an established procedure for handling complaints of sex discrimination, sexual harassment, or sexual violence. This includes a Title IX Coordinator who manages complaints. This Coordinator's contact information must be publicly accessible on the school's website. If you decide to file a complaint, regardless of whether or not you report to the police, your school must promptly investigate your complaint. The investigation should be complete within a semester's time. Discipline should result if it is more likely than not that discrimination, harassment, and/or violence occurred.
  • Your school must take immediate action to ensure that you can continue your education free from ongoing sex discrimination, sexual harassment, or sexual violence. This means, if necessary, reasonable changes to your housing, class or sport schedule, campus job, or extracurricular activities. This can occur before a formal complaint, and can continue after a final decision is made regarding your complaint. These accommodations should not overburden you as the complainant/victim; instead, your school can require the accused to change some school activities or classes.
  • Your school may not retaliate against someone filing a complaint, and must keep you safe from other retaliatory harassment or behavior. If they do not, you can report this to the US Department of Education.
  • No contact directive. Your school can issue a no contact directive to prevent the accused student from approaching or interacting with you. This will be enforced by campus security or police.
  • You have a right to a formal hearing. In cases of sexual violence, your school is prohibited from encouraging or allowing mediation rather than a formal hearing of the complaint. They may still offer such an alternative process for other types of complaints, such as sexual harassment. Remember that it is your choice, and you can and should seek a disciplinary hearing if you desire a more formal process.
  • Your school cannot charge you for accommodations. Your college cannot make you pay the costs of certain accommodations that you require in order to continue your education after experiencing violence. If you need counseling, tutoring, changes to your campus housing, or other remedies in order to continue your education, your school should provide these at no cost to you.

Sexual assault is an extremely traumatising experience, and everyone has different methods of coping. The most important thing to remember is that it is not your fault. If you have been assaulted and need help, there are a number of resources available to you, both on and off your campus. The healing process is difficult, and may take a long time, but you have a variety of options to help you along the way.